Ancient Biblical Hebrew Alphabet

The depth of the Hebrew language is stunning. The ancient biblical Hebrew alphabet, sometimes referred to as Paleo Hebrew, was more of a pictographic script. Archeology has shown that each letter was a picture and had its own meaning.

Can we still recognize it today? 

In English, we have letters like A, B, C, D. These letters don’t have an individual meaning, but when we combine them into a word like BEAD, we understand the word.

While there are still many unknowns, it appears that in ancient Hebrew the meaning of each “letter” carries its meaning into the word. That is to say, individual letters affect the meaning of the root word that it forms. Then, of course, the root word impacts the meaning of any word that it forms.

hebrew letter on a sign near the western wall

What is a “Root Word”?

The words in semitic languages are built on a few core letters that carry original meaning, called the root. This primary unit of a word then can create a whole family of words. Then we say that they share a common root, and their meaning is usually closely related. 
Since Hebrew alphabet does not have long vowels, it means the root word can be reconstructed in multiple ways. And while an English speaker (or of another latin language) needs to learn multiple unique words for related items, a Hebrew speaker can depend on the root word to recognize a spectrum of terms. 
Here is a good example. Take a look at this list of English words with their Hebrew equivalents: a place – makom, to locate – mikem, stand – kum, and situate – lemakem.
In English, each of these words is entirely different, even though their meanings are related. Meanwhile, in Hebrew they all share the same root, so they share many of the same letters. 

What’s special about the Hebrew language?

No other language on earth communicates the way Hebrew does. In English, we know what a pineapple is. But it has nothing to do with a pine or an apple. Where am I going with this? Let’s look at some examples.

In Numbers 15, God commanded Israel to make “tassels” (“tsiysith”- pronounced “tzi-tzit”) on the edges of the garments. It was to remind them to follow God’s ways. The root word for tassels is “Tsiyt” (pronounced “tzit”) and means “blossom.”

Just as a blossom (tsiyt) is a sign that fruit is being produced, the tassels (tzi-tzit) were a reminder. The wearer needed to blossom with God’s goodness and follow His ways.

This one simple example points to something very significant. To a Hebrew reader, the Bible is full of word plays, puns, and rhymes. They intend to help the hearer remember and learn. That’s how the Bible was designed to begin with. It was intentional. However, many of these were lost in translation.

The Tangibility of the Biblical Hebrew Alphabet

Because the ancient Hebrew letters were pictures, everything in ancient Hebrew can be explained by something that is tangible. In the time of Abraham or Moses, if what God was communicating did not relate to something that interacted with the five senses, it didn’t exist.

This communicates to us that God is extremely practical and wants us to understand. Certainly He does not give us spiritual knowledge that does not relate to our “real world”. Instead, He uses our world to communicate! He points to tangible things to express what He is like.

Jesus taught in the same way, for example in Matthew, chapters 5-7: You are the salt of the earth. Or, look at the birds. And, consider the lilies. Everything from God is practical, useful and to help us in our everyday lives.

old hebrew written on old paper


Reviving the Ancient Hebrew Language

While these things are unique and amazing when compared to other languages, here is the true miracle. No other dead language in history has been revived for common usage except for Hebrew.

Scholars may know and understand ancient Chinese or old Aramaic. They can decipher many hieroglyphs and even write in Latin. But they are no longer in common use and no one talks in them at home. Unlike Hebrew – which is used an thousands of households, and it is used so commonly that it’s even developing its own slang! 

And, it just so happens that the nation of Israel today uses the same language that 2/3 of the Bible is written in. It is the very language that God choose to use to communicate His character to the world. The Bible even promised that He would revive it.

Alphabet, as in Aleph-Bet

For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord. Zephaniah 3:9 (NKJV)

What is startling about this promise is that the preceding verse contains every letter of the Hebrew aleph bet (alphabet), including the five final forms (sofits). There is no other verse in Scripture that shares the same characteristic with the ancient Hebrew alphabet.

Since Hebrew is the only language in history to ever be restored, this verse has been fulfilled in the last 100 years. In early 1900s, Hebrew was still considered a dead language.Today, millions are learning and studying it (you can, too!).

Moreover, millions are using it at home, at work, shopping and in every possible interaction. Can you imagine that there are even people who don’t speak any other language – other than Hebrew? 

In result of this “revival”, the Church’s understanding of God – from Genesis to Malachi as well as the teachings and traditions of Yeshua – has grown exponentially. After all, He was a Hebrew speaking Rabbi from Nazareth.

This is yet another gift that we have received today from the revival of the nation of Israel.

7 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know: Free PDF Download

With the use of the Hebrew language God revealed Himself to mankind. This ancient tongue held the greatest spiritual truths that guided our lives through the ages. And in each generation, they are discovered anew.

We know the Bible can be hard to understand and you want to get more out of it. Which is why we want to teach you seven Hebrew words that will transform the way you read the Bible.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Doug Hershey
Doug Hershey shares from a perspective of historian and storyteller. He is the author of the best-selling book ISRAEL RISING. His new online video course, "10 Prophecies Fulfilled in Our Lifetime" connects bible prophecy with its fulfillments in Israel today. Doug is the founder of Ezra Adventures, a travel and education company, specializing in exclusive customized small group travel throughout Israel and the Middle East. For more info, go to DougHershey.co or keep up with Doug Hershey, Author on FB, IG and Youtube.
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