SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar publishes book on the social history of Hebrew

28 February 2017

Lewis H Glinert, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London, has published a book exploring the extraordinary hold that Hebrew has had on Jews and Christians, who have invested it with a symbolic power far beyond that of any other language in history.

Preserved by the Jews across two millennia, Hebrew endured long after it ceased to be a mother tongue, resulting in one of the most intense textual cultures ever known. Today it is the first language of millions of Israelis.

The Story of Hebrew (Princeton University Press) takes readers from the opening verses of Genesis to the reincarnation of Hebrew as the everyday language of the Jewish state. Professor Glinert explains the uses and meanings of Hebrew in ancient Israel and its role as a medium for wisdom and prayer. He describes the early rabbis' preservation of Hebrew following the Babylonian exile, the challenges posed by Arabic, and the prolific use of Hebrew in Diaspora art, spirituality, and science. He also examines the conflicted relationship Christians had with Hebrew from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation, the language's fatal rivalry with Yiddish, the dreamers and schemers that made modern Hebrew a reality, and how a lost pre-Holocaust textual ethos is being renewed today by Orthodox Jews.