The Importance of Biblical Hebrew (& the OT)

As my students prepare for their midterm exam in first year Hebrew this week, I plan on sharing this story by Ellen Davis (see article here) to encourage them to persevere in acquiring Hebrew. Dr. Davis of Duke Divinity asked “the head of Renk Theological College in Southern Sudan to name his top priority for the school’s faculty and curriculum, he said without hesitation: ‘We need biblical language teachers.’”

For those familiar with the conditions in Sudan, this seems like an unusual priority. However, the college leaders recognize the true priority for their students:

“We live in the Old Testament. Ours is a tribal culture, like Israel’s. We are pastoralists and farmers, like the Israelites. And like them, we have suffered terribly in war and exile, and from oppressive imperial regimes. The Bible is our story, and our people must have it in their own languages. Why should we read it in English and Arabic, the languages of colonialism? Why should we translate it from those languages and not from the original? We all speak several languages; we know how much difference a translation makes.”

If the Sudanese see the need to persist in their biblical Hebrew studies, shouldn’t we?

PS Notice the attitude of Sudanese students towards Hebrew from the same article: “The students are proud that theirs is the only school in Sudan where both biblical languages are taught on a regular basis, and the pride shows in their attitude toward study. As one visiting teacher observed: ‘Hebrew without whining–this is a revelation!’”


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