Medieval Hebrew


Medieval Hebrew

Medieval Hebrew has many features that distinguish it from older forms of Hebrew. These affect grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and also include a wide variety of new lexical items, which are usually based on older forms.

In the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain important work was done by grammarians in explaining the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew; much of this was based on the work of the grammarians of Classical Arabic. Important Hebrew grammarians were Judah ben David Hayyuj and Jonah ibn Janah. A great deal of poetry was written, by poets such as Dunash ben Labrat, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Judah ha-Levi, David Hakohen and the two Ibn Ezras, in a "purified" Hebrew based on the work of these grammarians, and in Arabic quantitative metres (see piyyut). This literary Hebrew was later used by Italian Jewish poets.

The need to express scientific and philosophical concepts from Classical Greek and Medieval Arabic motivated Medieval Hebrew to borrow terminology and grammar from these other languages, or to coin equivalent terms from existing Hebrew roots, giving rise to a distinct style of philosophical Hebrew. Many have direct parallels in medieval Arabic. The Ibn Tibbon family, and especially Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon were personally responsible for the creation of much of this form of Hebrew, which they employed in their translations of scientific materials from the Arabic. At that time, original Jewish philosophical works were usually written in Arabic, but as time went on, this form of Hebrew was used for many original compositions as well.

Another important influence was Maimonides, who developed a simple style based on Mishnaic Hebrew for use in his law code, the Mishneh Torah. Subsequent rabbinic literature is written in a blend between this style and the Aramaized Rabbinic Hebrew of the Talmud.

By late 12th and early 13th centuries the cultural center of Mediterranean Jewry was transferred from an Islamic context to Christian lands. The written Hebrew used in Northern Spain, Provence (a term for all of the South of France) and Italy was increasingly influenced by Latin, particularly in philosophical writings, and also by different vernaculars (Provençal, Italian, etc.). In Italy we witness the flourishing of a new genre, Italian-Hebrew philosophical lexicons. The Italian of these lexicons was generally written in Hebrew characters and are a useful source for the knowledge of Scholastic philosophy among Jews. One of the earliest lexicons was that by Moses b. Shlomo of Salerno, who died in the late 13th. century; it was meant to clarify terms that appear in his commentary on Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. Moses of Salerno's glossary was edited by Giuseppe Sermoneta in 1969. There are also glossaries associated with Jewish savants who befriended Pico della Mirandola. Moses of Salerno's commentary on the Guide also contains Italian translations of technical terms, which brings the Guide's Islamic-influenced philosophical system into confrontation with 13th century Italian scholasticism.

Hebrew was also used as a language of communication among Jews from different countries, particularly for the purpose of international trade.

Mention should also be made of the letters preserved in the Cairo geniza, which reflect the Arabic-influenced Hebrew of medieval Egyptian Jewry. The Arabic terms and syntax that appear in the letters constitute a significant source for the documentation of spoken medieval Arabic, since Jews in Islamic lands tended to use colloquial Arabic in writing rather than classical Arabic, which is the Arabic that appears in Arabic medieval sources.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Hebrew language — Hebrew redirects here. For other uses, see Hebrew (disambiguation). Not to be confused with Yiddish language. Hebrew עִבְרִית …   Wikipedia

  • HEBREW LANGUAGE — This entry is arranged according to the following scheme: pre biblical biblical the dead sea scrolls mishnaic medieval modern period A detailed table of contents precedes each section. PRE BIBLICAL nature of the evidence the sources phonology… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • HEBREW LITERATURE, MODERN — definition and scope beginnings periodization …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Hebrew literature — Jewish culture Visual Arts Visual Arts list …   Wikipedia

  • HEBREW GRAMMAR — The following entry is divided into two sections: an Introduction for the non specialist and (II) a detailed survey. [i] HEBREW GRAMMAR: AN INTRODUCTION There are four main phases in the history of the Hebrew language: the biblical or classical,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Hebrew literature — Introduction       the body of written works produced in the Hebrew language and distinct from Jewish literature, which also exists in other languages.       Literature in Hebrew has been produced uninterruptedly from the early 12th century BC,… …   Universalium

  • Hebrew Gospel of Matthew — There are three major biblical manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew that are written in Hebrew; the Shem Tov Matthew , the DuTillet Matthew , and the Munster Matthew . All of these are late mediaeval texts. A Hebrew Gospel of MatthewSome scholars …   Wikipedia

  • Hebrew language — Semitic language that is both a sacred language of Judaism and a modern vernacular in Israel. Like Aramaic, to which it is closely related, Hebrew has a documented history of nearly 3,000 years. The earliest fully attested stage of the language… …   Universalium

  • Hebrew calendar — The Hebrew calendar (הלוח העברי ha luach ha ivri), or Jewish calendar, is a lunisolar calendar used today predominantly for Jewish religious observances. It determines the dates for Jewish holidays and the appropriate public reading of Torah… …   Wikipedia

  • Medieval Latin — Carmina Cantabrigiensia, Medieval Latin manuscript Spoken in Numerous small states Region …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.