Field of Study: Hebrew Language and Literature
Programs in Hebrew language and literature teach people the ancient and modern forms of Hebrew. Students learn how the language began and developed. They study biblical Hebrew, modern Hebrew, and dialects such as Samaritan. Students also learn how to apply the knowledge to business and technology.
Hebrew is spoken by about ten million people today. About five million live in Israel, where Hebrew is one of three official languages, along with English and Arabic.
As with other ancient languages, the origins of Hebrew are under investigation. Scholars wonder whether it might be the original language mentioned in the Bible, used by God to speak the universe into existence, to speak with Adam, and used by Adam to speak with his family and the animals. As the story goes, much later, at the Tower of Babel, an irritated God scrambled the original language into many tongues.
Scholars place the events at the Tower of Babel in about 3,000 BCE. At the same time, cultures arose in Sumer and Egypt. Scholars say that Hebrews, Sumerians, and Egyptians all used the same style of pictographic writing. On this basis, the scholars speculate that the one language that is supposed to have preceded the divine scrambling may have been Hebrew.
Other evidence dates back farther. Scholars have studied a calendar found at Gezer that originates from the times of David and Solomon, ca. 9,000 BCE. The calendar lists the seasons and relates agricultural activities to each season. It is written in a Semitic script that looks like the Phoenician script later used by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans (and also used in most European languages). Yet, the Gezer calendar is written without vowels, and without consonants used to imply vowels. This prompts more scholarly speculation that ancient Hebrew may have been Earth's first language.
The quest for origins requires extensive study in ancient languages. Therefore, in many Hebrew language and literature programs, you also study ancient Greek, Arabic, or Aramaic. You also take courses in anthropology, art, and history. Often, you can focus on Jewish literature and culture (especially as it relates to Israel) or Biblical studies. This is in addition to taking courses in the Hebrew language and Hebrew literature. Furthermore, many programs teach you both ancient (also called Biblical) Hebrew and modern Hebrew, which is spoken in Israel today.
Colleges and universities offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in Hebrew language and literature. Some two-year colleges offer the first two years of study. Students can often transfer these credits to a four-year school. Master's degrees typically take five or six years of full-time study after high school. Doctoral degree programs typically take three to five years after the master's degree. Most people with graduate degrees become professors.