In 1994 Frank T. Seekins published a book entitled Hebrew Word Pictures: How Does the Hebrew Alphabet Reveal Prophetic Truths? It unleashed a phenomenon involving a method of reading the Hebrew Bible based on an assumption about the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Since the term “Paleo-Hebrew” is associated with it, we will call it the Paleo-Hebrew phenomenon, and it involves the Paleo-Hebrew method, which is based on the Paleo-Hebrew assumption. If the claims of the proponents of this phenomenon are correct, it changes significantly how we understand not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament.
According to Seekins, “When Hebrew was first written, each letter represented both a sound and a picture.” Let us consider the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet (in the Aramaic “square” script): א (Aleph) and ב (Bet),which eventually became “a” and “b” respectively in the Roman alphabet. There is no dispute that א and ב each represents a sound just as “a” and “b” each represents a sound. But neither א nor ב (nor any of the other letters of the Hebrew alphabet) seems to represent a picture. Seekins’ claim is that “When Hebrew was first written” the letters did represent pictures as well. Hebrew scholars generally agree that the Hebrew Bible (until the time of the Babylonian exile) was originally written using a script called Paleo-Hebrew, which is similar to the Phoenician script. The first two Paleo-Hebrew letters looked like this: . This script was changed to the Aramaic script that we have today during the Babylonian exile. But both these (as well as the other) letters in this script still do not seem to represent pictures:
The Paleo-Hebrew phenomenon involves a method of reading Hebrew words based on the assumption that, unlike the letters of other alphabets, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet represent not only sound but also meaning. Hebrew words then have “deeper meanings” missed by even Hebrew scholars who do not use this method in reading the Hebrew Bible.
For instance, consider the word (Aleph-Bet, ’āb), which means “father” when read based on the sound of the word indicated by the letters (the ordinary way of reading it). But according to the Paleo-Hebrew method, this word has a deeper meaning when read based on the meaning each letter supposedly represents: Aleph (= “strength/leader”) + Bet (= “house”). In other words the “father” (ordinary meaning) is the “strength or leader of the house” (deeper meaning).
If the Paleo-Hebrew assumption is true, Biblical Hebrew is unlike any other language of the world, whether ancient or modern. This is in fact a claim made by a prominent practitioner of the Paleo-Hebrew method who has written a Study Bible based on this method. And if the method is valid, it will change significantly how we understand not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament.
A graphic demonstration of how the letters of an alphabet actually work to form written words to represent the respective spoken words shows starkly that if the assumption is true, Biblical Hebrew has somehow managed to overcome what is linguistically impossible with an alphabetic writing system—that the letters can somehow represent not only sound but also meaning.
So does the Paleo-Hebrew method actually work when tested against the available evidence? It seems to work in the selected Hebrew words presented by practitioners, which have impressed an increasing number of Bible believers. But we get a different impression when two different Hebrew words which share the same letters written in the same order are taken into consideration. Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 2 (Executive Summary)”
Dr. Leong Tien Fock* has written a scholarly and conclusive refutation of the Paleo-Hebrew movement.
Setting the Context
A well-known pastor of one of the biggest churches in South East Asia preaches that Jesus is hidden in a Hebrew code word which is found throughout the Old Testament. He refers to Revelation 1:8 where Jesus describes himself as the Alpha and Omega, which are respectively the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He asserts, “But Jesus did not speak Greek. He spoke Aramaic or Hebrew. So He would have said, “I am the Aleph and the Tav.” Aleph and tav are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.”
The pastor is promoting the ideas of a new movement which has gain popularity among preachers who claim they have special insights into the Bible, based on their idiosyncratic reading of ancient Hebrew script called Paleo-Hebrew. They rely on a method of reading Hebrew words based on the assumption that, unlike the letters of other alphabets, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet represent not only sound but also meaning. Hebrew words then have “deeper meanings” missed by even Hebrew scholars who do not use this method in reading the Hebrew Bible. Continue reading “How to Misread the Bible in the Name of Paleo-Hebrew 1 (Introduction)”
*This article was published originally in The Malaysian Insight (25/11/2017): Translating the Malay Bible: CLJ Needs to Get the Historical Facts Right! Image Above: Ruyls-Dutch-Malay-Bible 17C Image Above: Gospel of John Shellabear Bible Originally Printed 1912 (Image from 1949 reprint) Recently, Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ) argued that the Christian community should work closely with … Continue reading “DBP Translating the Malay Bible? CLJ Needs to Get the Historical Facts Right!”
Image Above: Gospel of John Shellabear Bible Originally Printed 1912 (Image from 1949 reprint)
Recently, Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ) argued that the Christian community should work closely with Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka (DBP) to correct purported errors in the current translation of the Malay Bible. Suggestions to improve existing translations of the Bible is in line with the ethos of the Christian enterprise of Bible translation which is an ongoing exercise undertaken by Bible societies all over the world.
However, CLJ’s proposal to allow DBP to prepare an authoritative translation of the Malay Bible is unacceptable. The reason is because given the terms and conditions for DBP’s involvement, the proposal amounts to an illegitimate restriction of religious freedom and infringement of the autonomy of the institutions of the Christian community. It is a violation of the integrity of Christian faith as it will lead to an imposition of Islamic religious beliefs on its sacred Bible. Continue reading “DBP Translating the Malay Bible? CLJ Needs to Get the Historical Facts Right!”
It is astonishing to see prominent theologians like Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress vigorously disputing with fellow evangelical theologians like Don Carson and Craig Blomberg! Indeed, the dispute is supremely important as it pertains to whether the church should adopt the New International Version for preaching and Christian education. To avoid confusion, it should be stressed that the NIV in question is not the ‘classic’ NIV (1984), but the NIV (2011) which was published earlier in 2005 as the TNIV.