Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav

So long Genesis, hello Exodus: the SimHebrew Bible

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Imagine a Latin text—e.g. the first verse of the Latin Vulgate Bible:

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram Terra autem erat inanis et vacua et tenebrae super faciem abyssi et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas.
Most of us don’t know Latin, but at least we can read it, and guess at the meaning of some words—or look them up.

Now imagine the same text, but in a non-Roman script, such as traditional Square Hebrew:

אין פרינקיפיו קריאביט דאוס קאלום את תראם תרא אאוטם אראט אינאניס את ואקוא את טנבראה סוּפר פאקיאם אבּיסי את ספיריטוּס דאי פרבּאטור סוּפר אקואס.

If you’re not a fluent Hebrew reader, this is an order of magnitude more difficult, isn’t it? Possibly enough to put you off even trying to deciphering it.

The SimHebrew Bible is the product of this realisation. It is a simulation of the Hebrew Bible in Roman characters, to make it accessible to people who would like to read the Hebrew Bible in the original, but cannot read traditional (“Square”) Hebrew script (or do so with difficulty). Thanks to this simulation, anyone who familiar with the Roman alphabet can see the actual language of the Hebrew Bible, in terms of its spelling, word roots, linguistic patterns, etc.  This provides insights into the biblical text that are not possible in translations (however good), in conventional quasi-phonetic transliteration, or even in linguistic transliteration.

I embarked on this project some two months ago or so—the culmination, and first serious application, of my SimHebrew development project, which I’ve worked on (on and off) for the past eighteen years.With the completion of the Book of Genesis, I feel more confident about seeing the project through.

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You can read about the project in detail at its About page, but in essence, SimHebrew simulates Square Hebrew by mapping each Square Hebrew character to a single Roman character—essentially “reverse-engineering” the original Canaanite-to-Greek-to-Roman mapping. The texts in the SimHebrew Bible are therefore a direct and faithful, and computer-convertible rendition of the Masoretic Hebrew Bible, chapter by chapter—including verse numbering by means of Hebrew letters, parashah markers, etc.

The SimHebrew Bible may be used to gain a better understanding of the workings and patterns of biblical Hebrew; its vocabulary; its brevity; and its poetic features—as explained in its About page.

One of the side benefits of the project is that it is causing me to read the entire book, from cover to cover, for the first time since my twenties…

Since this project is currently self-funded, I am producing it at the rate of one chapter a day (on average)—with crowdfunding (which I’m hoping to attract), this rate can be considerably accelerated. In due course, I hope to add such commentary to the texts—they provide a tremendous introduction to Hebrew to non-native speakers—but my first priority is to complete the transcription task itself.

Your constructive comments are welcome.

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Author: יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

One thought on “So long Genesis, hello Exodus: the SimHebrew Bible

  1. Pingback: SimHebrew: Hebrew unbound (and preserved) | Notes by Autumn Light

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