Q&A: Is it true that, in the Book of Revelation, Hebrew letters were used instead of Greek for the mark of the beast (666)?

Not so Beastly

This urban legend has been making the rounds for years in relation to the logo of a certain energy drink whose logo is three claw marks that supposedly look like the Hebrew letter vav, which also has the numerical value of 6—i.e., ‘666’

The problem is, vav is very length-specific: it goes down to the baseline, but no more. Since the middle claw mark is longer than the other two, it suggests that it is the end-of-word form of a different Hebrew letter (nun = n), whose numerical value is 50—so technically, the numbers are 6–50–6. Not so Beastly.

Last but not least, numerical values above 100 using Hebrew letters don’t work like decimal numbers. To write the number 666 with Hebrew letters, one would write תרס”ו (tav-resh-samekh-vav), which numerically is 400+200+60+6, and would be read phonetically Tarsu™—which doesn’t mean anything, but I’ve trademarked it, anyway, to sell to a company with a devilishly good drink.

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Q&A: Which English words or phrases have been adopted in Hebrew but do not mean the same thing?

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A beq-eqs.

This is a frequent theme of mine in my Hebrew blog, in which I warn my clients (and other native Hebrew speakers) about the pitfalls of English expression.

One of the oldest—and certainly one of my favourite—examples, which go back decades, if not a century, is the word beq-eqs, which is a corruption of ‘back axle’—i.e. ‘rear axle’. You might think that doesn’t qualify as a loan word with a different meaning—until you discover that the word for ‘front axle’ is—wait for it—front-beq-eqs

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Q&A: Is it best to start with the “alef-bet” when learning Hebrew?

That’s how it’s normally taught at ulpanim (HSL—Hebrew-as a Second Language—schools)—but to my mind, that’s a bit like teaching car mechanics to someone who wants to learn to drive. There’s little point in learning the tools when you don’t know what function each of them serves.

SimHebrewCourse-Logo.pngIn general, when teaching a new subject to someone, one should always teach the problem—then the solution. Not the other way round.

Which is why in my Hebrew teaching classes, we dive straight into whatever material the student really want to engage in in the end:

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Against any misfortune—may it not come

I was recently asked: What is something about your language that you’ve never noticed until a foreign learner pointed it out?

I recalled that only the night before, my good friend Bob Macdonald, who has undertaken a mammoth task of making a musically-oriented English translation of the Hebrew Bible, asked me why in the Hebrew, Zephaniah (2:2) says:

 בטרם לדת חוק, כמוץ עבר יום; בטרם לא-יבוא עליכם, חרון אף-יהוה

(Beterem ledet ḥoq, kamotz avar yom; beterem lo-yavo aleikhem ḥaron af-Adonai)

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Q&A: Is there a rule for determining the vowels in Hebrew conjugation (present, past, future and passive)?

Yes, there is: it’s determined by the binyan (construction) of the verb.
There are seven binyanim, each with its characteristic pattern of vowels. Their names reflect the vowel pattern in the past tense (3rd person singular, masculine)—thus:

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The appropriate binyan of a verb is determined by whether it is a simple verb, or one that refers to an action to or on something else; or a manipulation of an object or a person; or a continuous or repeating operation—or the passive corollary of any the above. (For more information on that, see my post on How do I know if a verb in hebrew is pa’al type, pi’el type, or other?)