Q&A: Why do Judean coins minted during the Hasmonean dynasty or the first Jewish-Roman war contain text in paleo-Hebrew script?

It was a kind of nationalist affectation, to proclaim the ancestral, pre-Babylonian-exile, Israelite origins of the newly-independent Hasmonean state—a bit like the motto of the British Royal Family (Dieu et mon droit – ‘God and my right’) is in French, harking back to its Norman origins.

Read more: Q&A: Why do Judean coins minted during the Hasmonean dynasty or the first Jewish-Roman war contain text in paleo-Hebrew script?

Modern Israel, by the way, does much the same: the Old Hebrew script is used on the modern sheqel coin (bottom left):

The difference is, in Hasmonean times, people knew what the Old Hebrew text said, whereas 99.9% of modern Israelis haven’t a clue: most people assume it says ‘sheqel’, but in fact, it spells Yehud, which ironically is not Hebrew, but the Persian name for its Judean province, dating back to the sixth century BCE, when Persia had just conquered the Babylonian empire, and allowed all exiled nations (the Judeans included) to return to their ancestral homes.

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Q&A: Could a contemporary Hebrew speaker talk to a biblical Hebrew speaker?

Short answer: Yes.

Pronunciation is undoubtedly very different today—but then the same is true for English of Chaucer’s or even Shakespeare’s time and today. (Heck, these days I’m reading Sinclair Lewis’s Babbit, and I’m having a hard time understanding the characters’ 1920s slang…). 

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How did the Hebrew “R” change from a rolled “R” to a French-like “R”?

The short answer is because most senior Israeli politicians in the 1950s through early ’70s (such as David Ben-Gurion, Menahem Begin, Shimon Peres, etc.) were foreign-born and couldn’t do the guttural rolling Rs, so used trilling Rs instead, as in their native Russian or Polish—whereas modern-day leaders are almost invariably native Israelis. (The exceptions were Golda Meir and Abba Eban, whose mother tongue was English, so they spoke with painfully Anglo-Saxon Rs.)

But as we say in Hebrew, בואו נעשה סדר בדברים—let’s clear up some things, as there’s a common confusion here, even among Israelis themselves.

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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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The importance of rhythm (or why Trump won the elections)

This is a very topical question, which I happened to touch upon in a recent post of my Hebrew blog, as it concerns the importance of rhythm in language .

Trump clearly twigged many years ago that the characteristic meter of English speech is the trochee (an element comprising a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one)—as in the words mother, father, daughter, other, Anglo-Saxon, etc.—and that native English speakers subconsciously prefer it, and short Anglo-Saxon English words, to the meters and long words of other origin. He’s been exploiting this to pitch sales and close deals ever since.

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Q&A: What is known about the Phoenician language?

It’s important to note that the Phoenicians didn’t self-identify as such, but were simply called that by the Greeks—possibly because they were best known for selling purple-red dye (in Greek, phoinos) which was highly sought after because it was the colour of royalty in ancient Greece.

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