tcepser tahT .ti fo sdriht owt rof esab citsiugnil eht smrof
fo daetsni tfel ot thgir morf daer ot ssenidaer eht sedulcni
.thgir ot tfel
Lovers of the bible must respect the Hebrew language which forms the linguistic base for two thirds of it. That respect includes the readiness to read from right to left instead of left to right. That corresponds to the majority of us who are right-handed anyway. Somewhere along the line, probably among Greek-writing left-handers, more people got accustomed to starting on the left margin. Hebrew writing got a head start on Greek by a few hundred years, although that may be historically debatable, but there is no question that Hebrew moved from right to left a few thousand years before English took written form. The problem with duplicating this in English is that all the English letters are backwards.
Other distinctive differences can be confusing, especially if one simply depends on the phonetic characteristics of the languages. “Who” in Hebrew means “he” in English, while “he” in Hebrew means “she” in English. The English word for “who” must be translated “ma” in Hebrew, but you know what “ma” means in English, and she would need to be called “Ema” in Hebrew. Be careful not to pronounce it “emu” which is another bird entirely. “Me” in Hebrew means “who” in English. “Why” in Hebrew would be nothing at all since it is unpronounceable, but the word for “why” in Hebrew, the interrogative, is “lama,” which sounds more like an South American camel. Who needs two “els” anyway? Hebrew doesn’t even spell llama with two “els.”
Two “Els” has been theologically unacceptable in Hebrew for over three thousand years, except during the reigns of some of the kings “who did not do right in the sight of the Lord.” “El” is the generic word for a “god” in Hebrew and other Semitic languages, while the alphabetic letter “el” is “lamed.” Since only one God exists for the Hebrews, El came to be used for God’s name, which in its self-pronounced form, YHWH, cannot be pronounced by people. For speakers of English it is hard to pronounce words without vowels anyway, but Hebrew has no vowel symbols at all, although aleph, vav, and yud sometimes serve as space-holders for many vowel sounds.
Phonetics aside, Hebrew and English speakers have some difficulty deciphering each others’ meanings. The phrase “lo rah” in Hebrew sounds like “Behold the Egyptian god Ra,” but it literally means “not bad,” which can be translated “pretty good.” “Lo tov” on the other hand, sounding like a low bridge warning on a highway, means “not good,” which can be translated “pretty bad.”
Where the languages come together is in words from the modern era. Hebrew remained a language reserved for religious use until late in the Nineteenth Century, when people began to revive Hebrew for common everyday use. Since then you have been able to order a “hamburger” or drive an “automobile” or use a “computer” in Hebrew as well as English, with almost the same pronunciation. It’s good to know, with all the confusing differences that do exist, you already do know a lot of modern Hebrew.