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This book explores the extraordinary hold that Hebrew has had on Jews and Christians, who have invested it with a symbolic power far beyond that of any other language in history. Preserved by the Jews across two millennia, Hebrew endured long after it ceased to be a mother tongue, resulting in one of the most intense textual cultures ever known. It was a bridge to Greek and Arab science. It unlocked the biblical sources for Jerome and the Reformation. Kabbalists and humanists sought philosophical truth in it, and Colonial Americans used it to shape their own Israelite political identity. Today, it is the first language of millions of Israelis.The Story of Hebrew takes readers from the opening verses of Genesis--which seemingly describe the creation of Hebrew itself--to the reincarnation of Hebrew as the everyday language of the Jewish state.

About the Author

Lewis Glinert


They were big Hebrew letters, mounted on card. I still remember the day I first held them as a five year old in that old London Jewish school, and chanted their names -- like children since time immemorial -- aleph, beis, gimel, daled.

Overnight, it seemed, we were onto Torah, Mishnah, Gemara (no grammar, no dictionaries, just kind of by osmosis) . But nothing had prepared me for the surprise of my first trip to Israel. They were actually SPEAKING Hebrew. Me too. ('Buy us two bus tickets', my father whispered. 'shnei kartisim') . What, Hebrew has a word for bus and ticket? At that moment, I fell in love with the Hebrew language.

Ten years later, it was obvious that my Ph.D. dissertation in linguistics should be about colloquial Hebrew syntax. But there was just one small problem: No one, amazingly, in 1972, had yet even begun to describe it. And so that's how I began my academic career teaching Hebrew linguistics at Haifa University. A Brit teaching them about their own language. And still (and still today) deeply in love with it.


It's a strange world. In the Israeli media, the centenary of the rebirth of Spoken Hebrew passed unnoticed.

Not so in Britain: In 1989, the BBC invited me to create a 45 minute documentary on the rebirth of Hebrew, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. It has now been placed on the BBC's Archive. You can hear it crystal-clear at


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