ANCIENT HEBREW, LANGUAGE OF THE ISRAELITE SAMARITANS
ancient hebrew

Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic

According to the Hebrew Bible, the scribe Ezra changed the language and the script. However, the historical facts differ: the change occurred when the Jews adopted the Aramaic script. At this time, the Samaritans adhered to their ancient Hebrew script. But the change happened much later than the period of Ezra the Scribe, who flourished in the 5th century BCE.

The Jews gradually ceased using the Ancient Hebrew script and  adopted the Aramaic script (sometimes mistakenly called ‘Assyrian script’) in the 1st century CE, following the Jewish-Samaritan rift. At this time Aramaic was supplanting Greek as the regional lingua franca. The Samaritans, on the other hand, abandoned Aramaic script, and continued to use the Ancient Hebrew script. Most of the inscriptions found on Mount Gerizim were written in Aramaic. This shows that at some time, both scripts where in common use by both communities.

Film: see Jeff Benner’s A History of Hebrew, Part 4

The change of script took place over a lengthy period of time. The change did not depend on the decision of one individual, but derived from the needs of two differing communities – Jews and Samaritans- to establish separate identities.

Both use the same Hebrew language, but the pronunciation of Hebrew and Aramaic by the Samaritans considerably predates the Jewish pronunciation. In fact, scholars such as Zeev ben Hayeem, the greatest scholar of Samaritan Aramaic and Hebrew of our generation, claim that the reading of the Torah by the Samaritans represents the pronunciation of Hebrew as it may have sounded in the last centuries BCE.

Benyamim Tsedaka

Yefet HaCohen speaks Samaritan (and some English) and explains mezzuza placement (You Tube)

Dead Sea Scrolls online

Late Samaritan Hebrew: a linguistic analysis of its different types by Moshe Florentin

 

9 Responses

  1. What a treasure it is to be able to read a translation from ancient Hebrew. I can’t look at bibles the same way again, now that the Samaritan Version on the Torah is available, stemming from ancient Samaritan Hebrew. A Torah Mooshe would be able to read and feel comfortable with. People are always saying that the original language is Best when interrupting verses, and not an English translation or some other language translation. Now, the modern aramaic “square script” is also a translation. I think it’s also special because since God wrote the Ten Commandments, with His own Finger in that time period; God wrote it in ancient Paleo/Samaritan Hebrew. Not in modern Hebrew “square script”, but in ancient Hebrew. What a treasure!

  2. Eliezer Ben Avraham

    ES maravilloso la historia ysraelita

  3. Dave Sabatene

    Hi, Benny. Could you elaborate on all the languages used by Samaritans? I understand the Torah is in one script but is pronounced differently in some cases than Masoretic Hebrew. Then I have read there is another Samaritan language used in discourse, and finally a third one, aside from modern Hebrew and Arabic.

    • Shalom Dave,
      The Israelite Samaritans spoke 4 languages: the Samaritan dialect of Aramaic, Greek, Arabic, and above all, the Ancient Hebrew, which we still speak today.
      The Samaritans allowed the use of Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic in worship. The use of Arabic and Greek was not permitted in the synagogue.

      • Dave Sabatene

        Thanks. Where could we read/listen more about the pronunciation of Samaritan Hebrew in comparison with Masoretic Hebrew pronunciation, and the same thing for Aramaic?

  4. Dave Sabatene

    Hello again, Benny. I thought people would find it interesting that the spelling of your first name as Binyamim is mentioned by Rashi in Genesis 35:18, where he brings one explanation that Binyamin as we spell it refers to “the son of days” (binyamim/binyamin), meaning that the son was born in Yaakov’s advanced age, and that the ending of an “n” instead of an “m” is found in several places in the Tanach.

    • Shalom Dave,
      It was the grandson of Rashi, Rabbi SHmu’el ben Meir (Rashbam) who wrote this commentary and really understood the significance of the story of the Birth of Benyamim.

  5. Carl Lehrburger

    I am a scholar in North American petroglyphs and ancient inscriptions. I am seeking someone familar with ancient Samaritan writing to help identify an unidentified script that bear striking resemblances.

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