The story of Hebrew

A thorough historical overview of Hebrew language and literature from ancient to modern times

The story of Hebrew

Glinert, Lewis. Princeton, 2017
281p bibl index, 9780691153292 $27.95, 9781400884780

The story of Hebrew book cover

Like Latin, Hebrew thrived for centuries as a sacred literary language, rarely used for everyday speech, but unlike Latin, Hebrew is now the primary language of millions. Glinert (Dartmouth) reviews Hebrew literature and language from its earliest appearance to the 21st century. Writing in novel-like prose, the author highlights dramatic tensions between tradition and modernity, religion and secularism, and the poetic and the pragmatic, including frequent scenes in which Hebrew is saved from near-certain oblivion. Heroes of the narrative include the Bible and Mishnah, the Masoretes and Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, Christian Hebraists such as Reuchlin, Luther, the committee charged with creating the King James Bible, even Yiddish writer Mendele Mocher Sforim. Hebrew secular newspapers, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s Hasidic stories, modern verse, and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s decision to speak only Hebrew propelled the language to its current dominant position, but Glinert also observes that the age of nationalism saw many other standard national languages emerge from a welter of spoken dialects. Glinert’s many translations from the Hebrew sparkle, at times matching the meter and rhyme of the original. This book, the first in a generation to tell this story, is valuable for its panache as well as its research and thoughtfulness.

Summing Up: Essential. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; researchers, faculty, and professionals; general readers.
Reviewer: S. Ward, University of Wyoming
Interdisciplinary Subjects: Middle Eastern Studies
Subject: Humanities – Language & Literature – African & Middle Eastern
Choice Issue: Sep 2017