Israel is in the news, and is likely to stay there. Here is your chance to understand the issues, the background and the amazingly resilient society that is modern Israel. Hebrew literature has had a life of over 3000 years from the earliest parts of the Bible to the most modern newspaper or novel. The classical phase of the language is represented in the Hebrew Bible and in some slightly later literature, notably in some of the Dead Sea scrolls. It also appears in inscriptions, of which more and more are being discovered in Israel. After Biblical Hebrew a later form of the language was spoken in Judah at the beginning of the present era, and was used by the early rabbis in their voluminous writings. In the Middle Ages Hebrew continued to be used by the great Jewish commentators on the Bible, and by poets, grammarians and authors of many other works. Throughout, it was, of course, the language of Jewish prayer and worship in home and synagogue and was a means of international communication between Jewish communities. Christians too studied Hebrew, especially in the Renaissance and Reformation periods, and in the centuries since then. Finally, Hebrew was reinvigorated in the nineteenth century, not just as a literary language, but as a vernacular in everyday use, and it is now the language of the State of Israel, where there is a vigorous and growing literature. The course includes the option of studying Aramaic, a closely related language, which has a similarly long history. It became the official language of the Persian Empire in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, and was widely used in Palestine during the period of the Second Temple. An extensive literature was produced in Syriac, which was a Christian dialect of Aramaic. Syriac remains to this day a liturgical language. Aramaic, moreover, is still used as a vernacular language by some Jewish and Christian communities.
At Cambridge all the main phases of the Hebrew language and its literature can be studied. In Part IA and IB, the basic language and literature work leads into a wider appreciation of the history, culture and religion of the periods being studied. No prior knowledge of Hebrew is required. Part II offers further course options and a greater opportunity for detailed study and specialisation in chosen topics. These include other languages such as Aramaic, Phoenician and Ugaritic. There is also a paper in Comparative Semitics. Students also undertake a dissertation in their fourth year. The subjects within the Middle Eastern Studies pathway share many of the same non-language classes, particularly at Part IA and IB. This allows students to gain a broad knowledge of the Middle East, and of how the interactions between different nations have shaped the history and culture of the region.
There are many different ways in which the study of these subjects can be incorporated into a BA programme: some further detail is provided here.
Papers and regulations change from year to year, please see the Undergraduate Handbook for full details.