skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Hebrew and Semitic Studies

Documentation of the Hebrew language dates back 3,000 years or more, from the earliest inscriptions and biblical texts, down to the most recent novel by Amos Oz or the latest edition of the Yediot Ahronot or Ha'aretz newspapers. It is the language of the Law (Torah), the Prophets, and the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible as well as of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, since their discovery in 1947, have shed light on a convulsive period in Jewish history in the late Second Commonwealth.

After Biblical Hebrew a later form of the language was used by the early rabbis and sages 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 also, of course, served as the language of Jewish prayer and worship, both at home and in the synagogue, and was a means of international communication between Jewish communities. Since the Renaissance and Reformation periods and up to the present day, Christians have also studied Hebrew.

Rachel Williams teaching Hebrew

Finally, comatose as a mother tongue for thousands of years, spoken Hebrew was reinvigorated in the nineteenth century. No longer just a literary language, it rapidly became a vernacular in everyday use, and is now the language of the State of Israel, where it continues to develop and where there is a vigorous and growing literature.

Cambridge has long been a centre for Hebrew and Semitic studies, the Regius Professorship of Hebrew having been founded by Henry VIII in 1540. The University Library has a large number of Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts, and special mention must be made of the famous Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection. This collection contains thousands of manuscript fragments datable to the seventh century CE onwards. It attracts scholars from many parts of the world to work in Cambridge.

Students taking undergraduate courses in Hebrew study Hebrew language, literature and culture of all periods (ancient, medieval and modern). The teaching staff include specialists in each of these periods. It is our approach to integrate these historical layers of the language in a single coherent course. This gives the study of the modern language and literature a meaningful historical depth and the study of ancient Hebrew an added vitality. All students have the opportunity to study original medieval manuscripts from the Genizah.

Thanks to the variety of languages and courses on offer within FAMES and to links to other faculties within the University, students enjoy great flexibility in selecting between various combination tracks and emphases. A student may combine Hebrew with either Arabic or a Modern European Language. It is also possible to study Hebrew while emphasizing such topics as an Ancient Near Eastern Language (Akkadian or Egyptian), Linguistics, Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Persian (see the suggested course descriptions below). In the more advanced stage of the course (Part II), those interested in the Semitic languages can, in addition to Hebrew and Arabic, study Phoenician, Ugaritic, and Aramaic. Aramaic has a history that is equally long as that of Hebrew and is still spoken in numerous vernacular dialects, many now highly endangered. Teaching is available for all periods of Aramaic, including of the modern dialects.

click on the links below for descriptions of the various combination and emphasis tracks available

Full Hebrew Path

Hebrew and Arabic Language Combination

Hebrew and Modern European Language Combination

Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern Language Emphasis

Hebrew and Linguistics Emphasis

Hebrew and Jewish Studies Emphasis

Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies Emphasis

Hebrew and Persian Language Emphasis