Psalm 119 and The Hebrew Alphabet
In Year 1, I sought to teach Hannah Psalm 119 because it extols the merits of God's word. But in recent times (Oct. 2009) it has proven the place for me to gain purchase and foothold in this life--step-by-step the psalmist magnifies the truth of the scriptures and confesses that he will continue to obey them in spite of his enemies. He is small and despised but he does not forget God's precepts. He is in the earth but seeking God above through his precepts and asking for help to keep on doing so.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible. It is divided into 22 sections, each titled after a letter of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of these sections has eight verses.
- ALEPH (Psalm 119:1-8)
- BETH (Psalm 119:9-16)
- GIMEL (Psalm 119:17-24)
- DALETH (Psalm 119:25-32)
- HE (Psalm 119:33-40)
- VAU (Psalm 119:41-48)
- ZAIN (Psalm 119:49-56)
- CHETH (Psalm 119:57-64)
- TETH (Psalm 119:65-72)
- JOD (Psalm 119:73-80)
- CAPH (Psalm 119:81-88)
- LAMED (Psalm 119:89-96)
- MEM (Psalm 119:97-104)
- NUN (Psalm 119:105-112)
- SAMECH (Psalm 119:113-120)
- AIN (Psalm 119:121-128)
- PE (Psalm 119:129-136)
- TZADDI (Psalm 119:137-144)
- KOPH (Psalm 119:145-152)
- RESH (Psalm 119:153-160)
- SCHIN (Psalm 119:161-168)
- TAU (Psalm 119:169-176)
As a part of introducing and examining Psalm 119 in Year 1, we learned the pronunciation of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. I encountered various pronunciations of these letters but selected those that I heard most commonly and that most agreed with the spellings in the scriptures. Then in Year 4, we examined the written letters in one of our homemade mathematics books. Recently (Year 6), I've once again searched out the pronunciations. In the list below, I've included two pronunciations for some letters. We pronounce the letters the first way. The second way I've discovered recently but we were already to committed to the first way we learned to pronounce the letters.
The letter names below are those in the Authorized Version. We do not hold to any other spellings. We are not learning "the original Hebrew". In the Authorized Version, we already possess the scriptures in their perfect form. We are only learning the letters of Psalm 119 because they are spelled out in the scriptures. This knowledge of the Hebrew letters has opened up new doors for us in the area of linguistics and I perceive that it will continue to open doors.
Even though the pronunciations below do not agree with every source that I find (even amongst the Hebrews there are different pronunciations), they are still in the ballpark. I can hear the Hebrew alphabet spoken and I can follow the person. I find that with many things, if you just get in the ballpark you can go from there, later on refining if so led or you can just continue to possess basic important knowledge. Many things do not have to be perfect, just in the ballpark. I can still bake a good cake if I'm missing a little flour or if I add a little too much water.
LETTER NAME PRONUNCIATION
all vowels short unless indicated otherwise
ALEPH A-lef ("a" as in "father") BETH BET GIMEL GI-mel DALETH DA-let ("a" as in "father") HE HEY VAU VOW [or VAUV ("au" as in "naught")] ZAIN ZA-een ("a" as in "father") CHETH CHET (e as in "egg") [or HET] TETH TET ("e" as in "egg") JOD YAHD ("ah" as in "father") [or YUD ("u" as in "bud")] CAPH CAF ("a" as in "father") LAMED LA-med ("a" as in "father") MEM MIM (short i) NUN NOON ("oo" as in "moon") SAMECH SA-meck ("a" as in "father") AIN INE (long i--we pronounce it with two syllables "i-een") PE PAY (long a) TZADDI SAW-de (like the word "saw", long e) KOPH COF (long o) [or COOF ("oo" as in "moon")] RESH RESH ("e" as in "egg") SCHIN SHIN (like "sheen") [or "shin"] TAU TOW ("ow" as in "now") [or TAUV ("au" as in "naught")]
- How to make a cardboard hornbook, a portable colonial table on which to display and/or learn the letters.
Aside: We studied the Greek alphabet because God uses it in Revelation when he makes known that he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last. We are not learning, "the original Greek". We are only examining the letters of the Greek alphabet because it is mentioned in the scriptures. We also examined and compared the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew alphabets in Year 4 in our Geometry mathematics book because Pilate wrote his superscription in these languages (Luke 23:38) (he made sure that everybody could understand that Jesus Christ is the King of the Jews). Language is an important and powerful means of communication. We did not memorize the alphabets, we compared them and wrote them out. Missing from the following truncated graphic are the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew letter names which are very telling. We may update this page to reflect this information.
[Note: The last column of this graphic should read "Phoenician" because that is what we had it labeled as when Hannah did this exercise. It was later on when I came across the name of the Hebrew sign letters, Ktav Ivri.]
Learning the Hebrew alphabet opened up multiple languages to us with a pyramid effect--Phoenician, Greek, Latin, English, Persian, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopian, Samaritan, Etruscian, etc. taking us on to a discussion of linguistics, commonalities (and differences) in languages and structures, etc. The Hebrews letters written above are in the Ktav Ivri script which is Semitic* sign letters as opposed to the Hebrew pen letters. It is here in the sign letters that a comparison with the Greek and Latin alphabets is most revealing. It is here we see the relationship of the Hebrew alphabet (alef-bet) and English. In studying the Hebrew letters, we have discovered relationships across many languages. [Semitic--Sem (Luke 3:36) or Shem (Gen 5:32) is Noah's son from whom the Hebrews are descended. Each nation on earth is descended from one of Noah's three sons--Shem, Ham, or Japheth]