The Ancient Hebrew Alphabet
This 4,000 year old Inscription was found in the land of Israel and is composed of three letters written in the ancient pictographic Hebrew script. The letter at the top of the inscription is the aleph and is a picture of an ox head representing strength. Below that is the letter lamed and is a picture of a shepherd staff representing authority. When these pictographs are combined the word "el" is formed meaning "the strong one of authority." The Hebrew Bible (called the TaNaKh by Jews and the Old Testament by Christians) was originally written in this pictographic Hebrew script (as well as a modified form usually referred to as Paleo-Hebrew) by Hebrews whose language and culture were very different from our own. Because of this, it is through the study of the ancient Hebrew alphabet, language and culture we can better understand the Biblical texts.
The Ancient Hebrew Language
The Hebrew Bible was written by Hebrews 2,500 to 3,500 years ago, whose culture and lifestyle were very different than our own. When we read the Word of God as a 20th Century American, our culture and lifestyle often influence our interpretation of the words and phrases.
The word rain is a good example of how culture can influence one's view of a word. To a bride and groom preparing for an outdoor wedding, the news of rain has a negative meaning, but to the farmer in the middle of a drought, the same word has a positive meaning. For many of us, rain means a spoiled picnic but to the ancient Hebrews, rain meant life, for without it their nomadic life would end. Without a cultural understanding of the words in the Bible, much is missed or overlooked.
Many times our 20th century culture can influence definitions of words that were not intended by the original author. The Bible often refers to keeping and breaking God's commands and covenant. To "keep" the commands of God is usually understood as to "obey" the commands, but this is not completely true as the Hebrew word "shamar" literally means to guard or protect. The breaking of the commands is usually understood as "disobeying" but the Hebrew word "Parar" literally means to trample underfoot.
A peoples language is very closely related to their culture, without an understanding of the Hebrew culture we cannot fully understand their language. To cross this cultural bridge, we need to understand the ancient Hebrew culture, lifestyle and language.