In this fascinating book, Steve Maltz argues that that God chose to reveal himself through Hebrew because every letter of the aleph-bet (that’s not ‘alphabet’ misspelled, by the way) has a visual significance. For example, the Hebrew word for ‘father’ – Ab or Av – consists of the first two words of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph and Beit. The Hebrew letter Aleph evolved from a symbol for an ox’s head, which symbolised strength and leadership. Beit, the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet, developed from the symbol for a house. Hence Ab is the strong leader of a house. Hebrew is also a language of action with the accent on verbs and it is a language of the senses. The Hebrew word for angry, for example, is to be ‘hot-nosed’.
Orthodox Jews attribute mystical – almost magical – properties to the Hebrew letters and Steve provides example after fascinating example of the way Hebrew ‘works’ and how the rabbis drew out what seem to non-Hebrew readers to be fanciful interpretations of Scripture based on word-plays and the significance of single letters.
Soon after I came to CWI, an Orthodox Jew informed me that ‘Christian’ versions of Scripture mistranslate Psalm 22:16. What in most English versions of the Bible reads, ‘they have pierced my hand and my feet’ in Jewish translations reads, ‘like a lion [they are at] my hands and my feet’. The difference in translation hangs on whether the Hebrew phrase ends with the letter yod (the smallest letter in the aleph-bet) or a vav (which looks like an elongated yod). If the last letter is a yod, the phrase reads ka ari (‘like a lion’). If it is a vav, it reads ka aru (‘they have pierced’). This has long been a bone of contention between Jews and Christians but in 1953, the discovery of an ancient fragment of Psalm 22 near the Dead Sea settled the matter once and for all. The papyrus scrap clearly showed a vav in verse 16, demonstrating conclusively that ‘pierced’ is the correct rendering.
More detailed treatments of the wonders and mysteries of the Hebrew language are available but for those who want a readable introduction to the matter or for those who simply want to dip their toes into the subject God’s Signature is definitely the book to start with. You’ll find it very difficult to put down.
Terra Nova Publications
169 + xiii pages