It is well known that Biblical Hebrew is the historically most preserved and genuine fossil of the unknown today Proto-Semitic language. This is evidently because it became, since at least the last 3500 years, the sacred language of the Jewish people – on different levels of sophistication, by diverse books and documents, the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, in the first place.
It was the remarkable verbal structure of Biblical Hebrew, the most impressive proto-Semitic reminder, which motivated us in the first place to interpret anew the hitherto open problem of origins of human language – by new scientific, philosophical, theological considerations, putting finally to rest the multifarious unsatisfactory scientific schemes known today.
First and foremost, we are attempting here to scientifically observe, decipher, understand the most profound Biblical and human mystery – the lives of Adam and Eve before the fall, seen as sumptuous gifts of the almighty and loving Trinity. We believe that our solution is implying important scientific and theological consequences for a deeper understanding of human nature, language and intelligence.
Historically Biblical Hebrew (BH henceforth) was and remains today, an extremely popular subject for many linguistic, historical, theological, and national studies. This is why it is necessary to be precise from the outset concerning the specific interests and directions of our investigation. We need first to mathematically explore the basic structure, alphabetical, morphological and grammatical of BH, with important literary and theological implications for the study of its origins. Our multilateral analysis demonstrates that BH is a historical residue of a delicate, perfect, extremely efficient and, too particularly, unnatural language L, the language making an impression of a powerful linguistic instrument optimally designed and realized as a complementary to Adam’s oeuvre about 5 to 6 thousand years ago.
Today, it is difficult for us to explain why similar understandings escaped the attention of so numerous savants, scientists, theologians, ancient and modern, who were studying and commenting on every word in and around the Hebrew Bible (HB in what follows) – the principal literary and religious carrier of BH and the main and first spiritual source of, respectively, Judaism and Christianity.
1) The present text is intended for people whose religious and cultural backgrounds are sufficiently rich to satisfy their inquisitiveness, without Mathematical, Linguistic, Biblical, or Theological preparedness.
2) In particular, we will not involve the reader into the grammatical definitions of BH, which could be easily found on the internet and in books. What are we interested in are the foundational and morphological conditions of this language, which manifest openly, from our point of view, their “artificial” origins. For reasons we can only guess, these aspects of BH and, inevitably, of the mysterious proto-Semitic language, of which BH is a fossil, were previously fully ignored.
From First Amateurish Observations to Mathematical Disclosure to Theological Discernment
It is when something is ugly that we can know that it is wrong. Mathematicians, like poets and other artists, can embody the Faith at the root of this ( David Warren, Essays in Idleness (2018).
Studying Hebrew during his invitation to the Jerusalem university, the first author (Mathematician, Computer scientist, Physician) stumbled upon a new for him phenomenon of linguistic amazement: a typical BH verb is a written and respectively enunciated combination of three BH consonants, with vocals manifested a priori only in pronunciation and in a most vocally appropriated mould. This was a very personal and surrealistic impression – realized, deepened, and published much, much later, to be finally fully shared by the second author (Medievalist).
Of course, the phenomenon of Semitic verbal triliterality was and remains perfectly known, even if it is now used only academically, for example as a linguistic sign of all Semitic-Afroasiatic languages. (This is why it might be also of interest to study Arabic languages from the point of view of their ancient, inherited from L alphabetical, morphological and grammatical connections.)
Paradoxically, as we will see below, some classical Western linguists interpret the fact that «[almost] all BH verbs [being triliteral] look painfully alike» as a senseless and even awkward aspect of BH and its studies – an ugly and foreign to the subject intellectual diversion; worst still, it is accompanied by an independent meaningless doubt that BH is really a language [Edward Ullendorff, 1971]. Contrary to this trend, our mathematically inspired linguistic analysis manifests crucially important aspects of the optimal verbal structure of BH, several of them never noticed before. These observations made evident, first, why the reproof of “painfully alike” has no sense: two BH verbs which are very close by their literary forms have very often close or deeply related meanings [Edouard Belaga 2008]. Even more important from the pedagogical and scientifically points of view, this old brutal reproof is blocking the observance, and thus understanding, of some explicit properties of BH.
Finally, with all our enriched experience, we remain deeply impressed by the never scientifically explained, and still today looking scientifically incomprehensible, beauty of the verbal structure of BH and thus, of L. It is this beauty which led the present authors to the search for theological elucidations – the central topic of the present paper – of the historical and structural mystery of BH.
Verbal Foundations of Biblical Hebrew
BH alphabet has 22 letters-consonants, with (“Aleph”) and (“Ayin”) being silent consonants or glottal stops (Figure 1 below).
Thus, there exist around 10000 triliteral combinations of BH consonants, not all of them being able for phonetical reasons to represent a verb. But one recognizes today only about 1350 of them as BH verbs. Modern Hebrew constructed from BH in the XIXth the century (and still continued to be enriched today), has about 4000 triliteral verbs, similarly to modern English.
BH has also a few dozen two-to-four consonantal verbs, such, for example, as
(pronounced digdeg), which means “he tickled”. Their common number even in modern Hebrew is evidently less than 400.
It must be understood, that we deal here with a verbal language: almost all roots of BH are triconsonantal or trilateral, with names, adjectives, adverbs coming mostly from verbs.
Figure 1: BH alphabet. Hebrew alphabet with letters, their names, numbers, hand-written versions. (With permission from the website http://www.hebrew4christians.com/) constructed from BH in the XIXth century (to be further developed later) has similarities to modern English about 4000 triliteral verbs.
The first optimality remark:
1) It is surprising to find in a human language like BH such a mathematically optimal choice of the number of consonants for the presentation of verbs (and, thus, of roots of almost all words). Looking with our mathematical “magnifying glasses” into the verbal structure of BH, we note that this “systematic triliterality” gives the impression of a particular choice by the “creators” of the language to achieve optimality – similar to the construction of computer Assembler languages [Edouard Belaga, 2008].
2) One should also ask himself if such a language could be built around collections of verbs with lesser or bigger numbers of consonants. Obviously, two-consonantal or two-literal verbs would be not enough for a human language; on the other hand, free four- consonantal (and not just two-to-four, as above) verbs would be evidently too much around 150 000 possibilities. Compare this to the paradoxical, both ancient and modern, an example of another type of human language, the Chinese hieroglyphical system, with a very weak phonetics and with up to 60 000 notional characters-marks (sinograms).
The Topological Semantic Sensibility of Biblical Hebrew Verbs
It was a surprise for the first author to observe some years ago that professional teachers of BH, fully aware of its triliterality, have had sometimes their own ways to appreciate this optimal verbal design:
Hebrew, of course, has difficulties of its own, which must be frankly faced. … the roots are almost entirely triliteral, with the result that, at first, the verbs at any rate all look painfully alike e.g., malak, zakar, lamad [learned], harag, etc. thus imposing upon the memory a seemingly intolerable strain. Compound verbs are impossible: there is nothing in BH to correspond to the great and agreeable variety presented by Latin, Greek, or German in such verbs as exire, inire, abire, redire, … ausgehen, eingehen, aufgehen, untergehen, etc. Every verb has to be learned separately; the verbs to go out, to go up, to go down are all dissyllables of the type illustrated above, having nothing in common with one another and being quite unrelated to the verb to go. [John Mauchline, 1982]
Even these, proposed by chance, examples of English verbs with prepositions are well illustrating the fundamental professional disregard of the reality of BH. Thus, the verb to go, he-lamed-kaph ( ̄ ) in BH, having the meaning to walk, to progress step by step toward a goal, is semantically and morphologically neighbouring the verb he-lamed-qoph ( ), with its main meaning divide and portion.
Whereas the verbs to go out, to go up, to go down, i. e., respectively, iod- tzade-aleph ( ), ain-lamed-he ( ), iod-resh-daleth ( ), translated respectively exit; come out, rise up, develop, go (come) down; descend, are semantically and morphologically neighbouring the verbs (we choose just one sample, out of three to six possible for each of these verbs) iod-tzade-ain ( – extend), aleph-lamed-he ( – master), and ghimmel-resh-daleth ( – scrape; scratch), respectively.
This dramatic professional and pedagogical defamation of BH in one of the most popular and relatively modern BH textbooks represents both a sign and one of the reasons of the general polite disinterest in the fundamental treasures of the Old Testament’s cultural tradition.
The second optimality remark:
1) Much more often than by chance, two triliteral BH verbs, differing only in by two similar consonants at the same place, have deeply related meanings.
2) This signifies that an involved, profound study and knowledge of BH with «every verb learned separately,» brings with it a deep intuitive knowledge of the human nature and of the human place in the World.
3) In other words, one does not have in BH the varieties of so dear to some of us “Latin, Greek, German” or English prefixes, suffixes, prepositions, etc., but one has here the remarkable and powerful semantically-oriented topological sensibility of verbs – the phenomenon never scientifically observed before us and yet apparently anticipated by certain Rabbinical [Matityahu Clark 1999] and cabalistic [Yitzchak Ginsburgh 1990] teachings.
Biblical Hebrew: a Perfect Instrument
It is a common knowledge today that“Hebrew grammar is essentially schematic. And, starting from simple primary rules, it is possible to work out, almost mathematically, the main groups of word-building” [Jacob Weingreen, 1959].
It is thus not very surprising to discover that the grammar of BH is not only essentially schematic but that even the adverb “almost” can be removed, according to an interesting modern professional algorithmic-linguistic exercise [Joschim Lambek and Noson S. Yanofsky 2006].
The third optimality remark:
1) According to the modern universal linguistic paradigm, languages reflect human attention and attitudes to the external world in the first place, not first and foremost the human inner world in its most transparent and optimal manner.
2) The particular and forthright verbal character of BH, its simplicity, regularity, optimality, and beauty of its properties are linguistically unprecedented and exceptionally promising. One feels that this amazing “basement” was prepared to be crowned by an exciting edifice.
3) The additional exceptional optimality of BH – first, its algorithm on a higher level than the above optimality phenomena, and second, the absence of linguistically typical multitudinous exceptions of the rules (just remember your native language) – gives us a very plausible impression that BH is a unique linguistic instrument, compact and extremely “lightweight”, of perfect construction and high precision.
by Dr. Edouard Belaga and Dr. Ekaterina Belaga
See references at the end of Part II