Hebrew Literature

Hebrew literature, term for the Hebrew that was used in biblical times as a Jewish colloquial and literary language and in late Biblical and post-biblical antiquity alongside Aramaic v. a. served as literary language.

The literature from these periods was passed on primarily as a religiously and legally authoritative tradition. Consequently, Hebrew is considered the language of the Bible, the binding ancient tradition and the liturgy as the “holy” language. It was always used, at least in traditional literature, even if other languages ​​often dominated in other areas over time, so “Jewish literature” as a whole is more extensive than Hebrew (and Jewish-Aramaic). According to philosophynearby, after Hebrew had died out as a native language idiom in the course of the Aramaization and Hellenization of the Near East in the course of antiquity, it later experienced a “renaissance” in three epochs: 1) literary in the Middle Ages following the maintenance of the language and the literary bloom in the Arabic-speaking Mediterranean Area; 2) in the 19th Century as a profane literary language as a result of the Jewish Enlightenment; 3) in the 19th / 20th Century as a modern everyday Hebrew and literary language as a result of the Zionist re-appropriation of Palestine as an important Jewish settlement area and the establishment of the State of Israel.


Biblical period (from approx. 900 BC): The Hebrew (and partly Aramaic) scriptures of the Bible (of the Old Testament), originating from different authors, in the 3rd / 4th centuries. Canonized as Holy Scripture in the 19th century, regardless of the complicated and lengthy history of its origins, this text corpus is considered the authoritative basis of the Jewish religion: 1) the Torah (Pentateuch or “The Five Books of Moses”) in the form of the “written Torah”, the Moses was revealed on Mount Sinai, fixed on “holy” leather scrolls according to fixed writing rules for the reading of scriptures in church services (continuous annual reading cycle); 2) Nebiim (“Books of the Prophets”), for the liturgical reading of scriptures (selection pericopes) in addition to the Torah reading, also recorded on “holy” leather scrolls according to regulated writing rules; 3) Ketubim (“writings” or hagiographs). – Apart from the biblical texts, only a few Hebrew inscriptions have survived.

Late Biblical and Post-Biblical Period: Hebrew and Aramaic texts of various characters were created as early as late Biblical times, but these have only been preserved in Greek translation and mainly through Christian tradition: 1) the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, also known as “deutero-canonical books” as part of the Greek Bible; 2) the pseudepigraphs of the Old Testament, also handed down in Christian terms and only summarized under this name in modern times.

Original Hebrew / Aramaic texts are only known from papyri finds in Egypt (Elephantine) (especially documents and business papers in Aramaic), v. a. but through the scrolls found at Qumran on the Dead Sea. The Qumran texts, some in Aramaic and most of them written in late Biblical Hebrew, include, in addition to the oldest known biblical texts, writings that are closely related to the Bible, i.e. commentary-like and supplementary writings, community ordinances, religious or liturgical poems, etc. Historically, palaeographically and historically they form a valuable addition to the previously known early Jewish literature.

Rabbinical-Talmudic literature: Between 70 and around 600 AD, an extensive tradition, first handed down orally and finally also literarily established, arose in the rabbinical schools of Palestine and Babylonia, which is only attested to textually by medieval manuscripts. This literature includes: 1) the Mishnah, an authoritative corpus of legal traditions structured in six “orders” and in tracts (fixed around AD 220; part of the “oral Torah”, which, like the written Torah, traced back to Moses, but for the first time was recorded in writing after a long tradition); 2) the Tosefta, a parallel collection; 3) the Palestinian Talmud; 3rd to 5th Century, unfinished; 4) the Babylonian Talmud, rabbinic traditions based on the Mishnah and utilizing other traditions, in the 6th / 7th. Completed in the 19th century, since then a binding source of Jewish law, which also contains small narrative and didactic forms and biblical exegetical traditions; 5) the midrashim (midrash), d. H. Texts that contain explanatory and supplementary traditional material based on biblical writings, some of which are thematically arranged in homily form; 6) Targumim, d. H. Aramaic translations of the biblical books, testimonies to rabbinical interpretation of the Bible; 7) synagogal poetry (pijut), attested as a poetic embodiment and supplement to the rabbinical order of prayer (especially for Sabbath and festival services) from the late 4th century onwards, in the 6th century already with fixed, “classical” forms. An awareness of the author becomes clear for the first time in Jannaj (6th century?), Who partly used his name acrostic. At the end of the period the poetry of these early “pajtanim” (poets) reached a final climax in the work and school of Elasar ha-Killir (Kalir).

Modern times

Book printing made it possible to spread medieval works and, in quantitative terms, led to an enormous increase in literary production. After the expulsion from Spain, Judaism was dominated by the Kabbalah. The traditional literature dominated with Talmudic commentaries and commentaries on the older legal works, v. a. but to J. Karo’s “Schulchan Aruch”. The biblical commentaries often had an edifying, Kabbalistic or homiletic character, the extensive edifying literature mostly had Kabbalistic features.

In Italy, secular education and literature remained alive, and profane poems and dramas were written, so that a continuous line to modern Hebrew literature of the Enlightenment emerged here. This literature influenced Eastern Europe through the Habsburg Empire, in which numerous Italian-Jewish authors lived. Most famous was the versatile M. C. Luzzato.

Hebrew Literature

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