Thursday, November 20, 2014

E.P. Sanders on Learning Hebrew as a Living Language

Excerpts on learning languages (mostly Hebrew) from E.P. Sanders's intellectual autobiography:
"I learned many things from going to church, but not that reading the Bible required Hebrew and Greek, nor that understanding it required German and French" (13).

"I studied German in Göttingen from June until October 1962 and then went to Oxford to see what David Daube could arrange. This resulted in my working on rabbinic Hebrew for two terms. Dissatisfied with my progress, I decided to study modern Hebrew to learn how to read unvocalized texts, and went to Jerusalem. There Yigael Yadin twisted the arm of Mordechai Kamrat, who accepted me as a private pupil, and I began to acquire a serious amount of Hebrew" (14).

"In the fall of 1968, my beloved friend and teacher, Mordechai Kamrat, took me in as a student again. Kamrat was one of the two most remarkable people I have ever known....Kamrat knew all languages.... [Footnote: As far as I discovered, he knew Latin and Greek, as well as all of the Slavic, Germanic, Romance, and Semitic languages that are spoken today.] And he could teach anyone anything. Like many Israelis, he was chronically short of money. I paid him a weekly sum that seemed reasonable at the time; it was about the same as I later paid for my daughter's piano lessons. Dr. Kamrat had started studying the Talmud at the age of four in Poland. Befriended by a Catholic priest, he was given access to a library and began to acquire languages other than Yiddish, Aramaic, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian, and knowledge other than Talmudic. He ended up with a Ph.D. from the University of Krakow in pedagogical psychology, went to British-controlled Palestine (the only one in his family to escape the Holocaust), and figured out how to teach Hebrew to immigrants from anywhere. He taught me modern Hebrew and rabbinics in the same way: inductively, with drill." (18)

Source: Sanders, E. P. “Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography.” Pages 11–41 in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders. Edited by Fabian E. Udoh, Susannah Heschel, Mark A. Chancey, and Gregory Tatum. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

1 comment:

Charles Grebe said...

"inductively, with drill"... interesting. Pretty much the opposite of what we usually do with biblical Hebrew.