Semitic language that is both a sacred language of Judaism and a modern vernacular in Israel. Like Aramaic, to which it is closely related, Hebrew has a documented history of nearly 3,000 years. The earliest fully attested stage of the language is Biblical Hebrew: the earlier parts (Standard Biblical Hebrew) date before 500 BC and include even older poetic passages; the later parts (Late Biblical Hebrew) were composed c. 500–200 BC. Post-Biblical Hebrew, variously termed Rabbinic or Mishnaic Hebrew (see Mishna), is characterized by an early period when Hebrew was still probably to some degree a vernacular and a later period, after c. AD 200, when Aramaic became the everyday speech of Jews in the Middle East. The 6th and 7th centuries marked a transition to Medieval Hebrew. The resurrection of Hebrew as a vernacular is closely linked with the 18th-century Haskala movement and 20th-century Zionism. Contemporary Israeli Hebrew is spoken by about five million people in Israel and abroad. See also Ashkenazi; Sephardi; Hebrew alphabet.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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