Today I wrote a post for Mormon Matters discussing the School of the Prophets in the time of Joseph Smith and how different our religious education is today. For many years now I have tired of the same 4-year round of scripture pablum which is offered in our Sunday Schools.
Learning the Bible in the original languages is a pastime which has intrigued me and which I have attempted on my own. I've often wished we could include some Hebrew and Greek studies into our Sunday School classes. Lest any think that doing this might prove too hard for the average member, I want to present an example of what this might look like, and get your opinion on whether you think a run-of-the-mill Gospel Doctrine teacher could handle teaching such material. The following comes from Jeff A. Benner's Biblical Hebrew E-Magazine, September 2008, Issue #046.
Biblical Word of the Month - Eleph אלף
The oxen likewise and the young asses that till the ground shall eat savory provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fork. (ASV, Isaiah 30:24)
In the verse above is the Hebrew noun אלף (eleph, Strong's #504) meaning oxen. Oxen are the largest of the Ancient Hebrews' livestock and were most frequently used for plowing the fields, usually in pairs. An older ox would be yoked to a younger one in order for the older one to teach the younger through association. This same noun is also found in Judges 6:15 where it is translated as "family." In a family, the children learn from the parents, in the same manner as the oxen, through association.
The verbal root of this word is אלף (A.L.Ph, Strong's #502) and means "learn," but more literally, to learn through association, as can be seen in the following verse.
Make no friendship with a man that is given to anger; And with a wrathful man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn this ways, And get a snare to thy soul. (ASV, Proverbs 22:25)
As oxen are "very large" animals, the word אלף (eleph) is also used for a "thousand," a "very large" number. (While this is the same word discussed previously, Strong's dictionary has assigned this word the number 505 when used for a "thousand.") From this aspect of the noun, a second verb is formed. Normally, Hebrew nouns are derived out of verbs, however on occasion, a verb is derived out of a noun, this verb is called a demonstrative verb. The demonstrative verb formed out of אלף (eleph) is אלף (A.L.Ph, Strong's #503) meaning to "give a thousand." In summary, the Hebrew word אלף can be;
One other note about the word eleph, it may be the origin of the word elephant, a "very large" beast.
(If you are a Latter-day Saint who does not know what the "Strong's numbers" above refer to, shame on you! Or shame on your religious educators who have not taught you about such a valuable learning tool in gospel study!)
I can picture a very engaging lesson from the previous information, including unique Latter-day Saint teachings such as the importance of the family and the need for good associations. I can also imagine facilitating some interesting discussion on the large numbers of "thousands" of people in the Bible and the Book of Mormon and what the Hebrew meaning of this word might suggest.
I think these are the kinds of things Brother Joseph and his compatriots in the School of the Prophets were learning when they hired Joshua Seixas to teach them Hebrew for ten weeks--two hours a day and five times a week. Just learning the one word "Berosheit" inspired Joseph to redefine the nature of God and the creation account.
What do you think? Could learning a few Hebrew words inspire a bit of prophecy in your ward? Or do we need to go over the importance of the keystone in an arch one more time?
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