The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies

In the past couple of decades, there has been a renaissance of lay interest in Scripture study.  The influence such figures as Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Tim Gray, Ted Sri and lots of biblical study programs in parishes and dioceses all over the world has whetted the appetite of thousands and thousands of Catholics to know more about the word of God in both the Old and New Testaments.

Of course, there are numerous fine biblical commentaries, concordances, and study Bibles out there, but one thing they all have in common for the overwhelming majority of Scripture students is this: readers of the Bible speak their own language and perhaps a few others, but not Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.  So the reader cannot fully get back to the original languages in which the word of God is written.  To get a sense of how that can affect the reader’s approach to the text, consider a word like Kecharitomene.  It is the word used by the Archangel Gabriel to address the Blessed Virgin in the Annunciation (Luke 1:28).  Various translations render it “highly favored one”, “O Favored One”, “full of grace” and so forth.  Which is best?

Well, all of them contain a piece of the meaning.  Mary is favored by God.  She is also full of charis: the divine life of grace.  The term is not merely a comment on where she stands with God but is a divinely bestowed title that is intended to name her just as “Rise, Sir Bedevere” is intended to title and name a newly minted knight.  All of these meanings are rolled into one word and no single English translation can capture it all, just as the English word “love” cannot capture the nuances of the different kinds of love (storge, eros, phileo, agape) that are found in Biblical Greek.  And similar problems are found with Biblical Hebrew.

Consequently, many people interested in Bible study want to learn the Biblical languages.  But how?

The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies was founded precisely to make this a reality for anybody anywhere in the world with access to the internet.  The Institute aims to make the Bible accessible through biblical study and language courses that connect students with teachers of the original languages of the Old and New Testaments. This allows a growing body of learners to interpret the holy texts themselves, while discovering the ancient land of the Bible where the stories took place.

The idea is to join on-line courses taught by world class experts in biblical languages that you can take in the comfort of your own home.  The classes (worth college credit at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) are intimate and allow the teacher to focus on each student. You don’t need an academic background, but you do need to want to learn the material since committed students achieve the best results.  The assignments are minimal, the classes are 2 hours a week.

The classes are live and interactive via the web.  You not only can speak with your teacher, but with the other students in the class who hail from around the globe.  If you need to review material, the classes are recorded so that you can access everything at your leisure later.  And you submit your voluntary assignments for your teacher to evaluate in a secure way.  Your instructors are passionate and experienced teachers and your fellow students are there, like you, to learn. You’ll join webinars and live practice sessions to enrich your knowledge and study experience.  Plus, there is a vast library of academic resources to get the most out of your learning experience.  You can listen to recorded lessons and watch educational videos, read articles, use dictionaries, and more.

Biblical Hebrew is a set of five courses, levels 1-5, in which you will learn to master the Hebrew alphabet and biblical syntax, and will become familiar with translation decisions that have been made over the ages, understanding how they have affected the meaning of the original biblical texts.

Modern Hebrew is a set of eight courses, levels 1-8, in which you will learn to master the Hebrew language, starting from the alphabet and working up to reading and writing advanced texts.

Biblical Aramaic is a course where you will learn to master the Aramaic letters and biblical syntax, and will discover hidden biblical meanings that have been lost over centuries of translation.

Biblical Greek is a two-level course through which you will learn to master Greek letters and ancient Greek syntax, and learn how translations over the centuries have changed the true meaning of texts in the New Testament.

And in the Institute’s Yiddish course, you will learn to read Hebrew phonetically and understand the meaning of Yiddish words and terms. You will learn the origin of Yiddish terms and discover the rich world of Yiddishkeit and Jewish Ashkenazi culture.

Even better, the Institute instuctors, beyond their proficiency with Biblical languages, also offer their courses to speakers of English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, and Korean.

In addition, there are Holy Land studies that take a closer look at the locations and sites mentioned in biblical stories, and let you experience them from a new perspective that will give you a deeper understanding of each story.  Geography is crucial to understanding both the Old and New Testaments and the meaning of the sacred authors.  So, for instance, when Jesus begins his ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” he does so for a particular reason: it was where the Assyrians had begun their destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel seven centuries before.  His point is that he is now bringing healing is coming to the place where judgment had fallen.  Without a knowledge of the geography of Scripture, that point can escape the reader.

The Institute also offers Bible studies from a Jewish perspective that take a closer look at the lives of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David via an interpretive chronological journey through their stories that help the reader discover unique insights.  And there is a course to help a modern reader learn a variety of subjects that connect Judaism and Christianity and discover the relevance of ancient Judaism to the New Testament.

The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies is making it easier than ever before for Bible students from any walk of life to become proficient in encountering Scripture in the original languages of Moses, the prophets, the apostles and Jesus himself.  If you care about knowing the word of God, this is a golden opportunity.

To learn more about the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, go here.

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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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