In The Story of Hebrew, Lewis Glinert traces the history of the holy tongue from pre-biblical times to contemporary Israel, explaining not just how the language evolved but also how it was viewed, preserved, and—against considerable odds—revived. Alan Mintz writes in his review:
[A]fter reading Lewis Glinert’s witty and learned volume, I not only understand why he called it [The Story of Hebrew], I’d be tempted to go him one better and suggest The Adventures of Hebrew. It’s a great story because there is nothing inevitable about it. Whether it was the period of the Bible or the Mishnah or Maimonides, there was always a danger, often the likelihood, that Hebrew would be lost in the break-up of great communities and subsequent migrations. That Hebrew managed to emerge from each crisis enriched is a fact we can appreciate only in retrospect. Each station along the way is, in fact, its own story thick with complications, suspense, and surprise.
The biggest surprise is that we have gotten the shape of the story all wrong. Because of the success of Zionism and Israel, Hebrew is the first language of several million people, and we tend to take that fact as the fulfillment of its destiny. A moribund, bookish tongue was finally given voice and sprang to life, redeemed.
Make no mistake: the revival of Hebrew was indeed a miracle. But Glinert shows that in telling that story, we have radically underestimated the importance of Hebrew as the matrix of Jewish literacy for almost 2,000 years. . . . I thought that I was well-versed in the history of Hebrew, but there was hardly a page in this book from which I didn’t learn something new.
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