Although the extent to which the Hebrew Bible has oral roots is not clear, much of the text is written in a style that takes close note of sound—repetition, plays on words, allusions, and the like. Even outside of poetry—in prose narratives and in many legal and ritual texts as well—the rhythm of the words is frequently an important component of meaning. The Bible is thus great art as well as a foundational text, but this is not always brought out by reading in translation, or even by conventional reading of the Hebrew.
In the clips below, I have tried to convey at least some of the flavor of biblical language. While we cannot reconstruct the exact pronunciation of ancient Hebrew, it is still possible to get a sense of the text’s powerful rhythms. My models for this type of reading have been Abba Eban, who recorded excerpts from Psalms and Ecclesiastes in Hebrew and King James English in the late 1950s, and my teacher, Nahum Glatzer. In terms of Hebrew pronunciation, I stay fairly close to that used in modern Israel. For some of the nuances, I recommend consulting chapter 3 of Joshua Jacobsen’s monumental Chanting the Hebrew Bible (Philadelphia, 2002), which owes much to Prof. Marc Brettler.
Purists may note occasional errors. I have left them in, in the interests of conveying the realities of oral performance, which is ever-changing (and never perfect).
The listener should pay attention to key words and the rhythmic flow of the text.