Greek was my first love, but Hebrew is my true love. The difference is that I have been able to internalize Biblical Hebrew, but not Koine Greek. My wife, Merissa, and I launched Picture Hebrew to help others internalize the language of Scripture.
Quest for Greek
Driven by my initial love for Greek in college, I embarked on a rigorous 700-day reading plan to work through the New Testament. I pronounced the Greek out loud, memorized all unknown vocabulary, and reviewed all material for three days before moving on. The reward was great. I made it from Matthew to Revelation. And now, I have read the Greek New Testament 10 times with my yearly devotions.
However, the method had its limits. I thought that by reading through the New Testament each year I could keep progressing in Greek fluency. But I hit a wall. Each year, I had to look up the same infrequent vocabulary. I could no longer progress, but merely maintain how far the reading plan had taken me. Reading would never get any easier.
Success in Hebrew
I started learning Hebrew in seminary and applied the same plan I had used with Greek. But after 400+ days, I was frustrated by my progress. I had hoped to reach similar results as with Greek, but I couldn’t even get that far. Not until later would I find that one main obstacle was my method of memorizing each verb as a consonantal root instead of a stem-specific word.
Some friends told me about Randall Buth and the Biblical Language Center (BLC) curriculum that uses pictures and audio. They said that learning with a living language approach would be a more efficient use of my time. I could also see that it would set me on a trajectory for much higher reading fluency with Hebrew.
Merissa had always been interested in language, so she committed to learn communicative Hebrew alongside me. We worked through all three books in Buth’s curriculum and even had the opportunity to take a month-long ulpan with BLC, spending four hours a day speaking biblical Hebrew in class. During that time, we found that learning with visuals and acting out vocabulary helped us to understand the text. There was no need to stop after every word and translate it into English. We were reading, comprehending, and interacting in biblical Hebrew.
Picture Hebrew Resources
Yet there were no picture resources to help us internalize hundreds of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible. Merissa started drawing a little picture on an index card for each word that we were trying to master. When we showed our classmates her first illustrations, they were intrigued. Many of them even wanted a copy of those first rough sketches.
Right away, we started dreaming of the picture resources we could create. Our aim early on was to do it so well that no one who came after us would be able to do it better. We tried to perfect our method by redrawing all the cards for a 2nd edition. That took four months and about 700 hours to accomplish.
We launched a college-level community-ed Hebrew class in the fall of 2014. With that platform, we assigned the 2nd edition of the flashcards for the first two years. We also slowly developed an illustrated Jonah book, designed to teach every Hebrew word with a picture referent on the page.
Along the way, it became clear that we needed to draw a 3rd edition of our flashcards from scratch. Merissa drew 2–3 hours every day for the next 14 months. The two of us poured in about 2,000 hours to complete the project. We were able to use a test version of the picture flashcards and Jonah book with our students. With their feedback, we made final revisions to both resources over the summer before launching in the fall of 2017.
Vision for Picture Hebrew
We know the value of the picture flashcards and Jonah book firsthand. After all, Merissa learned Hebrew largely by using these two illustrated resources. And I, with a better method for memorizing Hebrew words, have been able to progress much further in Hebrew fluency than I ever did with Greek. We have also seen about 100 of our first users thrive with these picture resources.
We founded Picture Hebrew to provide more illustrated resources for the growing communicative Hebrew movement. Our Picture Hebrew Flashcards and Jonah book can also be used in any college/seminary classroom, or benefit anyone furthering their Hebrew fluency through self study.