The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock (Biblical Hebrew)

I’ve worked into biblical Hebrew the children’s song, “The Wise Man Built His House upon a Rock.” I happened to hear the Boy singing it one morning, and I found myself putting most of it into Hebrew while shaving.

I like it as an exercise for my students because it’s simple, and because the vocabulary is so well attested biblically: build, descend, ascend, fall; wise, house, rock. The choices I made about verb patterns could give rise to fruitful conversation about the qatal, yiqtol, and wayyiqtol. It’s good for me, too: I had initially been drawn to the Infinitive Absolute for the concurrent action of rain falling and floods rising, until my search for biblical parallels suggested I was on a wrong track. (I’d be on firmer ground if the two verbs shared a single agent.)

Another song I plan to put into biblical Hebrew is a version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” While not all of this vocabulary is biblically well-attested, it has value for communicative teaching of Hebrew: it uses words that have high “pay off” for daily usage. (So, I’d be open to songs that use body parts, colors, numbers up to thirty, and everyday objects.)

A third song I have planned is “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” A fourth is a surprise.

How about some revision of “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” with all biblically-attested animals? More advanced would be a revision of, “Hush, Little Baby (the Mockingbird song).”

What other simple children’s songs can you think of that might be put into biblical Hebrew? The song should be fairly short and simple. Ideally, they should EITHER 1) feature vocabulary that is biblically well-attested, OR 2) feature vocabulary that has high pay-off in terms of everyday nouns and concepts like body parts, colors, numerals, and so on.

[The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock (Biblical Hebrew) was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/07/05. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

10 Responses

  1. How about the Itsy Bitsy Spider, otherwise known as Haqaton Meod Accavish?

    • What should he climb, do you think? I don’t know of a biblical analogy to a drain spout, do you? Should we put him in a wadi?

      Ha-acca-VISH haqqa-TON me-OD
      a-LAH na-CHAL something (?)
      way-YE-red hag-GE-shem
      way-yish-TOF ha-acca-VISH!

  2. I did a version a while ago of head and shoulders – I would be happy to be corrected if I got any of the words mixed up.. It works well – we had it in Korean and English on the day I premiered it.

    • Bob, you’ll see this week (I hope) what I’ve got in progress on “Head Shoulders.” But (no surprise) you will see that our vocabulary does match up. I’ve been adding in visual slides just to make it fun, and I’m using a kind of “hipster version” that we used to sing at camp: “Head shoulders, Baby, one, two, three” with snapping of fingers. I like yours, and look forward to hearing the .wav file when I’m at a Windows machine. It’s always a big help to me to hear how the singer/writer is scanning the beats.

  3. Your song is wonderful – songs are the greatest teacher.

  4. Thinking one sentence at a time here: my Sunday school class sings the Shema on Pentecost – music here. I have not yet got them to dance to Psalm 133 – famous tune. And I do use the alphabet song – of which there are many on the web, some very complex.

  5. I have to ask: why did you place the subject first in החכם בנה and הכסיל בנה? Were you trying to make a specific point?

    • Hi, Chris! I almost wrote a ‘graph about that but then didn’t get into it. In an earlier version, I had gone verb-subject for the Wise Man, then waw-subject-verb for the Foolish Man (to show disjunction, as in e.g. Gen 3:1 and elsewhere). But then I had to decide whether to keep that *waw* for the repetitions on “The Foolish Man built…,” and was afraid that either choice could be confusing. Ultimately, I decided that grammatical parallelism would do students the more good, along with a sense of “fronting” the subjects for comparison (“The *one* guy built this way, but the *other* guy built this other way”), and there is enough “subject-qatal” in the Bible to justify the choice. (Interestingly, a lot of it is in direct speech, though there are simple narrative examples like the Nephilim in Gen 6:4.)

      As I do these, I find that the much bigger problem is major editing errors (like changing a subject from singular to plural, then totally missing that I haven’t adjusted its verb or adjective). Those “process errors” are hard enough to spot in English, much less a second language, at least for me.

  6. Great post. I have some suggestions for songs:
    1. Baa Baa black sheep.
    2. Dreidel, dreidel dreidel.
    3. John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt (sp?).
    4. The wheels on the bus.
    5. There was a hole, there in the ground, the prettiest hole, that you ever did see…and the green grass grew all around and around and the green grasss grew all around….There was a root, there in the hole, the prettiest root, that you ever did see. There’s a root in the hole and a hole in the ground and the green grass grew all around and around and the green grass grew all around…and so on. (sorry, don’t know the title but I’m thinking there’s a lot of usable vocabulary in the rest of the song).

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