Squiggles and Lines in my Bible

To my astonishment, I have discovered that I am beginning to recognize Hebrew letters after watching your Scrolling through Scripture courses.

I have also purchased your recommended Bible. Looking at both the Bible and the course is confusing me a bit.


Dear Tim,

We are delighted that you are beginning to feel a little comfortable with the Hebrew alphabet. It makes learning God’s word a much richer experience. You didn’t elaborate very much on what was confusing you, but we will make our best guess.

If you were to look at an authentic Torah scroll, handwritten on parchment, you would see only Hebrew letters. All of these letters are consonants and a great deal of study goes into knowing how to pronounce each word. (Think of seeing SN and having to know if the word is sin, sun or sine.) Chanting from a Torah scroll is a skill that takes many hours of study since only the barest information is in front of you on the parchment. Mostly, it is done from memorization.

When the Bible is printed as a book, many different lines and dots surround the letters. Most of them serve the function of vowels, directing one how to read the words. If there were an English equivalent, for example, the letters ‘P’ and ‘N’ would appear in the scroll itself, but there would be no visual clue as to whether the word was pin, pen, pan, pun, pane or pine. Those vowels would be added in the printed version and some of those are the lines you are seeing.

Of course, unlike in any other languages, in the Lord’s language, the equivalent in our example of pin, pen, pan, pun, pane and pine would all be words with linked meanings and implications.

In addition, other small symbols provide direction for chanting the words. Think of them as musical notes. Scripture is meant to be sung aloud and meaning is imparted to the words through the tune. For the most part, to minimize confusion, we leave out all the dots and lines when we make slides for Scrolling through Scripture. When you look at the same verse in your printed Bible, all those markings are there. We think that this may be why you are getting confused.

These are two of the primary functions of the lines appearing in your printed Bible. Much of ancient Jewish wisdom focuses on the messages hidden within these lines and we explore some of these messages in Scrolling through Scripture, our Genesis Journeys series and the book, Buried Treasure. One vital lesson of Torah study is that you’re never done. There is always more to learn.

Keep growing,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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