Modern Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel, while premodern Hebrew is used for prayer or study in Jewish communities around the world today. The Samaritan dialect is also the liturgical tongue of the Samaritans, while modern Hebrew or Arabic is their vernacular. As a foreign language, it is studied mostly by Jews and students of Judaism and Israel, and by archaeologists and linguists specializing in the Middle East and its civilizations, as well as by theologians in Christian seminaries.
The Torah (the first five books), and most of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, is written in Biblical Hebrew, with much of its present form specifically in the dialect that scholars believe flourished around the 6th century BCE, around the time of the Babylonian captivity. For this reason, Hebrew has been referred to by Jews as Lashon Hakodesh (לשון הקדש), "the Holy Language", since ancient times.
The modern English word "Hebrew" is derived from Old FrenchEbrau, via Latin from the GreekἙβραῖος (Hebraîos) and Aramaic'ibrāy, all ultimately derived from Biblical HebrewIbri (עברי), one of several names for the Israelite (Jewish and Samaritan) people. It is traditionally understood to be an adjective based on the name of Abraham's ancestor, Genesis 10:21. The name is believed to be based on the Semitic root ʕ-b-r (עבר) meaning "beyond", "other side", "across"; interpretations of the term "Hebrew" generally render its meaning as roughly "from the other side [of the river/desert]"—i.e., an exonym for the inhabitants of the land of Israel/Judah, perhaps from the perspective of Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, or the Transjordan (with the river referenced perhaps the Euphrates, Jordan, or Litani; or maybe the northern Arabian Desert between Babylonia and Canaan). Compare cognate Assyrianebru, of identical meaning.
One of the earliest references to the language's name as "Hebrew" is found in the prologue to the Book of Ben Sira,[a] from the 2nd century BCE. The Bible does not use the term "Hebrew" in reference to the language of the Hebrew people.