In book one of The Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce, it is written:

The cause of divorce mention’d in the Law is translated some uncleannesse, but in the Hebrew it sounds nakednes of ought, or any real nakednes; which by all the learned interpreters is refer’d to the mind, as well as to the body.

Why does Milton write in the Hebrew instead of in Hebrew? Is the phrase of the kind in the English / Hebrew / WhateverLanguage incorrect? If the wording is not incorrect, what is the difference in meaning between in the Hebrew it sounds vs in Hebrew it sounds?

  • 3
    Surprised that was more perplexing than “it sounds nakedness of ought.”
    – Davislor
    May 27, 2023 at 17:39
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    I read in Hebrew to mean my understanding of how it goes in that language, and in the Hebrew to mean I quote the original Hebrew source: In the original Hebrew text. May 28, 2023 at 1:22

2 Answers 2


Generally "in the Hebrew" refers to the Hebrew text of a document which has been translated from Hebrew into English. On the other hand "in Hebrew" refers to any Hebrew version of a text, including a translation from English into Hebrew. Milton would be referring to the Law as the first five books of the Old Testament, which were written in Hebrew and have been translated into English (among many other languages).

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    So 'in the Hebrew' is a deletion of 'in the [original/corresponding] Hebrew text'. May 27, 2023 at 14:06
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    @tchrist, I would say the entity is established by cultural understanding rather than by the current discourse, but otherwise, yes. The statement "I have read 'On the Metrisation of Topological groups' in the [original] German" may need the word "original" except among a quite small group of mathematicians.
    – Peter
    May 27, 2023 at 14:27
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    @Peter I am not a mathematician, but if I heard that statement I would understand clearly that there is a German version, and would expect it to be the original. If the speaker said "I have read... in German", without "the," it would be a different story. FWIW...
    – Conrado
    May 27, 2023 at 16:45
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    Parodied in "You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon." May 27, 2023 at 16:55
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    @Peter Theologians seem to say “in the Hebrew” much more commonly than I’ve seen mathematicians say, “in the German.” Also, this is Early Modern English. However, the meaning would be clear in context.
    – Davislor
    May 27, 2023 at 17:48

I would suggest, without sources, that it's a midpoint of a development of an idiom that involves a preposition which are fickle linguistic artifacts. For instance, 'to the morrow' became 'to-morrow' and now neither form is common as they have been replaced by tomorrow. Thus, an adverbial prepositional phrase became an adverb. My speculation is that 'in the Hebrew tounge' would very easily become 'in the Hebrew' as an elliptical construction which would be shortened to 'in Hebrew'. Milton, after all, is hardly contemporary, and discussion of Hebrew in connection with the Bible would reflect older usage anyway out of a sense of continuity and devotion to the preservation of a linguistic culture in his contemporary religious experience. I mean, churches to this day, still read passages of English that use the archaic personal second person 'thou', 'thy', and 'thine' despite its expiration in early Modern English. On StackExchange philosophy, there's a Greek contributor who for months was posting in English using thou and thine, which shows the power of older forms of language to persist in strange and limited niches. I know a couple of songs with 'fare thee well', for instance because poets and lyricists are attracted to the power of archaic expression as a way to evoke feelings. So, semantically, there's no real difference in the literal meaning; it's just a psycholinguistic trait to be economical with syllables.

  • I agree that in the Hebrew has an archaic ring to it (except in the particular sense that Peter refers to in his answer).
    – Colin Fine
    May 27, 2023 at 22:05

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