English as a Second Language in the Bible
By Mark Budman
As someone who learned English as an adult, I have always been fascinated with people who were in a similar situation to mine, yet accomplished enough in their adopted country to enter into the most read book in history: the Bible.
I devised a pseudo-scientific approach to measure their success on a linguistic/social assimilation scale. I give up to 50 points for the person’s age at the time of immigration (it is well known that the older is the person, the more difficult it is to learn a new language). And I give up to 50 points for their advancement to the official position in the new country. Call it the Budman’s scale.
Of course the Biblical characters didn’t speak English (not because they were incapable, but because English didn’t exist yet). By learning English as a second language I mean mastering any local language by an immigrant.
Let’s start with the founder of the Jewish nation, Abraham. He was 75 when he came to Canaan from Mesopotamia, but didn’t rise to any official position. So let’s give him 30 points for learning the language and 5 for the advancement, for the total of 35.
Skip a generation because Isaac had never left Canaan. He was a native son.
Jacob left for Mesopotamia at the age of forty or so and was a shepherd there, but he may have known the language already from his mother Rebekah. So let’s give him 15 points for the language and 5 for the advancement, for a total of 20.
His son Joseph was sold to Egypt at the age of 17 and rose to the position of viceroy. Let’s give him 5 points for the language and 40 for the advancement, for a total of 45.
Skip a few generations. Moses came to the land of Median, depending on the commentaries, at either 20 or 40 and was also a shepherd there. If we assume 40 for the age, let’s give him 20 for language and 5 for the advancement, for a total of 25.
Now, let’s go back many generations to Shem, the son of Noah. Some commentaries identify him as Melchizedek, the king and high priest of Salem. Both king AND the priest. Like the president and prime minster and majority whip all in one. You can’t be higher than that at the given locale. Assuming he immigrated to Canaan after Abraham (otherwise he would be mentioned as living in Canaan already), that means he was really old, several hundred years old. Let’s give 50 points for both age and advancement, for the total of 100.
We got a winner, ladies and gentlemen.