A non-traditional path to ancient Hebrew

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Left to right: Richard Bradford, Kris Hecker and Louise Faucett have returned to BYU to fulfill long-held dreams of studying Hebrew. (Photo by Lucy Schouten.)
Left to right: Richard Bradford, Kris Hecker and Louise Faucett have returned to BYU to fulfill long-held dreams of studying Hebrew. (Photo by Lucy Schouten.)

BYU student Esther Grover was content working as a mother with three children at home. School had never been a passion for her, so she was surprised when she felt a strong, spiritual impression to enroll at BYU. She decided to call BYU Info and ask about getting a degree in ancient scripture.

“I don’t know what the operator thought,” she said of her unique entry into BYU’s Hebrew program.

Many of BYU’s Hebrew students are like Grover — studying on a non-traditional track with a firm conviction that Hebrew classes at BYU are what they should be taking.

T.K. Plant started her degree at BYU long before the Hebrew program existed, but she decided to finish her degree in ancient Near Eastern studies after her son suggested it.

“It was just a very powerful experience as soon as he said that, that I should return to school and study (ancient Near Eastern studies),” Plant said.

Plant’s goal for studying Hebrew is to understand Isaiah. “If I can do that, I can understand all the rest of our scripture,” Plant said.

Reading the words and names of prophets for the first time in the original Hebrew gave her a new impression of their truthfulness, and those impressions continue to come regularly as part of her study, Plant said.

Kris Hecker described her entry into Hebrew study as “a happy accident.” She had long planned to return to school and learn to read the New Testament in its original language, yet in a moment of forgetfulness, she registered for Hebrew. She said that by the end of the first class, she was glad she made the mistake.

“I was hooked from the first day,” Hecker said. “I fell in love with the Old Testament.”

Denise Alexander is another non-traditional Hebrew student who was “hooked” from day one. She had been prayerfully considering which language she should use to fulfill her language requirement. By the middle of her first Hebrew class, she had made her decision.

“(The teacher) was talking gobbly-gook to me, but I didn’t even have to get to the end of my class,” Alexander said. “The Spirit told me, ‘This is what you need to do.'”

Richard Bradford graduated from the BYU law school in 1976, but retirement found him back in the classroom, this time studying the ancient Middle East. He said his passion for all languages began “at birth,” but scripture study in multiple languages enhanced his testimony of each language’s beauty, the scriptural passages themselves and the divine nature of scriptural translation.

Bradford said studying Hebrew has made Bible passages that once seemed flawed or obscure more clear and significant. “Now I begin to see how Christ is all over in the Old Testament,” he said.

He said studying Hebrew is a time-consuming but “nourishing” and worthwhile endeavor. He also hopes to serve a mission with his wife in Israel.

Louise Faucett finished her bachelor’s degree at BYU years ago, but her desire to study Hebrew remained. She said she is one of many non-traditional students who has felt inspired to study a Semitic language for its own sake.

Alexander said she believed many people feel this way. “I think the Lord leads everybody to their major,” she said.

Grover’s love for Hebrew also began when she was a little child.

“Instead of listening to fairytales as bedtime stories, my parents shared with us stories from the Old Testament,” Grover said. “Hebrew is at the very foundation of all of those stories.”

Grover said her studies of Hebrew have strengthened her testimony, especially of the scriptures and Joseph Smith as an inspired scripture translator, but coming to BYU has been a test as well.

“School was never my thing,” Grover said. “I was compelled to be here.”

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