The academic discipline, Semitic languages comprises of four main language groups,
namely North Eastern, North Western, South Western and South Eastern Semitic
languages. Although the main emphasis in the Department of Semitic Languages
falls on biblical Hebrew, the most important representative languages from each of
these groups, namely Accadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic are also
taught at under- as well as post-graduate level.
One of the first professors appointed when the Transvaal University College was
founded in 1908, Professor AC. Paterson was the founder of this department and he
held the chair of biblical Hebrew till 1923. He was succeeded in 1926 by Professor
B. Gemser who established the Department of Semitic Languages in the true
European tradition. His successor, Professor A. van Selms had won international
recognition for this department through his research and publications. This tradition
was continued by his successor in 1971, Professor W. C. van Wyk, who had made
important adjustments to stimulate post-graduate studies.
Although there exist several factors which could negatively influence the
continuation of this proud tradition, they are outweighed by strong positive factors
which promise a bright future for Semitic Studies at this university. The future can
only be approached with clearly defined goals. These goals had been set: provision
of information to the lay public, refresher courses to ministers of religion,
publication of research, especially in Afrikaans, and the development of a textcompetence
by students. In this last mentioned goal, a specific literary approach to
tetxts will be followed. This approach is illustrated, by means of an analysis of the
well-known Psalm 23.