UPDATE: We have our winners–Bob MacDonald, John Murphy, Rick, and Sytze van der Laan. Congratulations!
Time for another B2B contest. This time I want to know what Biblical Hebrew textbook you used when you first learned Hebrew. Leave a comment and tell me the name of the textbook and a little bit about whether you thought it was helpful. What did you like/dislike about the book?
Also, if you have taught Biblical Hebrew to other people, let me know what textbook you chose to use and why.
Your reward for your comments? I’m giving away some Og the Terrible comic books. I’ll put everyone who has contributed a comment into a random generator to select the winners! You can enter more than once by describing your experiences with different textbooks.
Get your comments in by
I actually bought this a few years before I learned Hebrew, because it was remaindered and on sale for £2. I thought I might teach myself but never succeeded in even learning the alphabet. When I came to take Hebrew classes, this was the text we used. I liked the exercises at the end of each chapter, though some were more useful than others. And I liked that we were translating bible verses from very early on (we had an extra reading class that supplemented this, as well, but Kelley gives lots of examples to translate/do exercises on too). I liked the progression of the text, though this was certainly helped by a lot of supplementary material from my teacher. There are some chapters of Kelley I have never looked at because our teacher told us they were wrong/unclear/unhelpful and gave us his replacement versions instead.
So I would recommend it with some cautions. I think there’s some good pedagogical structure, but possibly the actual grammar isn’t always up to scratch.
weingreen. loved it.
I learned first with Charles Isbell’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. I thought it was good textbook, though not very well known (especially at the time). Dr. Isbell was my teacher and that’s why we used this text. I appreciated the inductive approach that puts one into text in what limited way possible as early as possible. I think it contributed to a feeling of success for me. On the other hand, as I continued more in my study of Hebrew I felt like I was a bit behind on terminology.
I think a lot my positive experience came from Dr. Isbell as an instructor too. In my mind, there really was no substitute for having a good instructor. Since he had written the text his enthusiasm for the language and for the approach overflowed.
Here’s a link to the text if anyone wants to check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Biblical-Hebrew-Charles-Isbell/dp/0971468389/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257267468&sr=1-3
Ros and Jeremy: Thank you!
Jim: That explains a lot.
Justin: any comments about Seow?
1st year: Weingreen. 2nd year: Waltke-O’Connor syntax book. But I already have the Og comics. Read ’em to my kids as bedtime stories.
I learned on The First Hebrew Primer by Simon, Motzkin and Resnikoff and loved it.
Later, after I had enough interaction with the text under my belt, I tackled the big grammars (GKC, IBHS, and J-M). However, having a simplified explanation of things really helped me get a grasp on the language at the outset.
I also used to use the Primer when I taught Hebrew at Fuller. Students their loved it as well.
My second time (No, I didn’t fail. I was required to take this again at seminary because the hours didn’t line up right with my undergrad course.) through introductory Hebrew I used The First Hebrew Primer. I didn’t care for it as much as the inductive approach I had started with, though I wouldn’t say I thought it was a bad textbook. One of the positives I would note would be the translation of some of the fairly tales into “Biblical Hebrew.” But, in my opinion, there really wasn’t enough of this type of material in the book. We need more of this type of “learner literature” for Biblical Hebrew.
It also wasn’t very helpful for learning terminology since they often use an easier version. I was in intermediate Hebrew before I learned all of the typical terminology for things like dageshes.
In case you are wondering. I first learned with Weingreen, too. However, I would not recommend it as a textbook. But I’ll save my opinions for later. Still, it is amazing just how many people learned with Weingreen!
Then, to review after the first year, I worked through Lambdin.
Jeremy, when we spend time with you after SBL, I’d like to see that book (it’s out of print).
I still use it – very reliable, absolutely unreadable by a novice, I took four or five tries to start over several years and had translated most of the psalms before I could read it. But I am a very late starter and I have no exam or dissertation pressures.
I think Putnam is promising and I have used Cook and Holmstead. Both of these are better at ‘introduction’ and I have one student aged 13 who simply reads them for fun. He’ll be teaching me soon. For the most elementary introductions, I am writing my own for ages 4-12 over the next few years – these are ‘play’ books with very simple exercises and increasingly difficult ones. There are maybe 10 copies in use at the moment. There is an early draft of volume 1 of n here.
Yes, it is very, very unfortunate that it is out of print. But, me, very silly me, lent it to someone and have never seen the book again. It is available only direct from the publisher: http://shangri-la.0catch.com/series/index.html . When I used it, it was a spiral bound book that was printed as needed.
I need to order another copy, but when I have used it in writing my dissertation I have gotten it through interlibrary loan.
You already know this, since you were the TA, but I learned on Weingreen. It was fine as far as it goes, but I have NEVER picked it up after that first year. Despite the difficulties, I think it would be best to start with Lambdin. The great thing about this grammar is the rapidity with which he gets to issues of exegetical import and then reinforces them through the exercises (for which someone has published an answer key). Since my first year of Hebrew, I’ve never once looked at Weingreen or heard anyone reference it in a discussion, but Lambdin’s grammar remains a helpful reference I can’t tell you how many times Lambdin §107 is referenced around here.
For 2nd year Hebrew, after a quick run through Lambdin, I read J-M and Waltke/O’Connor with an emphasis on comparison and critique.
I learned from Toyozo W. Nakarai, Biblical Hebrew, Bookman, 1951 together with William H. Rossell, Handbook of Ruth, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1955. After the first two weeks, we spent most of our time with the actual book of Ruth in Hebrew. After Ruth, we moved to a few chapters of Genesis and then to the Psalms. The process was great and it relied very heavily on the teacher. The texts by themselves were not, by themselves, so helpful. I do think that something like Rossell’s handbook would still be a useful tool for beginning students. I taught Biblical Hebrew at UCR in the early 1970’s. I’m fairly sure I used something else, maybe Weingreen’s A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew, but I can remember exactly what was. I’m sure I tried to get my students working with the actual Hebrew text ASAP. I’m fairly sure the first thing we read when I taught was Ruth. But all that is in the dark ages. I’m don’t know what text I would use today, Lambdin(?), but I am sure that I would still get my students reading real material sooner rather than later.
Opps. I meant to say, “I can’t remember exactly what was” rather than “I can remember exactly what was.”
Wow, I’m surprised I’m the first person here to say I learned on Pratico-Van Pelt’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew. It’s a pretty good text, though there are always reservations. I’m not all that fond of the way they explain stems, and they have an irritating habit of listing the English translations of lexical forms in the infinitive instead of a translation of the Qp3ms (to kill instead of he killed). Also it comes with a useful workbook that gets students into translating small sections of the OT in a reasonably short time. After BBH I went on to use IBHS, and Arnold-Choi’s small intermediate reference grammar. AC is very good as a bridge from something like BBH into more complicated grammars like JM, IBHS, and BHRG. Having said that, if I were teaching in intermediate class I’d seriously consider BHRG. I love the way its organized.
You know, BHRG was written as a first year grammar! Christo purposefully kept out the more complex or less frequent forms so that a new student would not be overwhelmed. The revision to BHRG will be greatly expanded and more of an intermediate grammar. Daniel (of Daniel&Tonya) could speak more about how they use BHRG in Stellenbosch as I think he is helping to teach a first year course with it.
I like Williams’ Syntax (3rd Edition) now better than Arnold-Choi (which I did use for a while). The new edition is so much better than the second edition. Better typesetting, cross-referenced with reference grammars, more examples from texts, etc.
I think Seow’s textbook is helpful at least for its clear presentation throughout the book, which is so important for beginners.
Weingreen. Although, we ditched him at weak verbs in favor of some faculty handouts, which was a great decision. I’m glad I learned the language, but am not a huge fan of Weingreen.
I would probably recommend Seow. However, when it comes to weak verbs, nothing is better than your colorized chart! I also like the Putnam HB Insert a lot too.
PS Will I really have to wait until next October to win the comics?
Josh, you are the first one to point that out (I’ve been so tired and busy I didn’t even notice I did that). I’ll fix that now. And put your name in twice for catching it!
I learned on Biblical Hebrew by Kittel, Hoffer, and Wright, which I stumbled across in a library in Milwaukee. I had to teach it to myself and this was an excellent way to start. Haven’t seen anything better since.
John, My maiden name is Murphy. If I had been a boy, I would have been John Charles Murphy.
I’ve never taught with Kittel, but I know people who really like that textbook.
Maybe we’re related! Just kidding. My roots go from California, to Northwest Arkansas, to Southwest Missouri, to Tennessee, to North Carolina to Southwest Virginia, but I’m thinking you’re from the Northeast.
I also learned with Lambdin. I really liked it and still use it (in conjunction with others, of course). At that time at Calvin Seminary, we used it in conjunction with online quizzes in self directed study. Lambdin was nicely self-contained. Its one glaring problem is its use of transliteration for the first several chapters.
Nevada, thank you for stopping by! Can you tell me why you felt the transliteration was a problem in Lambdin? I ask this because other people find the transliteration helpful during those initial stages of learning the issues of syllabification, etc.
Rahel Halabe is an Israeli who teaches Hebrew (Biblical and Modern) here in Vancouver (at the Jewish Community Centre, a theological college, and a university). You might be interested in the following paper she wrote:
In the first part of the paper, she compares/contrasts 4 different popular Biblical Hebrew textbooks: (Lambdin, 1973), (Kelley, 1992), (Kittel, Hoffer & Wright, 1989), (Simon, Resnikoff, Motzkin, 1992) and points out what she considers to be some of the advantages/disadvantages of each. She then goes on to describe what she feels could be incorporated into a course that provides a more “holistic” approach to learning the language.
Thanks for commenting. Yes, I’ve seen Rahel’s paper and her website (we’ve actually emailed a bit about her ideas).
How did you learn Hebrew?
The transliteration was a bit frustrating because it required learning “another” alphabet and distracted me from actually digging into the Aramaic script. I know I’m not alone in this. When I was applying to PhD programs, I talked with James VanderKam at Notre Dame, and he mentioned that when he was at Harvard (?) studying under Lambdin he found that students who appeared to understand Hebrew early on were suddenly baffled once the book jettisoned the transliteration.
Part of this may be a more visual learning style. To me, when I was initially learning Hebrew, it felt like I had to learn everything twice: once in the transliterated version with Latin script and once in the Aramaic script (because they didn’t “look” the same to me I had more trouble applying something I learned in the earlier transliterated sections to the later sections).
The only benefit I found from learning the transliterated alphabet came later when I did some work in Akkadian and Ugaritic. This also, in some sense, explains Lambdin’s reasons for using transliteration. From what I’ve been told he did a lot of work in comparing the various Semitic languages (it’s easier to do such comparative work in one Latin script–cuneiform doesn’t lend itself to such enterprises!).
Anyway, transliteration still bugs me. If I run across a it in a commentary, etc., I almost have to retranslate it back into the Aramaic script before it makes any sense to me 🙂
In your reply, you asked how I learned Hebrew. I learned:
1. Basic Hebrew as a teenager.
2. Conversational Hebrew on a 6-month kibbutz ulpan.
3. More advanced Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s
3-month ulpan followed by a half-year of studies in Hebrew at the
4. Even more advanced Hebrew by living in Israel for 8 years.
I can recommend this learning path; however, not everyone will find it
a convenient way to learn Hebrew! 😉
I definitely prefer Ze’ev’s way, but alas I was confined to books and Abraham Shmueloff!
In college I used:
Pratico/Van Pelt – indifferent towards it.
In seminary I used:
Futato (my prof.) – much more pedagogical approach, but he strays away from using some standard terminology and shortens the vowel classes. While it is also published by Eisenbrauns, I think it should be tailored more toward IBHS so they can be a complement to each other. Futato references IBHS throughout, but his philosophy on verbs is much different. The hardback contains the workbook in it–I was never comfortable writing in the book, so I hand wrote or copied everything. If this was put into a separate workbook, I think it would be better.
Waltke (my prof.) – Enough said. 😉 I got into a very interesting discussion this past summer at ISBL in defense of IBHS, whereas this notable scholar didn’t think much of it. I admit I was outmatched by far and was content just to listen to his points! Working through this text with Waltke totally changed how I approach languages, looking more to see how the syntax informs the passage instead of morphology (the “donkey work” of grammar as he called it). This may have been an obvious point to many, but to me I had spent so long in beg.-intermediate grammar that his approach was very refreshing.
Van der Merwe (BHRG) – we used this in between the above two texts for Hebrew Exegesis. We didn’t concentrate on a lot of the readings in it. Indifferent towards it as a whole.
Hi Rick. Thank you for all your comments! I appreciate your ideas for improving the usefulness of the texts and making texts more complementary. I think people are very polarized when they come to IBHS (you either agree with Waltke, or you don’t).
Which textbook would you choose to teach with?
The big factor would be who I was teaching and what kind of track they are one. If more academic I would choose something that will better prepare for what to expect in Exegesis / Syntax courses. Then try and supplement with different teaching devices to kind of massage the stuffiness out of more academic texts (something you probably know much more about). Maybe Ross, Lambdin leading to Waltke – JM.
If a less academic track then I would have to do some more research. I haven’t been totally convinced by any of the texts I’ve used on that level, though Futato comes close.
My intro class used Page Kelley’s grammar and I didn’t much like it. I later supplemented it with Pratico/Van Pelt, and was less than enthusiastic about it as well, but thought it worked well as a supplement–Kelley and Practico/Van Pelt seem to hit what the other misses a lot.
I would like to second the praise of Williams’ syntax. His succinct explanations were very helpful in Intermediate Hebrew (I still have the second edition though–haven’t looked at the third yet).
I first learned Hebrew on Seow’s grammar. My undergrad prof. eliminated several parts of his presentation, because he thought it was too thorough in places (which in retrospect was a good idea). It was a decent grammar, and in my opinion, a better option than Lambdin’s grammar (I hate transliterations and I am not crazy about the endless paradigm memorization). Lambdin does have its strengths, but I don’t believe it is the best grammar to cut your teeth on.
I don’t use Seow’s grammar now that I am teaching Hebrew. I use and love Bonnie Kittel’s grammar (although at times I wish things were a bit more systematically covered). I find that getting students into verbs as quickly as she does (the first chapter) is more helpful than waiting an entire semester to do so. I also love the supplemental aids that come with the 2nd edition (great audio cds, and additional book). Bonnie also encourages the use of diagnostics, opposed to rote memorization of paradigms.
Like most Dutch theology students, I was taught Biblical Hebrew with the grammar by Jan Pieter Lettinga, Grammatica van het bijbels hebreeuws, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1976 (http://books.google.com/books?id=DiUVAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=false). There was also an additional work book with exercises. It was nice to be able to read it in my own language, instead of German or French. I remember it as a structured method which didn’t try to convey anything exciting about the language. Luckily, our professors were able to correct that later in the exegesis classes 🙂
Thanks, Ken, Adam, and Sytze for adding your comments. I appreciate everyone’s contributions and I’ll be posting the winner soon!
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My first Hebrew grammar was Thomas Lambin’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Grammar. I liked it because it taught Hebrew very systematically, starting with very basic concepts, and continuing through Hebrew grammar until you can actually read the Hebrew Bible. Over decades, Biblical Hebrew grammars have been dumbed down, every edition taking more and more out, having less vocabulary, and leaving more advanced subjects out altogether. Most people learning Hebrew through a modern grammar simply do not know how much has been left out, and still can’t really read the Hebrew Bible even after they have read the grammar.
Just to let you know that Hinneh – a text and workbook following the pedagogy and methodology described in my papers (mentioned by Zeev)is ready for review for instructors interested in trying it in their classes in the coming academic year 2010/11. Please refer to:
for further information.