Book Review: Page H. Kelley and Timothy G. Crawford. Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar, Second Edition

Kelley, Page H. and Timothy G. Crawford. Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 529 pp. Pb; $40.   Link to Eerdmans

Kelley, Page H., Terry L. Burden, and Timothy G. Crawford. A Handbook to Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 249 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

Page Kelley’s original Biblical Hebrew textbook was published in 1992, the year I first taught an undergraduate Hebrew class. At the time, there were not many introductory Hebrew textbooks available and I will admit to choosing an Eerdmans book since my students could get copies at a discount at the now-defunct Eerdmans Bookstore. I have used Kelley’s textbook every time I have taught Hebrew and have always found it to be student friendly while pushing students toward mastery of the Hebrew text.

This second edition has been faithfully revised by Timothy G. Crawford, dean and professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in the College of Christian Studies, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, Texas. As he explains in his preface, he used Kelley’s textbook as it was being written and was able to discuss the lessons with the author as they were being produced. In addition, he collected notes as he was teaching from the book over the years, developing an extensive list of corrections which needed to be made. After Kelley’s death in 1998, Crawford approached Eerdmans on the possibility of a revision of the textbook. Since 1992 several excellent Hebrew introductory grammars have been produced and Kelley’s book was in need of a revision.

Although this grammar is a second edition and has revisions on nearly every page, the overall pedagogy remains the same. The new edition contains the same 31 chapters in the same order, and most of the subheadings in the table of contents are identical. Only a few minor changes in order have been made. For example, Kelley’s short discussion on segholate nouns has been moved from the beginning of lesson ten to the end of lesson seven.

The first five lessons deal with the alphabet (vowels and gutturals) as well as wide range of diacritical markings which affect pronunciation (dagesh forte, dagesh lene, etc.) Following these introductory chapters, Kelley introduces nouns and adjectives along with pronominal suffixes (lessons 6-11). By beginning with nouns students are able to translate phrases and verbless clauses from the Hebrew Bible almost immediately. Lessons 12-21 treat the strong verb in all forms: perfect and imperfect, each stem (Qal, Nifel, etc.), and grammatical function such (negations, infinitives and participles, etc.) Once the student has mastered the entire strong verb system, Kelley devotes a lesson to each of the ten weak verb patterns (lessons 22-31).

Following the explanation of each new grammatical concept, Kelley offers several kinds of exercises. Concepts are reviewed through fill-in-the-blanks or multiple choice exercises. Sometimes the fill-ins review the stem or parsing of forms, others review by filling in pronouns for verbs, etc. Following three or four sections or this kind of review, Kelley gives a series of Hebrew lines with the English translations (with references) in columns. I have usually assigned the objective assignments then reviewed the sentences in class. This allowed me to talk through the concepts as we encountered them in real biblical Hebrew. Often I would instruct students to cover the English column and try to work off the Hebrew text, especially if we were reviewing the section. Kelley’s grammar provides copious exercises for classroom use.

A short vocabulary section follows the exercises. These are used in the illustrations in the lesson, so the student who pays careful attention in the exercises usually has a handle on the vocabulary for the lesson. Unlike other textbooks, Kelley does not include usage statistics, something which may offer encouragement to students as they memorize long lists of vocabulary.

One major improvement is the change in labeling sections of the grammar. In the older edition, a lesson might contain several topics. Each topic was numbered so that lesson five, for example, began with section 13. In the new edition, section numbers appear in the margins and are based on the chapter (5.1, 5.2, etc.) This will greatly assist students in finding a particular section of the textbook. Following the lessons is thirty page vocabulary list, eleven verb charts (the strong verb and ten weak verbs), and a personal pronoun chart. A twenty-four page glossary defies key terms found in the book.

Crawford worked with Terry Burden to produce A Handbook to Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar (Eerdmans, 1994). This companion volume included a complete answer key to the exercises in the grammar, practical helps, footnotes, word lists, test suggestions, and other helps for both teachers and students. Crawford also worked with Daniel S. Mynatt and Kelley on The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary (Eerdmans, 1998). This text is a handy guide to the wide variety of textual comments in the margins of the BHS and likely needs to be updated as well.

Conclusion. This update to Page Kelley’s textbook is welcome. As with any detailed linguistic work, many unintended errors can creep in and Crawford’s hard work has eliminated many of these.  Most of the elements of the original grammar remain, which is good for Hebrew professors who have used Kelley’s textbook and do not like to change things in their classes. It is this retention of the original pedagogy which might give some Hebrew professors pause. It is possible busy professors will be attracted to a grammar with flashy teaching aids, test banks and videos. Kelley’s grammar has stood the test of time, but may need some digital help to compete in the twenty-first century.

Nevertheless, Kelley’s Biblical Hebrew is still my first choice for and introductory Hebrew class.



NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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