Book Review: Karl V. Kutz and Rebekah Josberger, Learning Biblical Hebrew

Kutz, Karl V. and Rebekah Josberger. Learning Biblical Hebrew: Reading for Comprehension: An Introductory Grammar. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 417 pp.; Hb.  $39.99  Link to Lexham Press

Kutz is professor of Biblical Languages and Josberger is an associate professor of Old Testament, but at Multnomah University. Their collaboration for a new first year biblical Hebrew primer reflects their experience in the classroom. As they say in the preface, this grammar is “aggressive” and assumes the use of Hebrew resources available to students of the Old Testament. However, Learning Biblical Hebrew does not seem to be any more “aggressive” than other recent introductory grammars. For example, the material in this new textbook is similar to the recent second edition of Page H. Kelley’s Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar (Eerdmans, 2018) or the second edition of Gary Practico and Miles Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Zondervan, 2014; a third edition is slated for the first quarter of 2019).

Learning Biblical HebrewThe first three chapters deal with letter formation, and pronunciation, followed by seven chapters on nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numbers.  The next seven chapters introduce verbs and the entire Qal system, followed by chapters on the niphal, the piel, pual and hithpael (one chapter), hiphil and hophal, and “rare verb stems” (reduplicated stems and qal passive). There are two separate chapters on object suffixes, then the final ten chapters are devoted to weak verbs.

Several chapters stand out as unique compared to other beginning Hebrew grammars. Chapter nine is entitled “Learning to Read Intuitively: Common Patterns and Hebrew Nouns.” The goal of the chapter is to demonstrate patterns for detecting the meaning of words from how the word is formed. The preformative mem can be added to a stem to form a related word. For example, יצא is a verb “going out,” the noun מוֹצָא means “exit.” The verb אכל means “eat,” the noun מַאֲכָל refers to things eaten, or “food.” Nouns referring to professions or personal traits are often verbs pointed as nouns. The verb דין, “to judge” can be pointed as דַּיָּן, “judge” or דִּין, “legal case.” By paying attention to this reuse of the basic elements of Hebrew words, a student can expand their vocabulary and read new words in context.

Chapters five and twelve deal with a related issue, vowel changes in nouns and verbs. One of the more difficult problems for beginning students of Hebrew is the way vowel change when suffixes are added to a word. It is important to memorize and understand the rules, but the illustrations in these two chapters will help students visualize the way vowels reduce when a suffix is added. It is one thing to memorize “distant open syllables reduce” but quite another to see a clear example using multiple colors.

Exercises for each lesson appear in a separate workbook which was not available at this time of this review. (The Lexham website indicates it is shipping in the first quarter of 2019.) Although I do cannot know this for a fact, I assume the workbook will have vocabulary lists since the chapters in the textbook do not include them. One observation: the Logos Bible Software and Lexham websites list the publication date for Learning Biblical Hebrew and the workbook as 2017, the printed copy has 2018 and the workbook will be 2019. A Graded Reader with Exercises will be published by Lexham Press in 2019.

In addition to the usual paradigms in the back of the book, there are five appendices. First, the authors provide a short introduction to the Hebrew Bible, including the arrangement of the books in the Hebrew canon along with the Hebrew names of the books. There is a short note on differences in chapter and verse divisions (although there is no comprehensive chart of all the differences in the Hebrew Bible). The authors also provide short definitions and examples of liturgical notations (seder and parashiot), section breaks, ketiv/qere and perpetual qere. The second appendix introduces students to Hebrew accents and cantillation marks.

The third appendix offers instructions on creating grammatical diagrams. This is not a syntactical display, but rather a “visual representation of the author’s flow of thought” (432). Most examples are based on the English text in order to demonstrate how to subordinate clauses, but the final diagram of Deuteronomy 4:5-8 is given in English and Hebrew. The main reason for doing this sort of work is to weigh interpretive options and assist the reader to find the main point of a unit. The fourth appendix offers advice on constructing a thematic outline, or moving from a grammatical display to a functional outline for teaching and preaching. The final appendix is deals with transliterating Hebrew to English letters (although copy/paste from Logos to is the easiest way to transliterated Hebrew and Greek).

There is nothing in the textbook on using computer based tools for reading Hebrew. This is remarkable since Lexham and Logos Bible Software are part of the same family of companies. This textbook is therefore aimed at students who want to develop a solid working knowledge of Hebrew rather than an overview of grammar as a crutch for using computer based Hebrew Bibles.

Learning Biblical Hebrew is an excellent textbook for a beginning Hebrew class, likely taught over two semesters at the graduate level. Grammatical explanations are clear and sufficient examples are provided to allow the student to see the concept in context. Pending the release of the workbook, Learning Biblical Hebrew should be considered as a primary textbook for the seminary classroom.


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

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