Book Review: Holger Gzella, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament Volume XVI: Aramaic Dictionary

Gzella, Holger. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume XVI. Aramaic Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. xlvii+884 pp. Hb; $75.  Link to Eerdmans  

After nearly fifty years, the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament is now complete. The final volume of TDOT is an unabridged translation of the German Dictionary published in seven installments between 2001 and 2016. This Aramaic Dictionary contains nearly all the vocabulary of biblical Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:19 and 7:12-26; Daniel 2:4-7:28; a brief clause in Jeremiah 10:11 and Genesis 31:47 (יְגַ֖ר שָׂהֲדוּתָ֑א, Jegar-sahadutha, Laban’s name for the Hebrew place-name Galeed).

In his editor’s preface, Holgar Gzella says this volume situates the Aramaic sections of Ezra and Daniel “in the context of its linguistic and cultural history and, thereby, frees Biblical Aramaic from its role as an appendix to the Hebrew Bible.” This “linguistic and cultural history” is illustrated throughout the dictionary with texts from Old and Imperial Aramaic as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The entries in the Dictionary look similar to the other volumes of the TDOT but are necessarily brief and the content for each entry varies. Other than the heading, all Hebrew and Aramaic appears in transliteration. Before the first footnote is a bibliography for the word including journal articles, monographs, and cross references to other Hebrew and Aramaic lexical words (ThWQ, TLOT, TDOT, often for Hebrew cognates). All references to non-biblical Aramaic texts are given with standard abbreviations, only rarely are these texts cited.

Several examples will suffice to demonstrate how each dictionary entry works. Under the heading עלי the word עליון, most high, and other related words appear. The entry begins with a brief etymology, the about a page surveying the use in biblical Aramaic and Qumran. The entry conclude with about a half-page on profane uses of the words in both Old and Imperial Aramaic (an inscription and the text of a contract from Elephantine) and biblical Aramaic and Qumran. The entry for ידע (“to know”) is more extensive and includes מנדע (knowledge). The entry begins with etymology and lexical field before a page of Old and Imperial Aramaic examples. The biblical Aramaic section includes sub-paragraphs in the ground-stem, causative-stem, constructions with an object clause, the noun and the translation of these forms in the Greek Old Testament. Finally the entry includes two pages of examples drawn from Qumran.

It may be helpful to compare the TDOT Aramaic Dictionary to the Aramaic volume in the popular The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000) edited by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (HALOT). From my example above, the HALOT entry for ידע (“to know”) runs about 300 words and contains glosses for all examples of biblical Hebrew. The entry begins with notes on the word in various forms of Aramaic, the entry does not offer examples. By way of contrast, the TDOT entry has six pages with about a third of the entry offering examples from Qumran and another page of Imperial Aramaic examples. If one were reading and translating Daniel, then HALOT would be an efficient tool. However, if one is doing exegesis on Daniel, then the TDOT Aramaic Dictionary is superior.

Following the dictionary proper, there two shorter lists. First, a list of seven Iranian official titles, second a list of numbers which appear in biblical Aramaic. Gzella provides a thirteen page historical outline of Aramaic grammar, am alphabetical Aramaic-English word list and an English-Aramaic glossary. Since the latter list indicates the root under which the word appears in the dictionary, this will be valuable (and well-used) too for students.

Unlike the Hebrew Volumes of TDOT, this new volume is more akin to a standard dictionary than a theological dictionary. In the TDOT entries often included expanded entries on the theological uses of a word. For example, the entry examined above for ידע (“to know”) in TDOT volume four is thirty-two pages long and includes sections on both secular and religious knowledge, revelation (including signs and wonders in the Exodus), and the use of the word at Qumran. As a second example, under חבל, rope, the entry includes the sorts of things one expects to define rope, but then has sections entitled “Rope in Everyday Life” as an instrument, in military contexts, and as a measuring line) and “Rope as a Metaphor.” The nature of biblical Aramaic precludes this level of detail and there are few scholars with the experience in a wide range of Aramaic to write detailed articles on non-biblical Aramaic.

Nevertheless, this new TDOT Aramaic Dictionary is an essential tool for anyone working on the Aramaic texts in Daniel and Ezra. The wealth of parallel material in Imperial Aramaic and the Qumran literature will serve scholarship for many years to come.

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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