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.

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.