Jonathan G. Kline, A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew

Kline, Jonathan G. A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2019. 392 pp.; Pb; $29.95.  Link to Hendrickson

A Proverb A Day In Biblical HebrewKline has already compiled Keep Up Your Biblical Hebrew in Two Minutes A Day and Keep Up Your Biblical Aramaic in Two Minutes A Day. This new volume provides one proverb a day with glosses and reading helps from Proverbs 10:1-22:16.

As Kline says in his introduction, proverbs are best internalized by “savoring them slowly in small quantities.” This is because proverbs are often difficult to understand. They are cryptic and ambiguous, and they are especially difficult to translate. His goal in this volume is to help students, clergy, teachers, and scholars who have not yet read much of the book of Proverbs in Hebrew begin to explore how these sayings work in Hebrew” (xiii). This is not a commentary and Kline does not provide any guidance for translating beyond lexical and syntactic glosses, not does he attempt any explanation of the cultural and historical background to obscure elements.

To produce this reader, Kline sorted 365 proverbs from Proverbs 10:1-22:16. The section was chosen since it is labeled the Proverbs of Solomon and it has 375 proverbs. Kline omits ten which are very similar. For example, he omits 11:4 since it is similar to 10:2; 15:22 since it is similar to 11:14. Another advantage to this section of the book of Proverbs is each proverb is formatted into two parallel lines. In Hebrew, the lines are usually three to five words long.

In some ways this is a graded reader. Kline selected proverbs with more common vocabulary for the earlier in the book, less frequent vocabulary towards the end. But there is no attempt to sort the proverbs by morphology and syntax. Although most of the vocabulary on day three is common for Proverbs, the noun עָרוּם is only found twice outside of Proverbs 12 and 14, nine times in the entire Hebrew Bible. A student also needs to know what to do with a hiphel infinitive construct. For most students with a semester or two of Hebrew, this book provides enough to read with clarity.

A Proverb A Day In Biblical HebrewEach page contains a single Hebrew proverb divided into two lines. Each word is glossed and identified morphologically if necessary. In the example to the left, Proverbs 15:31 is divided into two lines, the first line has three units and the second line only two. The first word אֹזֶן is a very common word (ear, 155x) and does not need a gloss since this is the lexical form. The verb שֹׁ֖מַעַת is identified as a Qal participle feminine singular from שׁמע. Kline glosses this common verb as a participle, (one) that hears/listens/heeds. The final two words of the line are glossed together, תּוֹכַ֣חַת חַיִּ֑ים reproof / rebuke of life. Although literally this is “rebuke of life” it is an idiom for reproof. In the second line of the proverb, בְּקֶ֖רֶב חֲכָמִ֣ים is taken as a unit, קֶרֶב plus the inseparable preposition as the sense of “in” or “in the midst of” and חֲכָמִ֣ים is the masculine plural form of the common noun חָכָם. The verb תָּלִֽין is the Qal imperfect 3fs form of לין, to lodge/stay/spend the night.

Put this together, Kline translates Proverbs 15:31 “an ear listens to a life-giving rebuke, it makes its home among the comprehending.” This English translation is not at the bottom of the page. To keep students from using the English as a crutch he puts his translation at the bottom of the third page to avoid “accidental” peaking. As is clear from the previous paragraph, his translations are more periphrastic than expected. As he explains in the introduction, he is “drawing deeply from the rich reservoir of English vocabulary” to produce a translation which is “fresh, memorable, and—by dint of their novelty—defamiliarizing, thought provoking, and even fun” (xx).  This is an important feature since Kline wants the reader to stop and ponder the two simple lines of Hebrew, to chew on them for a few moments and meditate on what they mean in a variety of contexts and circumstances.

The book includes an alphabetical index and a frequency index. The latter would enable a student to memorize common vocabulary in Proverbs. For example, there are only the fourteen words occurring 25 times or more in the book (even a beginning Hebrew student will know most of them). The book is bound as in green cloth over boards with an attractive green pattern on the front and back. What is lacking is a string bookmark typical of a Bible.

This book certainly achieves the goal of providing a student with the necessary information to read a proverb a day and it will facilitate meditation on these important verses in Proverbs.


NB: Thanks to Hendrickson 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.

Book Review: J. David Pleins, Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories

Pleins, J. David  and Jonathan Homrighausen. Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories: A Student’s Guide to Nouns in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2017. 176 pp.; Pb.; $17.99.   Link to Zondervan

The goal of this new book by J. David Pleins is to assist students to acquire a more fluid and intuitive grasp of Hebrew vocabulary. Word frequency lists are common, but after memorizing the most common words it is perhaps not as profitable to memorize words which appear rarely in the Hebrew Bible. Reading the Hebrew Bible becomes “tedious page-flipping exercises through lexicons” (16). By collecting Hebrew vocabulary into logical categories, Pleins hopes to provide a user-friendly method for becoming familiar with words via conceptual categories. The authors hope this book will “open the promised land of a more satisfying experience of reading the Hebrew Bible” (21).

There are over 175 word grouping categories in the book, divided into four broad categories, each divided into sub-categories: The Created Order (Heavens and Earth; Metals, Stones; Colors; Time; Animals; Flora); Human Order (Human; Human Anatomy; Disease and Morality; Food and Spices; Clothing), Social Order (Family, Worship; Law and Covenant; Professions, Military; Maritime; Music; Education); Constructed Order (Buildings; Containers and Implements; Tools; Measurement).

Under each category heading, Pleins lists a groupings. Under Food and Spices, there is a list of general vocabulary, then a list of about thirty words for various kinds of grains, seven for threshing, etc. Some groups have even more narrow groupings. For example, under “Vine, Wine Grapes (including strong drink) Pleins has lists for plant parts, wine/strong drink (spiced wine, mixed win, new wine, but also honeycomb), cluster/grape (raisins, etc.), vineyard, and winepress.

Each entry includes a brief gloss, an abbreviation for the lexical work Pleins used for the gloss and a single example verse from the Hebrew Bible. There are five pages of bibliography at the beginning of the book to guide the reader to more detailed works. Many of these are articles in obscure journals or hard to find monographs. Although word frequency is not noted in the entry, words used less that ten times are marked with an R, words used only a single time (hapax legomena) are marked with an H.

I will take one example from the section on Fruits. The noun אֲבִיּוֹנָה only appears in Ecclesiastes 12:5 so it is marked H. Pliens glosses the word as “caper plant, caper bush, caper berry” citing DCH, David Clines, Dictionary of Classical Hebrew and “Koops.” Consulting the bibliography, this refers to David Koops and Donald Slager, Each According to Its Kinds: Plants and Trees in the Bible (United Bible Societies, 2012).

The book concludes with two appendices. First, “A Guide for Further Reading” listing helpful resources for studying the larger macro categories. For each of the categories listed in the book Pleins highlights one or two of the best monographs from the bibliography with a bit of commentary. The second appendix lists “cluster verses” where several words in the book’s categories appear together. This will guide students to specific passage where this method of vocabulary development works best.

This is a fascinating resource for anyone who has already acquired the basic vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible, perhaps after two semesters of biblical Hebrew. Two things might have improved this book. First, the preface explains how to use the book, but there is not enough justification for the use of “conceptual categories.” For example, how does this differ from “semantic domains”? Although based on the New Testament, are “conceptual categories” different than the method employed by Louw and Nida in their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996)? A second minor improvement would be to include word frequency in each entry rather than the use of R for rare and H for hapax.

One obvious potential problem for this book is the focus on nouns. There are some nouns which are so related to a verbal form that it would make some sense to see them together, perhaps helping a student solidify the concept. For example, the noun לֶקַח is glossed as “learning, teaching” and is listed as rare. But the verb לקח appears much more frequently and has a wide range of meanings involving taking or grasping something. HALOT indicates the two words are related, so by placing this particular verb and noun together might help the student to “grasp” the concept. But since this was not the goal of the book, it cannot be seen as a fault. I imagine a companion volume of verbs at some point in the future.

These are minor quibbles and do not distract from the usefulness of the Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories. The book is both a unique and useful reference for students of the Hebrew Bible.


Free Greek and Hebrew Bibles

Mark Goodacre pointed out that the German Bible Society has added a handy “look up” feature to their Academic website.  Users now can read the German Luther 1984, Nestle-Aland 27, the Septuagint, the Vulgate and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia Hebrew Bible.  The KJV is also available.

I accessed the site using Windows 7 and Firefox 6.x.  The Greek text is displayed quickly and it is readable, using the SBL Greek font.  (I always thought that font looked like it was in italics.)  Since this is a Unicode font I copied and pasted text into Word without any difficulty.  The default font is Calibri (Body), but could I change the text to SBL if necessary.  To me, the Times Roman font is the best looking Greek.  Hebrew pasted into Word with as Ariel, which is not a very good rendering of Hebrew.  I changed the font to the Times Roman Unicode font and it looked fine and all vowels and accents.

I tested the site on my iPad using Safari.  The Greek is readable, although I am not thrilled with the iPad’s font for Greek.  It has accents and breathing marks, but I just do not like reading the “square font.  I need to zoom in a bit on just the text for reading, but that is not a problem.  I copied a sample bit of Greek text and paste it into Evernote without any problems.  The Hebrew font in Safari is terrible. It is blocky and does not seem to handle all of the characters correctly.  There are spaces within words, etc.  I copied a verse and pasted into Evernote, and the text was formatted properly.

These criticisms a problem only on the iPad, not the German Bible Society website.   I cannot see any way to change the default font on the iPad version of Safari, so the use of the Hebrew text is limited.  Has anyone tested this site on an Android?  Perhaps the fonts are better, I would like to hear from you.

By creating an account, a user can search these texts.  Sign up is free, but I could not get the registration page in English.  I guess my Reading German class finally came in handy!  I tried several times to get the search to work, but was unable to use the feature.  I tried changing to a Greek Keyboard, searched for logos, log*, etc.  Each time I received no hits.

If you do not have access to a Greek or Hebrew Bible via Logos or Olive Tree, check out the Bible Society’s web page.  This is a very handy site for students who need access to a word or phrase for a paper but have not yet invested in Bible Software.