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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.


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.

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