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Review: A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew & Workbook

Learning a language is not easy. You have to learn a new set of vocabulary, a new way to structure sentences, and new syntactical and grammatical rules just to be able to speak to somebody! It’s a bit different with Hebrew and Greek, as many student only learn to recognize and read the languages (unfortunately-languages stick better when you learn them through speaking and listening too). Duane Garrett (the John R. Sampey Professor of Old Testament at the SBTS) and Jason DeRouchie (Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem Seminary) have come together and revised Garrett’s previous Hebrew textbook.

Outline

  1. Orthography (the conventions of spelling) and Phonology (chs 1-4)
  2. Basic Morphology and Syntax (chs 5-26)
  3. Detailed Study of the Qal Verb (chs 27-30)
  4. Detailed Study of the Derived Stems (chs 31-35)
  5. The Masoretic Text, Detailed Study of Syntax, and Poetry (chs 36-41)

Upon finishing chapter 41, the reader will have learned nearly all words that appear 79 times or more in the Hebrew Bible, 510 core vocabulary, 155 proper names, and will have translated over 300 verses of biblical text (along with many practice sentences). A CD is included with audio files for the alphabet and vocabulary.  

The Chocolate Milk

I’ve found Garrett/DeRouchie’s grammar to be a helpful guide. Most chapters are packed with information (though this can be a double-edged sword), which is helpful for self-study and for after-class-need-more-time-to-let-this-soak-in-study. In chapter six, “Hebrew Verbs,” the authors give a very helpful discussion on verb tense, mood, aspect, and voice. 

  • Tense tells us if the “situation expressed by the verb is past, present, or future” (35).
  • Mood tells us whether the action (expressed by the verb) is real/actual (“was,” “is,” or “will”) or possible (“may,” “would,” “could”).
  • Aspect “relates to how a speaker portrays the action” (35). Are we told “it [the whole event] happened” or that “it was happening” (as a process)?
  • Voice “tells us whether the subject of a verb acts or is acted upon” (36). This is seen in active verbs (“The dog bit the man”) and passive verbs (“The man was bitten by the dog”).

Each chapter has a section on vocabulary, and beginning with chapter nine the reader is presented with a guided reading from Psalm 1, Numbers 1.24–35, Psalm 14, and various texts from Genesis. The authors cover the expected grammar of Hebrew: nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prefixes, etc. But Section E has six chapters, one on Masoretic marks, and five covering syntax and literary structure, discourse analysis, and poetry. These chapters give important advice on sentence clauses, speech, embedded discourse, paragraph markers, and more. There is a case study in historical discourse in Genesis 37.2–11 which will benefit any who put the time into understanding it. It’s not enough to know vocabulary and to be able to parse; you must know how to read sentences and paragraphs and to know how the sense units function in relation to each other. This is a large task, and Garrett and DeRouchie faithfully guide their beginners through these ravines.

The Workbook is excellent. Each chapter comes with many sentences to translate and many verbs to parse for extra practice. It’s unfortunate that the reader isn’t required to translate from English in Hebrew. It actually helps to reinforce what was taught in the chapter. Bonus: The workbook has an answer key (I’ve actually seen some books that do not have an answer key, which boggles my mind).

The Spoiled Milk

As I said above, almost every chapter is is packed with information, which can be a real benefit. But when I open A Modern Grammar I feel like I’m drowning in words. Though helpful, it can really be overwhelming.

The flip side to my praise of the chapter on verbs (ch 6) is followed up by my distaste for the chapter on verbs. Right off the bat, I’m a paradigm guy. I’ve seen that there are some people who have really appreciated that the chapters on verbs didn’t list paradigms. I’m not one of those people. That’s just not how my mind works. So even though I had already had a semester of Hebrew, this chapter still threw me for a loop.

The chapter quickly introduces the reader to the verb יִפֹּל (yippol) and it’s meaning, gloss, and alternative translations. The first verb reader meets is a weak verb. On the next page the reader is given six more verbs, and again, all are weak verbs (which are more difficult to properly recognize than the strong verbs). Then יִפֹּל (yippol) is described as an imperfect verb, what Garrett refers to as the yiqtol (יִקְטֹל) verb. קָם (qam) is a perfect verb, or a qatal verb. My point? יִפֹּל doesn’t look like יִקְטֹל, and קָם doesn’t look like קָטַל. The vocabulary list at the end of the chapter contains 15 verbs; two are strong. The rest are weak (and, thus, act differently).

Why not explain the perfect verbs (קָטַל) by strong verbs that actually like like the verb קָטַל? why use a weak verb with only two radicals (or ‘letters’) instead of three? Weak verbs are difficult enough to understand. Why begin verbs with them?  

In fact, I found all/most of the chapters on verbs to be at least somewhat confusing. On the one hand, the explanations are excellent, but the format of the chapters (and lack of paradigms, though they are in a back appendix) was unhelpful.

Recommended?

Yes, though in a number of ways I still prefer both Allen Ross’ grammar (which you can find free lectures here) and Van Pelt/Pratico’s grammar. Part of that is because I’ve worked through both of them (and Ross’ in Hebrew I & II). I also think both grammars are laid out  better than this one. This one has a lot of good information in it, but it does require a lot of reading. Some chapters also try to get too far ahead of themselves by providing a brief look at a grammatical rule that will be examined in a later chapter.

Chapter 1, when learning about vowels there’s a brief section about how nouns in construct can change their vowels. Yet this topic won’t be covered until chapter 12. Why not just leave it until then? Had this been my introduction to Hebrew, seeing vowels change in this way would have felt like a burden.

I still think that Garrett and DeRouchie have put together an excellent grammar, one that tries to give the reader all the information they need to understand the language. But this wouldn’t be the first grammar I reach for, nor the first I recommend as I don’t find it the simplest grammar to go through, but with self-discipline and patience one can surely make it through this grammar with a firm understanding of both beginning Hebrew and syntax.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Duane Garrett & Jason DeRouchie
  • Hardcover Grammar: 432 pages
  • Paperback Workbook: 320 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (July 1, 2009)

Buy the Grammar from B&H Academic or on Amazon!

Buy the Workbook from B&H Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: The Message of the Twelve

Who said it first?

  1. “I will make your grave, for you are vile.”

2. “And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place.”

3. “I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them.”

4. “What’s love got to do with it?”

5. “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.”

6. “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”

If you could only answer #4 (Tina Turner), then congratulations(!), you’ve found yourself in the midst of the Minor Prophets. The Book of the Twelve is a wild ride, however, because we are so far removed from this culture and history, even the harshest critiques preached against Israel (see #1, Nahum 1.13) put many right to sleep. What hope is there for the modern day mother with kids to understand the hope found in Zechariah? What conviction is Joel supposed to bring to the busy husband who is tired from a long week of work? Richard Fuhr, Jr. and Gary Yates have written The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets with the purpose of unveiling some of the mystery that shrouds the Twelve from our eyes. Fuhr and Yates aim to present to the reader of the the individual voices that make up the Twelve.

Layout

There are two parts to the book.

Part 1

  1. The World of the Twelve sets the reader within the history of the Minor Prophets. Which kings were in play? Why were they important? Who was the ruling superpower of the day (e.g., Assyria, Babylon, Persia, etc)? What was wrong with Israel at this time? The authors give a brief overview of Israel’s history in the promise land after the death of Solomon to the exile of Israel up through to the return to the land. Knowing Israel’s history is pivotal to understanding the Minor Prophets, and the authors do a good job of showing what was going on during the preaching of each prophet.
  2. The Role of the Twelve: The prophets were forth-tellers and foretellers. They taught the heart of God to his people, and, at times, they were given insight into what God would do in the future.
  3. The Words of the Twelve reminds us that the Minor Prophets are poetic texts (with prose included). The prophets’ words can be separated into three broad categories:
    1. Announcements of judgment
    2. Oracles of salvation
    3. Calls to repentance.
      Each of these have their own categories. The prophets were skilled in getting the attention of their audience, and they did so with the use of metaphors, parallelism, repetition, irony, sarcasm, rhetorical questions, and wordplays.
  4. The Book of the Twelve doesn’t always seem to be much of a unity at all, but Fuhr and Yates show the reader that through chronology, catchwords, and themes there is a strong unity between the twelve books. Some of those themes are Israel’s failure to repent in response to the prophetic word, the Day of the Lord, and the broken and restored covenant.

Part 2

The next twelve chapters are summaries of each of the Twelve’s books. After introducing the book and giving some of the historical background information, the authors present the structure of the book, showing that each book was purposefully written. None of them were just thrown together (although Hosea is difficult to outline). The authors then give a brief commentary on each section, ending with a Theological Message and Application of ___ section where the message of the book is condensed into a few paragraphs and its significance throughout the canon of Scripture (and primarily in the NT) is brought to light.

Conclusion

This book is a plea for the church to renew their interest in the Twelve. It remains part of God’s inerrant and inspired word. There are four ways the Twelve continues to speak to the church. (1) It gives a distinctive portrayal of God, (2) it gives an ethical call for God’s people to “act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly” with God (Mich 6.8), (3) it shows ways God deals with his people and the nations, and (4) it comforts the church with its message of comfort, restoration, and the kingdom of God that is coming in full.

Recommended?

For twelve books that many of us have a difficult time reading and understanding today, Fuhr and Yates have provided the church with an important work. They provide the literary structure of each book. They show wordplays that we miss in English translations, and connections within the literary structure from from the repetition of certain words. They clearly explain each section of each book, and finish it off with it’s application for believers today. This is a solid work for the student, pastor, and teacher. This is the perfect primer to use when studying the Minor Prophets. This should be read with a Bible on your desk and a pen in your hand.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Fuhr / Yates
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (September 1, 2016)

Buy it now from B&H Academic or Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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