Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Biblical Hebrew Textbooks for Beginners?

Dave@GracePages comments in the last post:

Tell me, what would you recommend to someone like me as an introduction to biblical Hebrew?

I'm an academic type with a degree in Biblical-Theological Studies, familiar with Greek, but almost totally ignorant of Hebrew. You know, I can remember that Yom means 'day' and that's about it -- I've pretty much focused on the New Testament. I aspire to return to scholarship in the future, however. I wouldn't be able to identify a single Hebrew character.

Unfortunately, it's been 18 years since I taught introductory Hebrew (and seven years since I formally taught anything at all; not by choice). I just don't know what's out there. I found this website, but the emphasis there is for the intermediate student, not the beginner. A number of beginner's texts are mentioned at this commercial site.

Many scholars I know like to use Lambdin (see the website just mentioned). I've consulted it on occasion, but never used it as a textbook. I don't know anything about Kittel or Kelley. I've written a review of C. L. Seow's grammar, but I don't know how it goes over in the classroom.

I learned Biblical Hebrew from the late W. S Lasor's Handbook of Biblical Hebrew, which I believe is out of print. It's a pity, because it is a largely inductive approach, and I've been sold on the inductive method ever since. I don't know if there are any other grammars out there that are as consistently inductive. I've also used in the classroom Moshe Greenberg's Introduction to Hebrew, but it is a little thin (literally and figuratively).

What do the rest of you think? Blog about it, and I'll link to your discussion; or write to me and I'll include your views in an update.

UPDATE (3/8): Eric Sowell@The Coding Humanist writes:
I learned a little Hebrew at DTS using Seow's A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Even though it is packed full of useful information, it is difficult to learn from. I do not recommend it. And, it is very deductive in its approach, so it isn't what you are looking for.

Just after I took first year Hebrew they switched to Pratico and Van Pelt's grammar. That one seems better, but I have not had a chance to spend much time in it as of yet.
Ken Penner e-mails:
It sounds like Dave@GracePages, knowing Greek, could use a textbook that errs on the side of being thorough rather than simplistic. If so, I'd suggest Lambdin. Even advanced scholars appeal to Lambdin in a way that is not heard of for other textbooks. Seow would be my second choice (what was your opinion of it when you reviewed it?). I like some things about the organization in Weingreen, but I haven't used it enough to recommend it confidently. I'd recommend staying away from LaSor, though I see great value in the inductive method. It's just not appropriate for self-teaching. I've seen some particularly bad intro. grammars, that I won't mention unless asked. For someone who doesn't know an ancient language already, I'd suggest Futato. I haven't taught from it, but it looks promising.
Justin Winger e-mails:
When I taught at Fuller many of us used Simon, Resnikoff, & Motzkin, The First Hebrew Primer (EKS Publishing - www.ekspublishing.com). As with all grammars, there is a compromise, and the compromise here is that the book makes Hebrew very fun and easy to learn but it isn't grammar-intensive and doesn't include some of the finer points of grammar. The focus is instead on getting the student to read Hebrew and enjoy it. There is also a bit of a jump from the "book Hebrew" to Biblical Hebrew, but not a large one if one chooses his/her initial post-grammar texts carefully (the book itself works through Ruth). I found it to be perfect for a Seminary setting in which there were many people who were required to take Hebrew but didn't have any desire to learn it (and many others who were simply scared of it), especially if a few weeks were reserved at the end of the course for just reading the Hebrew Bible, and if the book was supplemented with handouts of the finer points of grammar as needed. As somebody who works with Semitic languages, you might enjoy checking it out. At the end of each chapter they have exercises, a section of Ruth, and a "Tall Tale," which is usually one of the fairy tales translated into Biblical Hebrew. Reading "The Three Little Pigs" in Biblical Hebrew (and a somewhat humorous rendition at that) definitely makes reading chunks of Hebrew fun for the student (even if some teachers might gripe about book exercises in language teaching).
Many thanks for all who took the time to write. Note also Chris Brady's and Carl's comments in the comment section below. Dave, hope this helps.

UPDATE II: Danny Zacharias also has some suggestions and observations.


Cb said...

I use (most often) Hoffer, Kittel, and Wright Biblical Hebrew : Text and Workbook; Second Edition (Yale Language Series). They use terms such as prefix and affix instead of perfect and imperfect and have a few other quirks that many might dislike. What I like most about it is that it gets students into reading the biblical text right away. There is always a verse (well, a snippet to start with) there for the student to work through as they are learning the grammar. I then begin my students (after a week of prep) reading Gen. 1. It is repetitive and simple enough for them to move through it without too many hours of searching BDB and most find it very satisfying to be reading the Bible in Hebrew.

My 2¢.

Dave said...

Hey, thanks guys. This should all prove useful.

Dave Rattigan (The Grace Pages)

PS. Ed, I always thought your blog-title was a bit strange until it suddenly clicked it was a pun on one of my favourite poems. *Duh!*

Carl said...

I also use Hoffer, Kittel, and Wright. It's in the Yale series, which also offers an intermediate Hebrew text and "Biblical Hebrew for Students of Modern Israeli Hebrew". For the reasons mentioned by cb, this inductive texts engages students immediately and IMHO is more likely to stimulate a love for the language. It's not as thorough as Lambdin, but perhaps this is remedied by the new edition that Yale issued recently.

Ken said...

I'd have to join the consensus here: Kittel, Hoffer, and Wright is the grammar I used and I really liked it. It progresses quickly in a way that is encouraging to the student. It's a bit of a leap though to intermediate and advanced studies. There is, however, a good intermediate textbook by Ben Zvi, Hancock, and Bienert. I've got some info on grammars at my online bookstore, though I have to update it with the new edition of Kittel.

Carl: Thanks for the heads-up on the new edition.

Talmida said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Talmida said...

I can vouch for Kittel, Hoffer and Wright (I'm using the 1st ed.) for the autodidact. I began with online, which had 4 lessons for free last year. When I'd mastered those I moved onto Kittel et al. I'm on chapter 41, and I have no trouble at all with translation. Reading is still word-for-word, and of course I have the great insecurity of the self-taught: am I pronouncing anything correctly?


Talmida said...

Yikes! I closed the tags and previewed (and it looked fine!) but it's still doing that!

Sorry about that. The site I am trying to indicate is called Starting with Aleph and is here: http://ejemm.com/aleph/

Dave said...

This is all very useful. I'm still mulling over which to buy, since some of them can be pretty pricey. Kittell, Hoffer and Wright looks like the best bet, but it's thirty-some-odd quid, so I'll give the issue a wee bit more thought. Thanks, everyone.

Pilgrim at First and Lake said...

I've used (with decent success) Pratico & Van Pelt's Basics of Biblical Hebrew. The line has an accompanying workbook and since my Hebrew instructor was probably one of only two truly not very good instructors I've ever had (... the other one being my perpetually drunk philosophy instructor back in the dark days of college ...) I can vouch for the self-teaching potential of these books. I would also recommend picking up the very wonderful Waltke/O'Connor "Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax" -- a $50 investment that's well worth the pricetag. :)

Pilgrim at First and Lake said...

I should add that the Pratico/Van Pelt series also has a "flashcard" program for the Palm. It's very helpful, for the nerdier Hebrew students (like myself) amongst us, and costs, I think, less than $15.

david said...

We use Lambdin in Uppsala University, should be good as Hebrew has been theached out here for 400 years so the professor would be knowing which book that is good.