Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bill Arnold on Hebrew Grammars

(Apologies if this post appears more than once; Blogger is not working well today.)

The following is an e-mail from Bill Arnold, Director of Hebrew Studies at Asbury Seminary:

Here are a few observations related to your recent post on Hebrew grammars. I serve as Director of Hebrew Studies for a seminary that services approximately 200 beginning students per year. I supervise 2 instructors, as well as a curriculum of intermediate and advanced courses. Each Spring, I meet with instructors to consider how to improve the program, and whether we should switch grammars. Over the years, I've taught from a number of these beginning grammars, including most of the ones mentioned in your recent string of discussion. All of this leads me to two observations.

(1) Every teacher of Biblical Hebrew I know has his or her own particular (and sometimes idiosyncratic) way of explaining BH grammar. Most of us in the profession have obsessive and quirky personalities (sorry if this comes as a surprise), and we all have a variety of tricks we've learned to use in the classroom to make our instruction more effective. Most of these tricks simply don't carry over into print format, so what is usually most effective is an extremely simple and basic grammar, which can be adapted and modified easily by each instructor for classroom use. Also, this means most of us will never be completely satisfied with anyone else's grammar. It's as though every Hebrew scholar I know has a felt-need to write their own grammar. Unfortunately, most publishers are catering to this felt-need, so at present we have a nearly impossible proliferation of grammars. Some of them hardly distinguishable from every other one.

(2) Reading through your discussion has reminded me again that, for most of us, it was the second grammar we encountered that we consider the best. In other words, most of us go through a process of learning the basics of the language, and then subsequently reading another grammar, one that states grammatical phenomena in a different and fresh way, or at least, different and fresh to us as intermediate students. The second grammar takes us to the next level of understanding. Invariably, it seems, we develop an attachment to that second grammar, which we then assume is superior to all others. So, e.g., in my case, Lambdin was my first Hebrew grammar, which we used in college. Then in seminary, I was introduced to Weingreen's old classic, which I immediately embraced as superior in every respect except for outdated features here & there. Later, I taught from both, as well as Kelley, Seow, Ross, and many others. In the process, I have returned to Lambdin time and time again, to discover that it is neither superior nor inferior to Weingreen and the others, but simply different in its arrangement and explanations. So, I have concluded that at the end of the day, there is hardly a hair's breadth of difference between any of these grammars. I think any of the ones I have mentioned in this paragraph are perfectly adequate and useful in nearly any teaching environment (with the possible exception of Weingreen, which is simply too dated now).

We need to declare a moratorium on the production of beginning BH grammars! Please! Just because each of us teaches Hebrew in a unique fashion doesn't mean we all need our own published grammar. At the present rate, we will soon have as many grammars as teachers.


Many thanks to Bill for providing this perspective.

1 comment:

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


I think that Bill is right on target. We are quirky as Hebrew professors. I have found the phenomenon that Bill noticed to be true in my Hebrew pilgrimage. I first had Weingreen and then Kelley. Later in advanced readings class I was introduced to Waltke and O’Connor as well as Gibson. I really do like Kelley and have taught from both Weingreen and Kelley – although I prefer Kelley. I second the motion from Bill that we establish a moratorium on new Hebrew grammars. There are a couple of niche grammars that are helpful – an epigraphic grammar or some other type of variant aspect of the language. Yet here again I suspect that these grammars will be printed in very low numbers.