FURTHER WORK IN CLASSICAL HEBREW: SOME HELPS AND HINTS
One year of Hebrew study only serves to get your feet wet. If you wish to achieve true mastery, you must strive to maintain and constantly build upon the knowledge already so painfully and laboriously acquired. A second year of Hebrew language studies is highly recommended, and some of you are intending to travel that route. However, whether you plan on participating in the second year program or not, DO NOT TAKE TOO LONG A VACATION FROM YOUR HEBREW STUDIES THIS SUMMER. Strive to read some Hebrew every day, and continue working on your vocabulary even in the absence of a formal assignment. I’ve supplied some passages below for you to work through, arranged in order of relative difficulty. Once you have read (and translated) these passages, let your own interests guide what material you choose to work with; generally speaking, narrative is easier than poetry—the most difficult material being probably Job and the Song of Songs. Advanced biblical Hebrew classes at UNC Charlotte typically focus equally on narrative and poetic materials from the Bible, usually read in conjunction with some apocryphal materials, rabbinic texts, and traditional medieval commentaries.
Finally, an inspirational quote from the twentieth-century’s greatest scholar of Jewish studies, Gershom Scholem: “I studied Hebrew without a sense that one day I would really know it. I thought it was extremely difficult, that I would never master it. But after four or five years of intensive study, I found it was possible to master Hebrew.” (from Muki Tsur and Abraham Shapira, “With Gershom Scholem: An Interview,” Shdemot: Literary Digest of the Kibbutz Movement 3 [spring 1975]: 5-43; translated into English and published in Gershom Scholem, On Jews and Judaism in Crisis: Selected Essays [ed. Werner J. Dannhauser; New York: Schocken, 1976], 1-48. The quote is found on p. 11 of the English version).
SOME HELPFUL REFERENCE MATERIALS
1. Grammar: The authoritative English-language reference grammar for biblical Hebrew is that of Wilhelm Gesenius (1786-1842), as revised by Emil Kautzsch and A. E. Cowley (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar [2d English ed.; ed. E. Kautzsch and A. E. Cowley; Oxford: Clarendon, 1910]). Copies of this work are often ordered for the second-year class as a recommended text. Otherwise, you can obtain a copy directly from Oxford University Press, from Amazon, from bookseller consortium websites like that of AbeBooks, or from specialist book vendors like Eisenbrauns or Dove Booksellers (see below). A relatively inexpensive soft-cover reprint of the 1910 edition is available from Dover Publications. Electronic versions of this and earlier editions (e.g., the 1898 English language edition) are freely available for download at archive.org.
2. Lexicon: The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon (BDB) which we use is essentially a heavily revised version of a Hebrew dictionary prepared by Wilhelm Gesenius during the first half of the nineteenth century. Despite its Victorian era provenance, it is a more than adequate lexical tool for those (like many of you) who are content to study classical Hebrew at an elementary level. Those however who want to pursue biblical Hebrew at a more sophisticated level taking full account of the archaeological discoveries and philological advances made during the course of the past century will need to supplement BDB by making plans to acquire the latest edition of Koehler-Baumgartner (HALAT or KB); i.e., Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, A Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (5 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1994-2000). Since the price tag for this large set of hardbound tomes exceeds what most individuals can comfortably afford, Brill issued a compact two volume so-called ‘study edition’ of this same work in 2001 at what it considers a more modest price. HALAT is also available in CD-ROM format, either independently or as an ‘add-on’ to some electronic Bible programs (e.g., BibleWorks).
3. Concordance: Serious students will want to invest in a concordance to the Hebrew Bible. Several are available (e.g., Lisowsky, Mandelkern), but the best is that of Avraham Even-Shoshan, New Concordance to the Bible (Hebrew) (4th ed.; repr., Jerusalem: Kiryat-Sefer, 2000). This important tool can be ordered from here. It has also been translated into English, but I find it less valuable in this format. The explosion of digital technology over the past twenty years has revolutionized textual study and permits the self-generation of ‘customized’ concordances or character strings. There are a number of CD-ROM or disk on key databases available which contain electronic versions of Hebrew language text(s), including Bible, but they vary widely in textual integrity, price, and utility. The best by far is the Bar Ilan University Responsa Project, but it is also pretty expensive. Another useful program is the aforementioned BibleWorks. One of the least expensive programs is the Judaic Classics Library distributed by Davka, but I repeatedly discovered ‘scribal errors’ in some of their texts and so can no longer endorse this package.
4. Rabbinic Hebrew: For those interested in diving into the vast ‘sea of Talmud,’ further lexical and grammatical assistance will be required. You will need to get a copy of M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford: Clarendon, 1927), wherein is featured a useful discussion of the main differences between biblical and postbiblical Hebrew. There is now a ‘teaching grammar’ available in English: Miguel Pérez Fernández, An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew (Leiden: Brill, 1999), but I cannot recommend it. The standard English-language lexicon is that of Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (2 vols.; reprinted in 1 vol. with reduced type; New York: Judaica Press, 1982), and it has been frequently reprinted by several presses and in varying formats. Jastrow can also be consulted free online here. Segal and Jastrow also prove useful for reading certain Qumran texts (see below) which utilize non-biblical vocabulary or grammatical forms. For medieval Hebrew, I have found that the best Hebrew-English dictionary is Reuben Alcalay, The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary (Tel Aviv & Jerusalem: Massadah Publishing Co., 1965), and frequently reprinted; this is actually a dictionary of modern Hebrew, but it can be used for earlier periods as well. The standard historical dictionaries (both are Hebrew-Hebrew) are Avraham Even-Shoshan, Millon Even-Shoshan (6 vols.; rev. ed.; Tel Aviv: Ha-millon ha-ḥadash, 2003); and Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Millon ha-lashon ha-‘ibrit ha-yeshanah we-ha-ḥadashah (16 vols.; Berlin & Jerusalem: Langenscheidt, 1908-59). A number of important manuscript and early print resources are now digitally available, and I have stashed an assortment of links to them here.
5. Qumran texts: Two older works present vocalized texts of the non-biblical Dead Sea Scrolls. These are A. M. Habermann, Megillot midbar yehudah (n.p.: Maḥbaroth Lesifrut, 1959), and Eduard Lohse, Die Texte aus Qumran (München: Kösel-Verlag, 1981). They both contain the main stuff available prior to the Scrolls’ public release in late 1991; i.e., 1QS, CD, 1QM, 1QH, 1QpHab, etc. A second volume edited by Annette Steudel and Hans-Ulrich Boesche with the derivative title Die Texte aus Qumran II (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2001) adds Tiberian vocalization to a number of the more recently published Dead Sea Scrolls texts. A fairly comprehensive ‘study edition’ of the non-biblical Scrolls is Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1997-98); the same edition is also available in soft-cover format from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers. This work however provides an unvocalized text. Realize that if you are serious about wanting to read Qumran or other non-biblical texts, you will have to become comfortable with working with unpointed Hebrew. For the grammar and vocabulary of the Scrolls, the best guide remains Elisha Qimron, The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls (HSS 29; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), recently reprinted in soft-cover and available from Eisenbrauns. An edition of the ‘biblical’ texts recovered from the caves of Qumran and its environs is Eugene Ulrich, ed., The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants (VTSup 134; Leiden: Brill, 2010). Photographic images of most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are available at http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/home.
6. Other stuff: As further recommended purchases, I would suggest the following two books: (1) Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica (2d ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995); and (2) Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3d ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012). These are excellent resources for deepening your understanding of the basic textual issues involved in the transmission and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. The key to gaining rapid fluency is the systematic acquisition of vocabulary, and there is no better tool for this purpose than George M. Landes, Building Your Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary: Learning Words by Frequency and Cognate (2d ed.; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001). You would also profit from a close reading of Angel Saenz-Badillos, A History of the Hebrew Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), recently reprinted in paperback; and Joel M. Hoffman, In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language (New York and London: New York University Press, 2004).
7. Where to buy these and other coveted materials: I would recommend dealing with the following outfits: (1) Eisenbrauns, POB 275, Winona Lake, IN 46590-0275, or (2) Dove Booksellers, 30633 Schoolcraft Rd., Suite C, Livonia, MI 48150. Either vendor can get you just about anything you want (if it’s in print, that is) whether they actually list it in their catalogs or not. These companies issue frequent catalogs and announce periodic sales incentives. Contact them directly for further details or to get on their mailing lists.
A SUGGESTED PROGRESSION OF READINGS
1. Exodus 3; Deuteronomy 5; 1 Samuel 3; Genesis 24
2. Genesis 6:5-9:17; 2 Chronicles 32; Psalms 8, 24, 93, 100
3. 1 Kings 18-19; Genesis 37, 39-42; Job 1-2; 42:7-17; Exodus 32-33
4. Judges 6-8; Exodus 19-24; 2 Samuel 1; Proverbs 2
5. Leviticus 1-2; Isaiah 1; Isaiah 40; 2 Kings 22-25; Psalm 105
6. 2 Samuel 9-20; Job 38:1-42:6; Jeremiah 23:9-40; Isaiah 42; Isaiah 45; Psalm 18