Book Review - Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide

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I’m not sure why I chose to review this book. Perhaps it was because my grasp of biblical Hebrew is poor, and I felt like I needed help. Maybe it was because I thought I might fit the target audience – those who have had some Hebrew but need to review the basics. Perhaps it was because I am absolutely convinced of the need for exegesis from the original languages, while at the same time my little grey cells seem to be happier when chewing on theology, philosophy, or history than when studying languages. So let me be clear right up front. I don’t review this book as a Hebrew expert, a Hebrew teacher, or even as a good Hebrew reader. I review it as a pastor who stumbles and bumbles along in Hebrew with the assistance of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible, and needs all the help I can get!

An overview of the book

What you see with Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide is exactly what you get. It is a condensation of Basics of Biblical Hebrew (2nd ed.) by Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt. In a pocket-sized format, it packs in an overview of basic phonology, the nominal system, and the verbal system, as well as two appendices consisting of verbal paradigms, charts and a Hebrew-English lexicon.

It is admirably clear, both in layout and content. In fact, for those learning Hebrew, consulting this little work might provide refreshing re-orientation when the avalanche of details begins to feel overwhelming. It can be reassuring to realize that what you have to learn is not infinite; the basics can all fit between the covers of this little book. The text is clear and readable, not squished, and throughout the book, the examples and charts color-code the salient feature under discussion in red.

I believe this book will be most helpful for those who are actively studying the language, particularly second-year Hebrew students. Yet it can also serve as an aid to those of us whose formal language training is in the past but who have an ongoing desire or responsibility to teach the Word.

The benefits of doing the hard work of language study

It is wise to take advantage of all the electronic helps available today. By all means, start the engines on your shiny new model of Logos or BibleWorks and take it for a spin to the local drive-through. It is convenient to have conjugations and pronominal suffixes handed to us in a white paper bag by moving the mouse. Frankly, there are times when our schedules beg us for that kind of speed. But in the end, McDonald’s exegesis is never as satisfying and nourishing as doing your own farming. What is even more significant is that I can fail to be trained by getting all my food elsewhere. I don’t need simply more facts about the text. I need the Word in me. When you farm your own land, you find yourself falling in love with all of its features. The land becomes a part of your soul. The  sweat and blood that you pour into it comes back to you in what the land produces, and the food you produce isn’t plastic cheese. You may not be able to farm a field as big as the next guy’s, but that’s okay. For those whose calling is to handle the Word of the living God, even a modest gain in the ability to read the original is worth the slow, laborious toil. If Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide can help you do that, then get it, take up your Hebrew Bible, and read.

About the Author

Miles Van Pelt (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, where he also serves as the Director of the Summer Institute for Biblical Languages and Academic Dean. Miles lives in Madison, Mississippi, with his wife, Laurie, and their four children.

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