These Do What Now? A Comparison of Hebrew Lexica (Part 3)

This is the third post in our series discussing Hebrew lexica.  See also Part 1 and Part 2.

The third lexicon in our comparative study of “the big three” is the more recent work The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew edited by David J.A. Clines.  Clines (and others) began work on this lexicon in 1988 and just recently finished the final volume in 2011.  DCH consists of a whopping eight volumes (¡Ay, caramba!) and is self-described as “an entirely new work” as it is not based on the work of prior lexica (though its authors are of course familiar with prior lexical works).

Similar to HALOT, DCH aims at a user-friendly format and organizes words alphabetically with the root form of verbs being used as headwords.  One welcome change is DCH’s use of gender-inclusive language.  Furthermore, two distinguishing characteristics set DCH apart from other lexica, the first distinguishing characteristic being the range of texts included in its source material.  DCH is unlike other Hebrew lexica in that it does not restricts its corpus to the Old Testament, nor does it privilege evidence provided in the Old Testament, but rather it examines all extant texts available.  Instead of treating Biblical Hebrew as its own special language, DCH treats “Classical Hebrew” like any other language.  The corpora of Classical Hebrew includes the Hebrew Bible (excluding Aramaic), Ben Sira, Qumran manuscripts (Dead Sea Scrolls) and related texts, and inscriptions and other occasional texts.  These texts span from the earliest occurrences of ancient Hebrew up to 200 CE.  While non-biblical texts make up 15% of the source material, biblical texts still make up 85%.

The second differentiating characteristic of DCH that is also notably different from previous lexica is its basis in modern linguistics.  Its theoretical framework emphasizes the sentence over individual words and thus the focus is not so much on “meanings” but rather on the various “patterns and combinations in which words are used” (pg. 15 of introduction).  Unlike BDB and HALOT which studies the Hebrew language as a diachronic system, DCH studies the classical Hebrew language “as if it were a synchronic system” (pg. 16).  This means that no historical information was sought by the authors nor was any provided in the dictionary; no cognate languages have been utilized and no theoretical etymologies have been proposed. This is perhaps the most notable difference between DCH and its predecessors as it does not make use of philology and cognate languages since it does not seek to trace the development of a word’s meaning over time.  This is largely due to the uncertainty with which the texts have been dated.  Thus DCH prefers to approach its study of classical Hebrew as a description of the language at a particular point in time.

The different senses of words are not organized in the same way as BDB and HALOT.  The senses are instead listed by frequency, with the sense that occurs most often listed first. Again, this is so that no historic relationship is postulated with different senses of the Hebrew word. The minds behind DCH do not assume that the most concrete senses of a word provide the base for the more abstract senses.  We’ll discuss this more in our next post on the layout of articles in each lexica.

Finally, a relationship that HALOT and BDB do not take into account is what DCH calls “paradigmatic” relationships between words which DCH has organized in a list of synonyms and antonyms for each headword. By providing synonyms and antonyms the authors of DCH move one step closer to creating the semantic map of Hebrew.  Since this is based on usage and not historical relationships, this information is likely to provide a more accurate picture of the Biblical Hebrew users mental lexicon.


These Do What Now? A Comparison of Hebrew Lexica (Part 2)

This second post in our series (click here for Part 1) on a comparison of popular Hebrew lexica will briefly introduce the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, aka HALOT.

Following BDB, HALOT was first published under the title Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros in 1953 in German by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, followed by a complicated history in which the lexicon went from German to German with an English supplement, then to only German again.  Finally we end up with HALOT , an English version consisting of five volumes (the German version is known as HAL).  Thankfully there is a 2-volume study edition which is much easier to lug around!

With the goal of a more user-friendly format, Koehler and Baumgartner took a notable departure from the format of BDB by arranging words alphabetically instead of by verbal roots.  This is a welcome feature for beginners, as well as seasoned scholars, as the layout of HALOT makes it easier to find a particular word.  Furthermore, since some derivations are doubtful, words that are (likely) derived from a root are listed at the end of that word’s entry rather than organized the entire lexicon around verbal stems.  However, the cognate languages still hold a place of importance within the theoretical framework of HALOT as its authors understand comparative linguistics to be the “most important part of linguistics.”  For the authors of HALOT, as with BDB, the meaning of a word is found both in its history of usage (philology) and the context where a word is used (exegesis).  Thus HALOT refers to parallels in several cognate languages (Arabic, Aramaic, Ethiopian, etc.) while also cautioning against an over-reading of any comparison.  HALOT makes use of several text traditions including the Dead Sea Scrolls and other materials from the Judaean desert, the Greek and Latin transcriptions in the Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch.  HALOT has a leg up on BDB with regard to comparative studies due to the discovery of Semitic language material not available when BDB was completed. Specifically, the Ugaritic language, which was not available to BDB, has been utilized in HALOT to provide insight into comparative studies.  In addition, HALOT incorporates the Biblical scrolls found in the Qumran material which have provided more Hebrew data with which to work.  Lastly, a notable difference between HALOT and BDB is that HALOT actually mentions the effort to take exegetical matters into consideration in the lexicon’s introduction as a way of undertaking the scientific study of the Hebrew language.

There is a shorter version of HALOT availableA Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament edited by William L. Holladay–which is a good tool for those just beginning to study Biblical Hebrew.

These Do What Now? A Comparison of Hebrew Lexica (Part 1)

Jimmy and I enjoyed working on a pretty fun first assignment for our Hebrew reading class. Since this semester’s class is focusing on semantics (i.e., the linguistic study of meaning in language), our first assignment was to compare and contrast the three primary Hebrew lexica used for studying Biblical Hebrew. The goal was to write 4-5 pages highlighting the principles on which each lexicon was based, the layout of the articles, and to note some strengths and weakness of each lexicon. We were to write the assignment as if we were addressing students new to Biblical Hebrew, or as we like to call them here at HBU, “Hebrew Babies.” What follows is a synthesis of both Jimmy’s assignment and my own assignment. We hope this will be a helpful summary to everyone no matter your knowledge of Hebrew. As always, we welcome discussion – what are your thoughts on the three Hebrew lexica?

There will be five posts to cover 1-3) introductions to each lexicon, 4) comparisons of article layouts, and 5) lastly a discussion of the different strengths and weaknesses of each lexicon.

Since we will be discussing the idea of “meaning” and other semantic issues, we highly suggest reading through a post from our friend and fellow HBU Husky, Kris Lyle, titled Do words have meanings? over at his blog Old School Script. It is an excellent post so check it out!

So, first things first — a lexicon is an important and invaluable tool for studying Biblical Hebrew, or any language for that matter. Most likely you will be more familiar with the word ‘dictionary.’ While there are multiple Hebrew lexica in existence, there are three primary Hebrew and English dictionaries available to the student of Biblical Hebrew. These are the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB), the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), and the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH). Navigating these important resources can be a daunting task to the beginner Biblical Hebrew student. This is especially true considering these three lexica are organized differently from one another and are based on (or emphasize) different linguistics principles.

The earliest of these three lexica is the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon which was originally published in 1906. BDB is so named for its authors Francis Brown, R. Driver, and Charles Briggs. Although BDB is largely dependent on the prior work of Wilhelm Gesenius (and completed in his name), it is meant to be a “fresh” and “exhaustive” study of the Hebrew language of the Old Testament which takes the development of the Hebrew language into account throughout the work. The organization of BDB is unlike most dictionaries with which readers will be familiar. With an emphasis on etymology (study of the history of words), BDB is organized around word roots rather than alphabetically. Thus words are classified according to their stems in order to show which words, according to BDB, are related to one another, rather than listed from aleph (א) to taw (ת). BDB aims to be as exhaustive as possible with its material (the biblical texts).

There are two primary methodologies employed by BDB to determine a word’s semantic range or sense. The first and more prominent methodology is comparisons with cognate languages. As the authors undertook the work of the philologist they used other ancient Semitic languages to provide semantic insight into Hebrew words. The Cognate languages explicitly taken into account are Arabic, Assyrian, Syriac, Targemic-Aramaic, Christian-Aramaic, Ethiopic, North-Semitic Inscriptions, 5th century Aramaic texts from Egypt, and Egyptian. Notably absent from the list is Ugaritic* as it was simply not available at the time BDB was under construction. It is clear in the preface of BDB that its lexicographers were somewhat preoccupied with Hebrew cognate languages and the origin of words. The strong emphasis on etymology in BDB stems from the assumption that words “mean” what they “mean” due to the history that they hold. Or, to put it another way, if one can trace the history of a word back to its source, say from another more ancient language, then one can determine what a word really “means”. This assumption is not only present in the etymological information and organization, it is also found in the ordering of the different senses of words found within an individual article. If there are multiple senses of a Hebrew word then the first one listed is considered the most “concrete” sense and is followed by more “abstract” senses. The assumption then is that the concrete meanings are the more basic (and thus earlier) senses, and the abstract senses are developed over time off of the most basic sense.

The second methodology is to take into account the context in which a word occurs within the Hebrew Bible. In its listing of Biblical citations, BDB aims to be as exhaustive as possible. In addition to Biblical citations, BDB incorporates some work done in Old Testament textual criticism but only includes emendations the authors deem credible.

Lastly, the Hebrew baby should know that BDB contains a separate Aramaic section at the end of the lexicon, which will prove helpful when working in the Aramaic sections of the Old Testament.

*We had mistakenly listed Akkadian with Ugaritic as unavailable to BDB, which is not the case. As Brian Davidson ( pointed out to me, “Assyrian” is also known as “Akkadian” and thus BDB does incorporate Akkadian into their work. Jimmy and I had inadvertently linked Ugaritic and Akkadian in our minds which led to our mistake. Good catch, Brian! 🙂


Stay tuned for Part 2 in our series These Do What Now? A Comparison of Hebrew Lexica in which we will briefly introduce the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, also known as HALOT.

Ancient Hebrew Lexicons

Jimmy and I are working (individually) on a little project to compare and contrast the three major Hebrew lexicons — HALOT, BDB, and DCH — for our Hebrew reading class this semester. We hope to post a summary of our findings after we complete and turn in the assignment on Monday so be on the look out for some discussion on these lexicons.

We are focusing on semantics this semester as we work through the last half of Qohelet. We wil be using Alan Cruse’s ‘Meaning in Language: An Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics.’ Hopefully we will have a lot of interesting posts on the horizon as we work through understanding the nature of semantics and Biblical Hebrew.

Gentleness and the Kingdom

This post is not language related but alas it is the end of the year and this has been on my mind since I read it a few days ago.  The following is a quote from Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir Hannah’s Child.  It is an excerpt from the sermon he delivered at his father’s funeral commenting on his father’s gentleness and how that characteristic is an integral part of Christ’s Kingdom.  My hope is that over the coming year I will find myself having “been gentled” as I follow Jesus.

“Part of the difficulty with the beatitudes is that some of the descriptions seem problematic to us — in particular, we do not honor the meek. To be meek, or gentle, is, we think, to lack ambition and drive. Gentleness, at most, is reserved for those aspects of our lives we associate with the personal, but it cannot survive the rough and tumble of ‘the world.’ Yet Jesus is clear that his kingdom is constituted by those who are meek and gentle — that is, by those who have learned to live without protection. Gentleness is given to those who have learned that God will not have his kingdom triumph through the violence of the world, for such a triumph came through the meekness of a cross.”  – Stanley Hauerwas, (Hannah’s Child, pp.39)

Posting Hebrew Text

Anyone have any advice on posting Hebrew fonts in WordPress? For now we are using the free features on WordPress for this blog. When we copy and paste Hebrew (using the SBL Hebrew font in a Mellel doc) it turns the text into a Hebrew font we don’t like too much.

Is editing the CSS the only option? For now we are posting JPEGs but it’s a bit of a hassle.

Help, anyone?

Information Structure: Jonah 1

I have worked through the information structure of the first chapter of Jonah as a way of learning how information structure works. What follows is meant to be a way of showing my work so that others can see what I’ve done as well as how I thought through the analysis.

I have posted this so that you can interact with my work and show me how I have succeeded and/or failed in my analysis. I want this to be a place of learning, so the more interaction the better.

Note: I am using Lambrecht’s theory of IS for my analysis

Also, I borrowed the Hebrew text format from Hebrew and Greek Reader.
Jonah 1

Jonah 1

Jonah 1

Jonah 1