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.


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