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.