Book Reviews

A Modern Grammar for Classical Hebrew

Duane Garrett Nashville 2002-04-01

Garrett’s Grammar appears amidst a spate of recently published Hebrew grammars. It is one of the more lengthy volumes—406 pages, size 8 1/2 x 11, and not in large print. The presentation makes good use of charts and graphics to point out the parts of words. However, in the main body of the text and in the exercises the Hebrew font is smaller than desirable.

Garrett takes care to explain most vowel changes in words according to certain principles. He follows other first-year grammars in construing the vocal shewa as a syllable, though reference grammars point out that it is not (Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew [Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1994], 96; and William Gesenius, Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar [Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1995], 87). It seems easier to beginning students to treat this from an English perspective, but treating it from a Hebrew perspective may well make it easier in the long run.

Garrett’s book combines a grammar and workbook in one volume. This saves on cost; however, if a professor collects homework, it can be less convenient to grade since the Hebrew is not right there for him or her to refer to. Exercises include translating from English to Hebrew and in the first half of the book the exercises emphasize contrived Hebrew over biblical verses. For example after nineteen chapters students have read only ten Bible verses. Garrett does include notes about biblical verses so that the reading is guided.

Garrett employs two unique ideas for learning Hebrew vocabulary. In initial chapters Hebrew words are inserted into English paragraphs, called “diglot weaves.” This allows the student to associate vocabulary with a context even when knowing very little grammar. In the same approach verbs are introduced in the vocabulary with short Hebrew sentences in a section called “Learn the Verbs.” The vocabulary requirements are demanding, with 750 vocabulary words plus 55 additional “special vocabulary.” The “special vocabulary” often consists of words with suffixes, inflected verbs, or idioms, and sometimes words in their lexical form. While the purpose of the “special vocabulary” is not explained, those words are probably provided as helps in that chapter’s homework.

Chapters 1–4 treat orthography, syllables, and accent shifts. Chapters 5–19 treat substantives and the qal strong verb. Chapters 20–26 provide a summary of the Hebrew verb system. Chapters 27–42 present the qal stem in detail, followed by chapters 43–51 on the derived stems in detail. The last section, chapters 52–62, introduces advanced issues such as textual criticism and genre issues, along with a few basic matters such as pronominal suffixes on verbs.

Spreading the material across so many chapters means that many chapters have a small amount of material to concentrate on. But without a subject index it may be difficult to track down information (e.g., pronominal suffixes are interspersed in many places). On the other hand some chapters have an enormous amount of information. For example chapter 22 covers all weak roots of all qal conjunctions, though only the masculine singular forms of the perfect, imperfect, and participle. As part of a summary of the Hebrew verb, it is perhaps to be viewed as simply laying groundwork for the following section on the qal in detail. But in chapter 27 students are advised to “master §22, the principal parts of the qal with weak verbs, before dealing with the details of the conjugations” (p. 163). The presentation of the verb does not focus on morphological similarities and therefore does not succeed in turning it into bite-sized portions for students, despite the large number of chapters over which the verb is spread. Given the large vocabulary requirement (including words used less than fifty times in the Bible) and the large number of chapters (more chapters than days in a two-semester, two-day a week course), it may be that the book is not intended to be taught in a one-year course, but spread over three semesters.

The final section is rather unique among grammars in its attention to genre issues, cantillation marks, and textual criticism. In conjunction with giving guided readings in biblical passages this section provides a valuable transition to reading biblical texts. 

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