An Elementary Grammar of Biblical Hebrew

By Edwin C. Hostetter
Sheffield : Sheffield Academic Press (2000). 176 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 130-131

 This volume joins a host of other Hebrew grammars that have been published over the last 2-3 years. In this relatively short grammar (176 pp.), Hostetter provides a basic introduction to the Hebrew language. He makes use of customary grammatical terms, injecting a few labels from the field of contemporary linguistics (e.g., “sufformatives”). His pronunciation chart for the consonants and vowels indicates he follows a modern or Sephardic approach to pronouncing Hebrew words. The main body of this volume falls into three general divisions. The first third (lessons #1-13) treat nouns and particles, the second third delineates strong verbs (lessons #14-24), and the final third addresses weak verbs (lessons #25-34). Most of the lessons are 3-4 pages in length with only one lesson covering 6 pages. Each lesson is logically arranged and is divided into numbered sections. Hostetter offers examples and exercises taken from the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. Each section ends with a 10-word vocabulary section and a relatively brief set of exercises. In general, it appears that an average student could complete most of the homework exercises in about an hour.

In the first 24 lessons, Hostetter guides the student through writing/copying, oral reading, sentence analysis, usage identification, syllable division, parsing, and translation of the Hebrew text. Beginning with lesson #25, he requires the student to translate a 5-to-8-verse passage from the Hebrew Bible. For the first 7 lessons students have to parse only one verb in that passage. They have to parse all the verbs in the required passage for the last 3 lessons. Here are the passages he introduces students to, moving from narrative passages to prophecy to poetry: Genesis 12, Exodus 3, Deuteronomy 6, 2 Samuel 12, 1 Kings 18, Isaiah 49, Jeremiah 1, Psalm 100, Psalm 121, Proverbs 3. The volume ends with an appendix that offers alternative schemes for pronouncing Hebrew vowels, a basic vocabulary (all the required words plus 50 additional terms), thirteen verb paradigms, and a short (2 pp.) subject index.

A variety of features deserve brief mention. The author consistently gives attention to morphological issues, i.e., why a certain form looks the way it does. He arranges the verbs from 3rd person to 1st person. He treats the cohortative and jussives in a chapter with the imperative, distinct from the imperfect. He describes verb sequences with the labels: vav consecutive + perfect and vav consecutive + imperfect. He normally provides a helpful summary of the rules that govern a given form or construction and has a handful of helpful charts (e.g., 55-56 dealing with numbers).

In spite of these redeeming qualities, the book has a few drawbacks. In addition to the less than thorough exercises, the volume desperately needs a number of additional charts to help students visualize the forms being scrutinized.

This Hebrew grammar is well written and relatively easy to follow. The brevity of the text and the exercises makes it a somewhat user-friendly alternative to consider for learning Hebrew. However, that brevity in addition to the lack of sufficient visual presentations of the many forms a student encounters in studying the Hebrew language diminish the value of this text as a first choice for a Hebrew grammar textbook. Its price w ill not help the breadth of its acceptance by Hebrew professors (and students). Although Hostetter has given this reviewer a few ideas on how to present certain aspects of Hebrew grammar, students and professors will need to look elsewhere for a grammar to use in a seminary setting.