Davidson's Introductory Hebrew Grammar 27th edition

By James D. Martin
Edinburgh : T&T Clark (1993). 225 Pages.

Reviewed by
6.1 (Spring 1995) : 106-106

The venerable history of this grammar, now in its 27th edition, attests to its usefulness. With considerable modifications, the reviser has tailored it to the pedagogical preferences of the current generation of Hebrew students.

All grammars have in view an audience aspiring to learn a language. Many grammarians target a specific group, set up a list of objectives to achieve, then work toward those objectives in a series of lessons conducive to an academic period. Such is the case with the present volume.

The audience the revision targets knows little English grammatical terminology and must finish within a typical semester. The book is also written with the autodidact in mind—i.e., a careful explanation of terms, modest lists of vocabulary, and exercises from composed Hebrew brief to moderate in length. For some (e.g., the autodidacts), the grammar may be too much; for others (those who want to know enough Hebrew to translate Scripture), not enough. Once the revision of Davidson's companion volume on syntax appears, the grammar will be even more attractive, providing the revisor, J. Gibson, maintains the continuity achieved in earlier editions of the two works.

Several matters would be helpful in the next revision. It is debatable whether including infinitives and participles in the same chapter is the best approach. Organizationally, that is more conducive to learning English rather than Hebrew. Would not participles be better understood with adjectives and demonstrative pronouns because of their syntactical attributive, predicative, and substantive formulations? Including weak verbs with their corresponding strong forms rather than saving them for the final chapters of the book would be an improvement.

Lamentably, the author retains "intensive" for the primary or code meaning of the piel/pual (D/Dp). He does have disclaimers, however—i.e., "so called" and "this may well not have been their original sense" (136). Yet this still leaves the matter confusing. Have we not grown weary of trying to intensify states and actions which need to be transitivised?

The transitional chapter entitled "The Next Step: Reading the Hebrew Bible" is helpful, but will likely mislead the student into believing he is ready to get into the text, particularly if he has to do so without the guidance of an instructor. Nonetheless, the final chapter does a nice job, better than most, of exposing the student to other tools.