Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew: Learning Biblical Hebrew Grammatical Concepts through English Grammar

By Gary V. Long
Peabody, Mass : Hendrickson (2002). xvii + 189 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
14.1 (Spring 2003) : 126-127

 Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrewis a manual for students who have found the vocabulary of grammatical description confusing—or, who might have “slept through lessons on grammar during high school and college” (xiii). Simplicity and information are aims of this book intended to complement standard teaching grammars (xv). Its three major parts cover the more basic concepts before the higher levels of biblical Hebrew are addressed.

Long first introduces the student to basic linguistic terms and theory (3-6), providing brief definitions for each general element (e.g., “PHRASE is a language unit referring to a string of words (a syntagm)—two or more—that does not involve predication …; it does not have a subject and a predicate together,” 5). Next, he introduces the vocabulary and concepts of sound production (7-15). These two areas are followed by simple, concise discussions of the syllable (16) and translation (17- 21), thereby concluding “Part I: Foundations.”

“Part II: Building Blocks” (23-120) covers twenty basic elements of grammar. It carefully defines each element, illustrates it in English, and then gives an example in biblical Hebrew. Special help is given in areas that are problematic, like distinguishing some conjunctions and prepositions (32-33). Helpful charts supplement the discussions (e.g., the catalog of semantic connections of biblical Hebrew conjunctions, 33-35). The section covering the pronoun is twenty pages long (39-58). Throughout the section, antecedents are clearly marked in the examples by means of graphic arrows and identification labels. Nine tables also provide additional visual means of organizing the information concerning pronouns. Long’s treatment of “Tense” (87-91) and “Aspect” (92-98) are more accurate than the majority of standard grammars. However, categorizing veqatal (waw + perfect) as expressing the imperfective aspect (96) is a gross oversimplification, ignoring the category of non-consecutive waw + perfect (cf. Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., From Exegesis to Exposition [Baker, 1998], 128-33) and flirting with the long-outdated theory of waw-conversive.

In the final part (“Part III: The Clause and Beyond,” 121-76), the section on “Predicate/Predication” (127-42) is quite detailed. It provides additional technical material to supplement earlier treatments of such elements as the noun, relative clause, adjective, adverb, and participle. “Semantics” (143-50) and “Discourse Analysis” (151-76, limited to past-time narrative) are excellent introductions on these two exegetically significant topics. The “Index of Topics” (179-89) provides an alphabetical classified listing of all major terms for easily accessing the pertinent discussions.

As in every grammar or grammar help, shortcomings (by omission and commission) are present. Participles were presented in a brief seven pages, about equally divided between the English and Hebrew examples (73-79). However, infinitives received only a page and a half (80-81) without any Hebrew examples. In the section labeled “Verb” (84-86), the student might be just as confused after reading as he was before reading it. The distinctions between fientive transitives and intransitives would have been more readily grasped had an example like that of “run” been employed (“He runs for exercise” is an intransitive fientive while “he runs a factory” is a transitive fientive). In the eleven pages on “Mood” (105-15) there is no mention of the optative (cf. Paul Joüon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, trans. and rev. by T. Muraoka [Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1996], §112k). The manual also suffers from a lack of grammatical discussion of the verbal concepts of causation (including the various kinds of causatives and the factitive).

Shortcomings aside, however, Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew is a tool that every student of biblical Hebrew should keep close at hand. This reviewer intends to require it for second and third semester Hebrew courses. Grammatically challenged students and their teachers will find it a godsend.