Davidson's Introductory Hebrew Grammar - Syntax, 4th ed.

By J. C. L. Gibson
Edinburgh : T&T Clark (1994). 229 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
8.1 (Spring 1997) : 120-121

J. C. L. Gibson is the Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at New College in the University of Edinburgh. It is the same position that Andrew Bruce Davidson filled at the college from 1863 till his death in 1902. Gibson is perhaps best known in the scholarly realm for his three-volume Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971-1982). He has published significant studies on vocalic change in Hebrew and on the linguistic method of the Massoretes. He has also been involved in the OT portion of the Daily Study Bible.

The book's title announces that it is "Davidson's" and the format looks like Davidson's, but the content is significantly different. Gibson has upgraded and incorporated some of the revisions introduced by James Martin in the 27th edition of Davidson's Introductory Hebrew Grammar (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993). The fact that Gibson understates his involvement in this fourth edition does not negate the great service he has rendered to advanced students (his declared target audience) and teachers of biblical Hebrew.

A select bibliography presents forty-three significant works that the advanced student should consult. All but three (Driver's A Treatise on the Use of Tenses in Hebrew, Ewald's Syntax, and König's "Syntactische Excurse zum Alten Testament") have appeared since the third edition of Davidson's Syntax in 1901.

 Nothing makes a good book better than useful indexes. Two such indexes make up the end matter. The "Index of Passages Referred to" has 6,480 entries as compared to 4,536 in the third edition. Such an increase is indicative of Gibson's expansions. The work also has an "Index of Subjects" that organizes topics under 168 headings (37 more than the same index in the third edition). The headings exhibit the revisions in terminology that modernizes the volume's vocabulary. One example of this revision in vocabulary is the adoption of QATAL and YIQTOL in place of "perfect" and "imperfect" (60). Another example would be the replacement of casus pendens by "extraposition" (180).

The volume's contents include: Syntax of the Pronoun, Syntax of the Noun and Nominal Clause, Syntax of the Verb and Its Object, Syntax of the Infinitive and Participle, Syntax of the Adverb and Adverbial Phrases and Clauses, and Syntax of the Sentence. It divides each of these areas into more detailed headings.

In "A Note on Case" (24-25) Gibson explains the abandoning of traditional case terminology used in the third edition. He mentions that Ugaritic studies contributed to a better understanding of the so-called locative ending and includes a remark on enclitic mem.

Gibson's explanation of the revised presentation of verb conjugations gives a smooth transition from the third edition (60). He greatly expands the treatment of the conjugations and provides the advanced student with a wealth of material. Some of the notable discussions here include the description of prose narrative (64-67, 70-71) and the improved treatment of the so-called precative perfect (69-70). Of special interest is the classification of YIQTOL by short and long forms (70-79). Twenty-five pages of carefully reworked grammatical description of the VAV with the verb (83-107) supplants the third edition's sixteen-page presentation.

A disappointment is the continuing lack of adequate discussion of the so-called futur instans (immediate future) and the periphrastic participle (the use of hyh with the participle) (cf. 137-38).

Other welcome improvements over the third edition include the treatment of syntax of the adverb and adverbial clauses (139-61) and the valuable section entitled "The Syntactic Role of Sentence Word-Order and of VAV " (164-66). The increased attention to stylistic elements in biblical Hebrew stands out in the treatment of chiastic sentences (171-72) and of asyndeton (179-80).

This volume has so much value that advanced students and teachers should be willing to bear the expense to possess it. Referring to it frequently will heighten the joy of biblical Hebrew studies.