May 2007 SBL Forum: Getting Wired without Vowel Pointing and More Tombs

The May 2007 Society of Biblical Literature Forum has been uploaded. As always there are many interesting articles, including an article by blogger Danny Zacharias about some of the on-line tools Google offers the instructor (and one non-Google tool as well). Of particular interest to me is the article by William Griffin about teaching biblical Hebrew without vowel pointing, or at least severely reducing the typical emphasis placed on the nikkudot. My knee-jerk reaction to the title of the article was “no way… that would make it so much harder for students,” but as I read the article Griffin makes a strong case for how it reduces the amount of memorization for students (but it does increase the number of interpretive possibilities for various forms). I totally agree with his historical arguments, and that is why I wean students off the pointing in intermediate Hebrew classes. All in all his article is definitely worth a careful perusal for all teachers and students of Classical Hebrew.

Another worthy initiative that the SBL is venturing into is developing a collection of syllabi related to biblical studies. This sounds much like the resources that the Wabash Center offer, but restricted to biblical studies. Finally, there is a brief note on the discovery of King Herod’s tomb.

Here is the full table of contents of the May 2007 (vol. 5, no. 5) edition:

In the Public Sphere

In the Profession

In the Classroom

In Popular Culture

Society News


Letter to the Editor


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2 Responses to May 2007 SBL Forum: Getting Wired without Vowel Pointing and More Tombs

  1. EV says:

    I’m going to offer a solution which has it both ways. Before signing up for Biblical Hebrew, I took a year of Modern Hebrew at my community college. As Griffin notes, dispensing with the pointing, which is the case with Modern Hebrew, does allow one to cover other aspects of the language more quickly. Moreover, the advantage of Modern Hebrew instruction is that, as a living language, much of it is appropriated aurally through classroom and lab practice. Therefore, by the time I received Biblical Hebrew instruction, the assorted pronunciation rules having to do with propretonic reduction and the like were already intuitively apprehended. These weren’t strange rules with myriad exceptions. Rather, they gave meaning to what had been learned aurally.

    Modern Hebrew is close enough to Biblical Hebrew that most of what I learned was applicable and allowed me to advance through two years of BibHeb in one year. Almost all of the verbs I learned in first-year ModHeb appeared in the BibHeb instruction. Given that I consider the conjugation of verbs through the various binyanim to be the greatest challenge in learning Hebrew, this area of overlap afforded a sizable advantage.

    Lastly, preceding BibHeb with ModHeb imparted a valuable conversational skill. Therefore, I recommend both routes: learn the language first without pointing via ModHeb instruction. Then learn BibHeb in the conventional manner.

  2. EV says:

    Ever since I entered the above comment, I’ve been thinking about the way Biblical Hebrew instruction is conducted in Christian universities and am wondering if it isn’t time to reassess. In the Jewish world there already exists an approach to teaching Modern Hebrew with an eye toward segueing into Biblical Hebrew (embodied by Feldheim’s text Ha-Yesod, for example). I made the case above that Modern Hebrew can greatly facilitate learning Biblical Hebrew, and I don’t think that a two-year BibHeb program would necessarily have to be extended to accommodate, say, a one- or two-semester Modern Hebrew intro. After the first year, those wishing to pursue further ModHeb instruction (those on a mission track, for instance) could branch in that direction.

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