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Archive for March, 2008

Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel & its Contexts Workshop

27th March 2008

The University of Alberta and Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich, are hosting a workshop on the Concept of “Exile” in Ancient Israel. The workshop will primarily focus on (but not exclusively) prophetic literature, including the social and historical setting against which it evolved and in a way that is informed by comparative ancient materials. The workshop is being held at the University of Alberta from April 7 through 11, 2008.

This workshop brings together scholars from the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich (LMU) and the University of Alberta, along with colleagues from other European and Canadian universities. This workshop is part of a newly founded cooperation between LMU and the UofA and is conceived as the first of two workshops. The second is planned for Munich (2009).

The list of participating scholars is impressive and includes the likes of Christoph Levin (LMU), Reinhard Müller (LMU), Hermann-Josef Stipp (LMU), Jan Christian Gertz (Heidelberg), Martti Nissinen (Helsinki), Hindy Najman (Toronto), James Linville (Lethbridge), as well as University of Alberta professors Francis Landy, Selina Stewart, Willi Braun, and Ehud Ben Zvi.

For more information, check out the workshop webpage here.

If you are in the Edmonton area, please consider yourself invited.

Posted in Academic Associations, Announcements, Conferences, History of Ancient Israel | 3 Comments »

Hobbins’s Helpful Hebrew Verbal System

26th March 2008

Just a short note to follow up on my previous post, How to Teach Introductory Classical Hebrew, which highlighted some recent discussions of how to teach Biblical Hebrew with reference to the verbal system. It appears that John Hobbins over at his Ancient Hebrew Poetry held a little “Hebrew Verb” soirée a few weeks back. His recent post, “The Verbal System of Ancient Hebrew: A Postscript,” provides a brief summary of his take on the issue and links to the previous discussion.

As I am thinking of textbooks for introductory classical Hebrew for next fall, I am really tempted to choose a different grammar. I have used Kittel for a decade with increasing frustration (especially with the supposed “fully revised” second edition which didn’t fix any of the major issues with it!), so I am thinking that it is time for a change.  The question is, what introductory textbook should I use?

Posted in Hebrew Grammar, Hebrew Resources | 1 Comment »

The Mysterious Appearance of “Satan” in English Translations of the Book of Job

26th March 2008

scotty_in_hell.jpgThe appearance of “Satan” in virtually all English translations of the book of Job befuddles me since it is very clear that Satan was never in the book of Job to begin with! While almost every English translation of the book of Job will refer to “Satan” in the first couple chapters of the book, there is scholarly consensus that this is certainly not what the Hebrew original is referring to!

In the prose prologue to the book of Job we are introduced to “the satan” (‏השטן‎) who is among the “sons of Elohim” (‏בני האלהים‎) (1:6). It is pretty clear that this passage isn’t referring to “Satan” (i.e., the king of demons) since the Hebrew noun “satan” has a definite article. The biblical text refers to “the satan”, not “Satan.” Personal names in Hebrew (as in English) do not take the definite article. I don’t go around referring to myself as “The Tyler” — and if I did, people would think I was weirder than they already think I am.

In the Hebrew Bible, the noun “satan” (‏שטן‎) occurs 27x in the Hebrew Bible, fourteen of which are found in the first two chapters of the book of Job. Of the remaining thirteen times, seven instances occur with clear reference to a human adversary. Take, for example these passages from the NRSV:

But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should today become an adversary [satan] to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” (2Sam 19:22)

But now the Lord my God has given me [Solomon] rest on every side; there is neither adversary [satan] nor misfortune (1Kings 5:4).

Then the Lord raised up an adversary [satan] against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was of the royal house in Edom (1Kings 11:14).

Other examples of satan referring to human adversaries include 1 Sam 29:4; 1Kgs 11:23, 25; and Ps 109:6. The other five occurrences appear to refer to some sort of celestial or angelic adversary. The “Angel of Yahweh” (‏מלאך יהוה‎) is referred to as “an adversary” (satan) to Balaam in Num 22:22 and 23, while the book of Zechariah mentions “an adversary” that accuses the High Priest Jonathan in the presence of the angel of Yahweh (Zech 3:1, 2 [2x]). Like the passages in Job, virtually all English translations render “the satan” (‏השטן‎) in Zechariah as “Satan” (see KJV, RSV, KRSV, NIV, NASB, etc.) even though the articular noun is not being used as a personal name. The one exception to this longstanding traditional translation is found in the NJPS where it translates “ha-satan” in Zechariah as “the Accuser” and in Job as “the Adversary.” The usage of the related verb stn (‏שטן‎), “be hostile to, accuse,” parallels the noun, though of its six occurrences, only one refers to the work of a celestial being (Zech 3:1); the others are actions attributed to human adversaries (Pss 38:21; 71:13; 109:4, 20, 29).

The only passage in the entire Hebrew Bible where satan may refer to “Satan” as the fallen leader of demonic forces is 1 Chronicles 21:1, where satan (significantly without the definite article) incites King David to take an ill-fated census. This passage is also an interpretive crux historiographically, since it parallels 2Sam 24:1 where Yahweh incited David to take the census. Evidently, the Chronicler had theological problems with Yahweh inciting the census and then punishing David for taking it, and therefore made the change in his text for theological reasons (alternatively, the Chronicler’s Hebrew text of 2Samuel may have already contained the change, since the evidence of 4QSam-a suggests the Chronicler may have had a different text). While I still lean towards the traditional understanding of this passage as referring to “Satan,” I should note that most recent commentators have moved away from this understanding and have proposed a human adversary or an angelic adversary akin to Job and Zechariah.

When we turn to the book of Job, then, we do not find the full-blown figure of Satan. Instead, we find a celestial being who is part of Yahweh’s divine council, i.e., one of the “sons of Elohim”, who functions in the book of Job as a heavenly adversary. More specifically, in the book of Job, the satan fills the role of a prosecuting attorney. In this respect, the NJPS translation as “the Adversary” is perhaps the best possible.

The development of “the satan” into “Satan,” i.e., the evil arch-enemy of God, seems to have occurred primarily after the Hebrew Bible, perhaps under the influence of Persian Zoroastrianism (although this is debated). Whatever the influence, when we turn to Second Temple Jewish literature such as 1 Enoch or the DSS, we find a far more developed angelology/demonology. This is continued into the New Testament where you find a full-blown (albeit not systematic) angelology and demonology.

What I find interesting is why virtually every modern English translation continues to render “the satan” in the book of Job as “Satan,” despite the fact it has a long historical pedigree (facilitated no doubt by the LXX, Targums, and Vulgate, among others). True, the NRSV (as well as a few other English translations) has a footnote providing an alternative understanding (“the Accuser; Heb ha-satan“), shouldn’t it really be the other way around? While it doesn’t surprise me that the more conservative Christian translations have kept the traditional rendering as “Satan,” it does surprise me that translations such as the NRSV has perpetuated such a traditional understanding.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the figure of “the satan” in the book of Job is not sinister; he does question the motives behind Job’s fear of Yahweh, but he is not the “Satan” found in the New Testament. There is significant theological development from the time of the Old Testament through the Second Temple period to the New Testament and beyond. But in our translations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament I think it is very important to translate (as mush is possible) the original meaning of the text, rather than a later theological interpretations/developments (and yes, I recognize all of the pitfalls surrounding the language of “original meaning,” but I think you know what I mean). In the same way translations shouldn’t import the notion of the Trinity into the Hebrew Bible, nor should they import a more developed demonology into the Old Testament.

If this post as piqued your interest, you may be interested in some of the following books:

  • Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons by Sydney H. T. Page (Baker, 1994; Buy from or ). [This is a well-researched and well-balanced biblical-theological examination from a somewhat conservative Christian perspective from my colleague at Taylor Seminary]
  • An Adversary in Heaven: Satan in the Hebrew Bible by Peggy L. Day (Harvard Semitic Monographs; Scholars Press, 1998; Buy from or [This is an academic study of the satan in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.]
  • The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth by Neil Forsyth (Princeton University Press, 1989; Buy from or [This is an engaging academic look at the development of the figure of Satan in connection with the ANE combat myth]
  • Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible edited by Karel van der Toorn, et al (2nd edition; Eerdmans, 1999; Buy from or [This is a comprehensive academic reference dictionary that will give more more than you ever wanted to know about angels, demons, and deities]

For recommended commentaries on the book of Job, see my Old Testament Commentary Survey. If you are interested in the further development of the figure of Satan, see Phil Harland’s excellent series of posts on the “History of Satan.”

Posted in Old Testament, The Book of Job, Translation Theory, Wisdom | 23 Comments »

Nominate Posts and Volunteer to Host a Biblical Studies Carnival

24th March 2008

This is just a friendly reminder to nominate some blog posts for the next Biblical Studies Carnival. Chris Weimer (and perhaps some of his blogging team?) will be putting together Biblical Studies Carnival XXVIII over at Thoughts on Antiquity in the next couple weeks. This Carnival will cover posts from the month of March 2008.

If you have read some interesting blog posts that relate to academic biblical studies, please nominate them today! It can be one of your own posts or you can nominate a post written by someone else as long as they fit into the general category of academic biblical studies and cognate areas. You can submit/nominate posts via the submission form at or you may email them to biblical_studies_carnival AT hotmail DOT com.

For more information, consult the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.

In addition, I will be selecting hosts for upcoming carnivals in the next week or so, so if you haven’t already contacted me, please let me know if you are interested in hosting a carnival.

Posted in Biblical Studies Carnival | 1 Comment »

Defending Thomas

23rd March 2008

Rarely an Easter season comes and goes without a sermon on — or at least some sort of reference to — “Doubting Thomas.” I think, quite frankly, that Thomas has got a bum-wrap for his nickname as it suggests that there was something wrong about his doubts. But nicknames stick. I was surprised even to find an entry under “doubting Thomas” in Webster’s dictionary. There it reads: “Doubting Thomas, a person who refuses to believe without proof; skeptic.” And then it refers to John 20:14-31.

There are only three vignettes of Thomas in the Scriptures, including John 20. In contrast, there are numerous extra-biblical works attributed to him, including a Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, an Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an Apocalypse of Thomas, and an Acts of Thomas (these works are typically dated from the 2nd to 5th centuries CE/AD). These extra-biblical stories aside, the first place we meet Thomas in John’s gospel is in chapter 11. Jesus wants to go to Bethany because Lazarus has died, but his disciples try to dissuade him for fear that he’ll be killed if he goes near Jerusalem. Here Thomas encourages the other disciples that they should go and die with Jesus. The next time we meet Thomas is in chap. 14, where Jesus comforts his disciples that he is going away to prepare a place in his Father’s house and then come back for them. As many of Jesus’ teachings, this totally confuses the disciples, but it is Thomas who is honest enough to admit that he didn’t have the slightest idea what Jesus was talking about. He says: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (14:5). (Imagine, a MAN who admits he needs directions!)

The picture that emerges of Thomas from these two passages is someone who was honest — he didn’t pretend to know more than he did. He also seemed to be a bit of a pessimist (or a realist) assuming the worst if Jesus was to go near Jerusalem, but he was willing to follow Jesus anywhere — even to his own death.

We get substantially the same picture of Thomas in John 20. He’s somewhat pessimistic, brash, but also up front and honest. He put his cards right on the table: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe!” (20:25). When it comes right down to it, I’m not sure how seriously we’re to take his request to “put his hands where the nails were” or to “put his hand into Jesus’ side.” The text later says that Thomas believed because he had seen Jesus, not that he believed after touching him. Also, the week before, when Jesus appeared to the others, it says that Jesus “showed them his hands and his side” (v. 20). So, one way of looking at it, he just wanted the same opportunity that the other disciples had. (Furthermore, while we don’t get this impression in John’s gospel, other accounts present many of the disciples as filled with doubt. E.g., in Luke 24:36-43 when Jesus appeared to the disciples, they didn’t believe that it was really him until he ate some broiled fish; see also Mark 16:11 and Matt 28:17.)

Faith didn’t come easy to Thomas, but nore did it come easy to any of the disciples. So let’s not be too hard on the poor fellow! At least the picture of Thomas we get in the gospel portrays him as honest and up front about his doubts. What is more, once Thomas believed, he uttered one of the greatest Christological confessions in the Bible: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). This was both a profoundly theological confession as well as a profoundly personal one.

So perhaps we would do well to remember Thomas by his great confession, rather than his initial doubts. Just a thought. Happy Easter.

Posted in Easter, Gospel of John, New Testament | 1 Comment »

Faith and Film Critics Circle: Top Films of 2007

19th March 2008

The Faith and Film Critics Circle has posted its film awards for 2007.

The list includes many of the same titles from the Oscars and other top film lists, with perhaps one notable exception (Into Great Silence).

Here are the winners:

  • Most Significant Exploration of Spiritual Themes: Into Great Silence
  • Best Narrative Film: There Will Be Blood
  • Best Documentary: Into Great Silence
  • Best Film for the Whole Family: Ratatouille
  • Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actress: Ellen Page – Juno
  • Best Performance by a Child: Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actor (tie): Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James; Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actress (tie): Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There; Jennifer Garner – Juno
  • Best Ensemble Cast: Lars and the Real Girl
  • Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody – Juno
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli – Atonement

I am a bit surprised to see There Will Be Blood on the list more than No Country for Old Men. I also didn’t particularly like Jennifer Garner in Juno. I’ve heard quite a bit about Into Great Silence, though it seems like the kind of film you really have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate. I also still have to view Lars and the Real Girl.

Stay tuned for my “Essential Films of 2007 for Theologians” (previous “Essential Films for Theologians” may be found here)

Posted in Faith & Film, Film, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

Father, The Sleeper has Awakened!

17th March 2008

Variety just announced today that Peter Berg has been picked as the director for a new theatrical release adaptation of Frank Herbert’s totally awesome classic science-fiction novel Dune for Paramount Pictures. Here’s an excerpt from the Variety story:

Herbert’s 1965 novel is a sweeping, futuristic tale set on the remote desert planet Arrakis, which produces the interstellar empire’s sole source of the spice Melange — used for distant space travel. An empirewide power struggle ensues over the control of the spice. Berg would be the latest helmer to take a crack at the property, which spawned a 1984 David Lynch film as well as a 2000 Sci Fi Channel miniseries starring William Hurt.

The project is out to writers, with the producers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning book. The filmmakers consider its theme of finite ecological resources particularly timely.

IMDb is listing the projected release date as 2010.

While David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune (IMDb) wasn’t well received, I personally liked the look and feel of it better than the more recent made-for-TV miniseries (2000, IMDb). Of course, I will be the first to admit that the mini-series was far more complete than the truncated Lynch version. I’m not sure what to think of Berg as the director. He’s a relatively new director and I hope that he doesn’t turn Dune into a “The Kingdom” style movie. In my opinion Lynch was on the right track making a quirky, science fiction epic.

He who controls the spice, controls the universe!

Bonus Dune Pop Culture Quiz: What Fatboy Slim song quotes a line from Dune? (and perhaps has other allusions to the book)

Answer (select text to view): Fatboy Slim’s 2001 “Weapon Of Choice” has the following quote: “Walk without rhythm and it won’t attract the worm.”
The music video for the song is also a must see.

(HT Peter Chattaway on the Arts and Faith Forum)

Posted in Classics, Film, Popular Culture | 4 Comments »

How to Understand Proverbs (and Avoid Twisting Scripture)

17th March 2008

How do we read and understand individual proverbs found in the book of Proverbs? Do we take them as universal truths? Do we read them as promises from God to be claimed? Either way of reading proverbs, I maintain, is entirely wrong-headed since it falls prey to genre-misidentification. Rather than seeing proverbs as universal truths or promises from God, proper genre identification understands them as “sanctified” generalizations based on experience that may be used to guide our lives.

Proverbs are Not Promises

A popular approach to understanding proverbs — especially in a church context — is to see them as promises from God to be claimed by the individual believer. Take for instance, the following passage from Proverbs 3:1- 10:

1My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments;
2for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.
3Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
4So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people.
5Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
7Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.
9Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce;
10then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

I have heard these verses preached as promises, especially vv. 5-6 and 9-10. But do these verses guarantee the results promised? If you keep God’s commandments will you enjoy long life? If you trust in Yahweh will you enjoy straight paths? (I won’t even touch on the common misapplication of relating this proverb to divine guidance). If you fear Yahweh will you be physically healthy? Despite what late-night prosperity preachers claim, if you tithe your first fruits, will God reward you materially? Are these promises to be claimed?

Or how about this proverb:

Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray (Prov 22:6)

As a Christian parent I would like to “claim” this, but that is not the way proverbs work. This is a generalization based on experience. Perhaps in the appropriate circumstances this and other proverbs are true, but I think we all know enough real life situations where this has not been the case. If proverbs are promises, then either God is unfaithful or we don’t claim them with enough faith.

What is more, this sort of “claim it” approach to proverbs is also contradicted by other wisdom traditions found in the Bible. The book of Job poignantly illustrates that “trusting in Yahweh” doesn’t guarantee health and wealth. What is more, the book of Ecclesiastes highlights that the opposite occurs far too often:

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous. I said that this also is absurd (Eccl 8:14).

The Contextual Nature of Proverbial Truth

In order to properly understand proverbs we must distinguish between promises in admonitions and proverbial truth. Proverbs are true in the right context — they are not universally true. Take, for example, this famous pair of biblical proverbs:

“Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself” (Prov 26:4).
“Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes” (Prov 26:5).

Obviously both proverbs cannot be universally true! Nonetheless, anyone who has ever interacted with a fool knows the “truth” of both sayings. Sometimes it is appropriate to ignore fools, while at other times it is necessary to “put them in their place” with a gracious response. The wise person will know what response is appropriate in different situations: “To make an apt answer is a joy to anyone, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov 15:23)

The recognition that proverbs are generalizations that apply in certain circumstances really shouldn’t surprise us. This is the same way proverbs work in our culture. We have English proverbs that appear contradictory and yet are appropriate in the right circumstances. How about: “Too many cooks spoil the broth” compared to “many hands make lite work.” We can imagine circumstances where both are appropriate.

So when it comes to reading proverbs we need to keep in mind both their genre and our context. They are not promises to be claimed or universal truths; rather they are generalizations that are true in the right circumstances.

A good little introduction that I would recommend for anyone interested in how to understand and interpret the book of Proverbs is Tremper Longman’s How to Read Proverbs (InterVarsity Press, 2002; Buy from or

Posted in Bible, Old Testament, Proverbs, Wisdom | 4 Comments »

How to Teach Introductory Classical Hebrew

14th March 2008

How should professors teach introductory Classical Hebrew? That is the question that two recent online articles attempt to answer or at least discuss — and they approach the question from quite different perspectives. The first article by Rahel Halabe is part of the March 2008 SBL Forum, while the second article by John A. Cook was just uploaded to the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures.

As evident from the title of Rahel Halabe‘s article, “Ancient Languages are Still Around, But Do We Really Know How to Teach Them?” (SBL Forum, March 2008), she thinks there is something lacking in the way most professors teach introductory Hebrew. In a nutshell, she argues that, in contrast to the creativity and appropriate pedagogy of modern foreign language acquisition methods, the teaching methods of ancient languages are stuck in antiquity. She acknowledges that many of the most recent introductory Hebrew textbooks employ the latest information technology (e.g., vocabulary flashcard programs), but we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking “that the emergence of real new approaches in imparting ancient languages has occurred.” She then introduces some notions of functional grammar and relates them to how Hebrew should be taught, including the need to balance breadth and depth, as well as form and function. Thus, for instance, in teaching the Hebrew verbal system, Halabe maintains:

Rather than a long and confusing list of translation options into English tenses, as usually offered by academic textbooks, one should offer in the introductory course a minimal list of the most common interpretations of any verb form and encourage the students to use context and common sense while reading a straightforward text.

She then moves on to note some insights from pedagogical grammar, such as the appropriate distinction between developmental and variational items in a language, and the need to give more attention and time to the former. Rather than load students down with grammatical rules, pedagogical grammar would suggest a large exposure to text with some simple “rules of thumb” that have descriptive and predictive power is a better way to go.

For more information on Halabe’s approach, you can check out her website Hebrew with Rahel Halabe, and especially her MEd paper, “The Introduction to Biblical Hebrew the Practical Way” available there.

John A. Cook charts out a slightly different course for introductory Classical Hebrew courses in his article, “The Vav-Prefixed Verb Forms in Elementary Hebrew Grammar” in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures – Volume 8: Article 3 (2008). Cook similarly laments the state of introductory Hebrew textbooks, though not for the lack of pedagogical finesse, but because of the huge gap or disconnect between elementary grammars (which are being published at an ever-increasing rate) and the recent scholarly advances in understanding ancient Hebrew. Instead of offering a more general critique like Halabe, Cook picks one feature of Classical Hebrew (vav-prefixed verbal forms) and “illustrate how these forms might be explained to beginning Biblical Hebrew students in a way that takes into account recent linguistic insights.”

Cook argues that the gap noted above needs to be spanned, since “students deserve the most accurate grammar description of Biblical
Hebrew” and because “the traditional description has tended to portray the Hebrew verbal system as this strange beast without any parallel among human languages” (I find the latter reason more compelling, especially in the light of Halabe’s article). Cook then proceeds to provide examples of how introductory grammars (inadequately) explain the vav-prefixed verbal forms and how their explanations are typically based on antiquated understandings of grammar. Thus, Kittel’s use of “vav-conversive” hearkens back to the sixteenth century, while Bornemann’s use of “vav-consecutive” and Futato’s “vav-relative” derive from the 1800s. Next, Cook discusses three advances in understanding the vav-prefixed forms:

  1. recognition that the imperfect and the vav-prefixed imperfect forms are actually distinct conjugations;
  2. similar recognition that the perfect form and the vav-prefixed perfect are a single conjugation; and
  3. depending on word order, the vav-prefixed perfect form is is more closely aligned syntactically and semantically with the traditional Hebrew modal forms.

While this is not the time nor place to debate these understandings of the Hebrew vav-prefix forms, Cook’s point is well taken. There have been significant discussion of the Hebrew verbal system over the last while, much of which has not made its way into introductory grammars (with some exceptions I should note; I am thinking especially of Rocine’s Learning Biblical Hebrew: A New Approach using Discourse Analysis).

In the final section of his essay, Cook explores how one could teach the “modal” perfect form to beginning Hebrew students. I should note that this section is not just theoretical, since Cook has co-authored (and presumably used in the classroom) an introduction with Robert Holmstedt of the University of Toronto (from what I gather it is still in the pre-publication “working out the bugs” phase. A free version is available for download here).

Cook concludes my re-affirming the need to teach solid, linguistically informed understandings of the Classical Hebrew verbal system to introductory students, and that such theories can be taught in such a way that not only is comprehensible to first-year language students, rather than relying on inaccurate explanations from past centuries.

I found that both of these articles (and the larger projects on which they are based) provide much food for thought. As someone who has taught Classical Hebrew for over a decade, I can validate the concerns of both authors — even though they are slightly at odds with one another. I suspect that Halabe would balk at introducing concepts such as modality and contingency to beginning Hebrew students, while Cook would roll his eyes at the use of language such as “vav-conversive” and other”antiquated” descriptions in Halabe’s grammar.

I find myself in the middle. I try to do all that I can to ensure that my students are successful in their acquisition of Hebrew, and if I fudge on anything, it would be on the introduction of the complexities of the Hebrew verbal system, among other things. I will talk about some of the complexity and will provide handouts that get into it, but because I use Kittel and because I still see the heuristic value in it, I still talk about the vav-conversive prefix form. Now perhaps I will have to re-evaluate how I teach Hebrew and what text I use. I have become increasingly dissatisfied with Kittel (especially since the second edition really didn’t improve much), but am not sure what text I would want to adopt (and the prospect of switching too often seems like a lot of work!). At the very least I will glean what I can from both of these engaging articles and go my own way!

For a discussion of some of the different beginning Hebrew grammars on the market, check out my “Introductory Hebrew Grammars” page.

I am also curious of what some other Hebrew instructors think about either article.

Posted in Hebrew, Hebrew Grammar, Pedagogy, Teaching & Learning | 5 Comments »

Unicode Hebrew Problem FIXED

13th March 2008

UPDATE: The unicode problem is fixed, though it looks like I will have to redo the Unicode Hebrew in old posts if I want them to show up right. The issue was when I installed WordPress at my new host, I failed to change the character set from the default to UTF-8. D’oh!

So it looks like Hebrew and Greek will now show up fine. The question is whether or not I will bother to go through all my old posts and fix them!

Thanks for all of the suggestions.


OK, as you may have noticed in my last few posts, as well as looking back in my archives, my blog is having some problems with unicode Hebrew. The following line of Hebrew is represented as a string of question marks in my browser:

‏הבל הבלים הכל הבל‎

As far as I can tell, this happened after I moved my blog to a new host provider. I can’t figure out what the problem is. I have the message encoding for pages and feeds set to UTF-8, which I believe is correct. Is there some other setting hiding somewhere that I am unaware of?
Anyone have any ideas?

Posted in Blog Maintenance, Hebrew | 8 Comments »