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What Was Wrong with Cain’s Offering? A Possible Hint from Hebrew Grammar

24th February 2011

[I post a lot about Old Testament/Hebrew Bible on this blog. This post explores one of the perennial problem passages in the early chapters of Genesis.  Originally posted 03/2009]

One of the many crux interpretums in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis surrounds Yahweh’s negative response to Cain’s offering. Why did Yahweh accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s? Some traditional — yet ultimately unsatisfying — answers include that God prefers animal sacrifices over grain offerings or that God prefers shepherds to farmers. Others have chalked it up to the mystery of Divine election. The New Testament author of Hebrews interprets Yahweh’s disapproval as a matter of faith: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s” (Heb 11:4).

The passage in Hebrew MT  is as follows:

‏ וַיְהִי־הֶבֶל רֹעֵה צֹאן וְקַיִן הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה‎
‏וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ יָמִים וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה מִנְחָה לַיהוָה‎
‏וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם־הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן
וַיִּשַׁע יְהוָה אֶל־הֶבֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתוו‎
‏וְאֶל־קַיִן וְאֶל־מִנְחָתוֹ לֹא שָׁעָה‎

While the biblical text does not indicate explicitly why Yahweh approved of Abel’s offering and disapproved of Cain’s, I wonder if it gives us a hint based upon an under appreciated nuance of Hebrew grammar: the anterior construction. I made reference to Ziony Zevit’s volume, The Anterior Construction in Classical Hebrew (Scholar’s Press, 1998; buy from |, in a comment on a previous post. Zevit argues that when biblical authors wanted to indicate unambiguously that a given action in the past had commenced and concluded before another action in the past (a pluperfect) or had started but not necessarily finished in the past prior to the beginning of another action (preperfect), they would use the following construction:  vav + subject followed by a qatal verb (all preceded a past tense verb).  Taking this construction into consideration, here is my translation of the Cain and Abel passage:

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep,
but Cain had been a worker of the ground.
And after many days, Cain brought to Yahweh a gift from the fruit of the ground,
But Abel, he had already brought from the first born of his flock, their fat portions.
Now Yahweh looked with favour to Abel and to his gift,
but to Cain, and to his gift, he did not look with favour.

The use of the anterior construction (indicated by italics) emphasizes that while Cain had started being a worker of the ground before Abel took up his farming (which would have been expected as the older brother), Abel was the first to bring a gift to Yahweh from the fruit of his labours. Moreover,  the parallel construction of these verses (as a chiasm, in fact) sets up a clear contrast between the gifts: Cain only brought from the fruit of the ground, while Abel brought the fat portions from the first born of his flock. While we shouldn’t read later sacrificial law back into this account, the fact that Abel’s gift receives additional  descriptors suggests that he offered the first and the best.

So while the biblical text doesn’t spell out exactly why Yahweh favoured Abel’s gift, it seems clear from the grammar and syntax of the passage that not only did Abel beat his brother by bringing a gift to Yahweh before him (even though Cain started his career first), he also offered the first and the best of his flock to Yahweh. Perhaps that is why Yahweh looked with favour on Abel’s offering. This understanding comports well with interpretations that suggest the individual’s attitude (or faith) was the reason for Yahweh’s response. In fact, it provides some evidence within the text itself for the difference in attitudes between the brothers.

At any rate, I don’t have time to explore the pros and cons of the anterior construction (it makes some assumptions of the nature of the Hebrew verbal system), but thought I would highlight this one potential way it can shed some light on a difficult passage.

Posted in Bible, Biblical Teaching, Genesis, Hebrew, Hebrew Grammar, Old Testament | 5 Comments »

Hebrew Tattoos: Buyers Beware! (Best of Codex)

21st February 2011

[Originally posted 8th March 2006; While this post is not necessarily the "best" of Codex, it certainly is one of the most popular -- at least if Google searches count for anything. This post (and others on Hebrew tattoos) generates numerous requests from people about Hebrew spellings for this or that word or phrase, many of which I try to respond to when I have time.]

Believe it or not, one of the more frequent Google searches by which individuals happen upon my blog is a search for “Hebrew Tattoos.” This search, which appears to happen once every few hundred visits to my site, leads readers to my tongue-in-cheek post “Posh Hebrew Tattoos, David! (Beckhams Inscribe their Love).” I have also had individuals email me asking advice on Hebrew tattoos, primarily wanting verification about the spelling of this or that word. My own students also ask similar questions (the latest being just last week).

This interest in Hebrew tattoos intrigues me. It obviously piggy-backs on the popularity of tattoos in general, though I suspect that the fact you have high profile celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham, Madonna, and Britney Spears with Hebrew tattoos boosts their popularity. And, of course, you have the religious crowd that likes tattoos of a biblical character, whether Hebrew, Greek, or even Aramaic.

At any rate, after reproducing the Google search for “Hebrew Tattoos” you will come across a number of web sites that specialize in tattoos, even ones devoted to Hebrew Tattoos that want to cash in on the craze. Most of these sites have sample pictures of actual Hebrew tattoos. What I found troubling is the number of mistakes in these tattoos. As a public service to any individuals thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, I thought I would highlight some of the mistakes so that others may avoid them in the future.

Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want


This first example of the Hebrew term for “God” makes a simple mistake of confusing Hebrew characters that look similar (of which there are a few!). The bottom letter on the tattoo is a samech (a Hebrew “s”) while it is supposed to be a mem (a Hebrew “m”). Another possibility that Yitzhak Sapir noted in the comments, is that the final letter is the Rashi script for final mem. He suggests that “some Jewish figure who was uncomfortable writing out the name of God changed scripts as a result.” While this is certainly possible, it seems odd that the rest of the tattoo is standard Aramaic square script. I am also not sure how many Jewish tattoo artists are out there who know Rashi’s script! I think my explanation makes a bit more sense. This tattoo is an example of a simple mistake made by someone who was trying to match the letters from a picture or something (I get quite a few papers from students who know a little Hebrew and try to include Hebrew words but they confuse stuff like final mem and samech, resh and dalet, etc.). Either way, if you are going to get a tattoo, it’s probably better to use the same script for the entire thing!


This tattoo, which has a Hebrew word purported by the website I found it on to mean “freedom” (perhaps based on Lev 19:20?) has the vowel points shifted incorrectly to the left. As such it is nonsensical. Moreover, as the comments to this post indicate, in modern Hebrew this word (if correctly pointed) means “vacation” — which I am pretty sure the individual who got the tattoo did not want (especially considering the symbol of the Holy Spirit above it!).


This tattoo, which means “holy to the LORD/Yahweh,” has letters which are either not drawn very carefully or confused (note the difference in width in the second last character in the bottom word; the tattoo has what looks like a dalet or resh, which it should be a vav) as well as incorrect vowel pointing.


This tattoo is supposed to say “in blood” according to the website where I found it. The expression is not biblical Hebrew, but a modern Hebrew phrase for “blood relative” or the like (see the comments by Yitzhak Sapir). Of course, the tattoo is still incorrect since it is missing the silent sheva after the resh (and the resh looks a bit like a yod). (If I was going to write “in blood” in Biblical Hebrew, I would simply do it as I have it on the bottom.)


This tattoo of the name of the God of Israel, “Yahweh,” is fine, though the web page identified it as Aramaic. In fact, this is a paleo-Hebrew script of the divine name.


There is nothing wrong with this Hebrew tattoo. I just thought it’s funny because the word inscribed can possibly mean both “love” as well as “leather” (some scholars suggest that there is a homograph which means “leather” [see KB3]). It arguably occurs in Hosea 11:4 [perhaps] and Song 3:10 [more likely]). Perhaps this can be taken as a warning not to spend too much time in the tanning salons?! (Of course, in modern Hebrew it clearly means love, and as I already noted, there is nothing wrong with this tattoo.)

The lesson here is that you cannot trust pictures of Hebrew tattoos on the internet! Make sure to double check the spelling of the Hebrew word you want tattooed!

Tips for Getting Hebrew Tattoos

If you are thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, consider the following:

First, think long and hard about getting a tattoo because they are permanent (notwithstanding modifying tattoos or erasing them). If you are set on the idea of getting a tattoo, think about getting a temporary one first. Also think about where you put your tattoo. Based on the experience of friends, I wouldn’t suggest getting a tattoo on any place where your body may change drastically as you age (and women, beware of tattoos on your stomach as if you ever get pregnant, your tattoo may be stretched beyond recognition (and it may not go back to its original shape — ask my friend!).

Second, if you are getting a Hebrew tattoo, make sure to double check with someone who knows Hebrew (or Greek if you are getting a Greek one) whether or not you have the proper spelling of the word. It would be a bummer to get a tattoo like those above — the only consolation would be that most people wouldn’t know you have a spelling mistake permanently inscribed on your body!

Third, one thing to decide before getting a Hebrew tattoo is whether or not to just use consonants (as Hebrew was originally written) or use consonants with the Masoretic vowel pointing (the little dots and dashes above and below the consonants). The vowel points were added to the text of the Hebrew Bible in the early centuries of this era by Jewish scribes called the Masoretes. While the vowel points represent an ancient reading tradition, they are not original to the Hebrew text, so you may not want to include them. (I personally wouldn’t include them if only for aesthetic reasons)

Finally, make sure to go to a reputable tattoo shop!

As a side note, I don’t have any tattoos nor any intention of getting one — and I hope that this trend will die down by the time my kids are older! My primary problem with tattoos is that they are too permanent; what you may think is cool when you are younger, you may later regret.

Posted in Best of Codex, Hebrew, Tattoos | 10 Comments »

How Not to Preach from Genesis 1

18th December 2010

Robert Cargil has an excellent discussion and critique of Mark Driscoll’s exegesis of Genesis 1, especially Driscoll’s appeal to Targum Neofiti to show some Jews before the time of Christ held Trinitarian views.

Here is Robert’s intro:

Apparently, as a part of an indoctrination informative series of mini-sermons on ‘What Christians Should Believe,’ pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle attempted to expound on Targum Neofiti. In particular, he attempted to use Neofiti as part of an apologetic defense for evidence of the Christian concept of the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

And his conclusion:

Unfortunately, in the end, Driscoll’s so-called mis-“reading” of Targum Neofiti is a mere fabrication – a complete misreading of the text, which he uses as evidence for something that isn’t there (evidence of the Trinity in the OT). It’s almost as egregious of a fabricated defense of the Trinity as the Johannine Comma, in which a medieval publisher (Erasmus) intentionally inserted text (under pressure from others) in 1 John 5:7-8 in an attempt to provide some explicit Biblical evidence for the Trinity (because there was/is none).

And that is how not to use the targums. How do you mislead your congregation into believing something that you believe, but that the Bible doesn’t mention? You just make something up.

As I said before, “I shake my head.”

Do watch the video and read Robert’s blog post deconstructing it.

Now I don’t think that Driscoll just “made it up”; he was misinformed and got into stuff he knew nothing about. Pastors should stick to what they know. They shouldn’t try to use Hebrew or Greek if they don’t know it (or don’t remember it). They shouldn’t appeal to ancient Jewish translations or text if they can’t read them.  Or, perhaps, they should have paid attention in Seminary and actually learned some of this stuff in the first place.  Or at least they should have learned some basic hermeneutics and learned how to think critically and theologically about the biblical text.

Methinks I will have to use this in my Genesis class next semester. Thank you Dr. Cargil!

Posted in Aramaic Targums, Bible, Genesis, Hebrew, Hermeneutics, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

A Brief Note on Fonts for Biblical Studies

14th July 2009

I just wrote a page for my new website on Hebrew and Greek fonts for students and scholars.  Until my new website goes live, the link to the article is; once my new site is live (which I hope is soon), then the link should be

Let me know what you think.

Posted in Fonts, Greek, Hebrew, Hebrew Resources, Software | 2 Comments »

Williamson on the Oxford Hebrew Bible

13th July 2009

The latest volume of Biblica has an excellent article by H.G.M. Williamson evaluating the proposed Oxford Hebrew Bible project. In the article, “Do We Need A New Bible? Reflections on the Proposed Oxford Hebrew Bible” (Biblica 90/2 [2009] 153-175), Williamson begins by noting his general methodological agreement with the project, but then continues to raise some very serious problems with the project as a whole.  Some of his objections relate to the nature of the textual evidence for the Hebrew Bible, while others are connected with the proposed format of the OHB.

Here is his concluding paragraph:

It shows a sorry lack of understanding about the fact that our text is a linguistic hybrid which makes this enterprise flawed from the start. Its form of presentation only aggravates that problem, since against its stated objectives it will not present anything remotely resembling an eclectic edition of a supposed archetype. And finally it fails to take into account the ways in which the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible inevitably differs from that of most other texts, leading, I fear, to further confusion on the part of those who are not already well versed in the subject. In the present state of knowledge, as well as in the light of the extraordinary range of diversity of opinion in this field, what is required is full and sober textual commentary. I have no doubt that that aspect of the project will be welcomed and widely used; but it is not a Bible, new or old.

I too have had a number of methodological questions about the project, so it is nice to see Williamson raising some of the same concerns I have had.

I encourage you to read the article carefully!

Posted in Hebrew, Old Testament, Text Criticism | Comments Off

Jehovah, Adonai, LORD, Yahweh: What’s In a Name?

12th September 2008

The Vatican made the news recently with the barring of the pronunciation of the name “Yahweh” — the proper name used for Israel’s God in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament — in Catholic worship. It appears that the use of the name Yahweh has been creeping into the Catholic churches liturgy of late, as it has been in the Protestant tradition as well. Here are some excerpts from the Catholic News Service report:

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, announced the new Vatican “directives on the use of ‘the name of God’ in the sacred liturgy” in an Aug. 8 letter to his fellow bishops.
His letter to bishops came with a two-page letter from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, dated June 29 and addressed to episcopal conferences around the world.

“By directive of the Holy Father, in accord with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this congregation … deems it convenient to communicate to the bishops’ conferences … as regards the translation and the pronunciation, in a liturgical setting, of the divine name signified in the sacred Tetragrammaton,” said the letter signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, congregation prefect and secretary, respectively.

The Tetragrammaton is YHWH, the four consonants of the ancient Hebrew name for God.

“As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: ‘Adonai,’ which means ‘Lord,’” the Vatican letter said. Similarly, Greek translations of the Bible used the word “Kyrios” and Latin scholars translated it to “Dominus”; both also mean Lord.

“Avoiding pronouncing the Tetragrammaton of the name of God on the part of the church has therefore its own grounds,” the letter said. “Apart from a motive of a purely philological order, there is also that of remaining faithful to the church’s tradition, from the beginning, that the sacred Tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any of the languages into which the Bible was translated.”

This story was also picked up today by Christianity Today. The CT article surveyed a variety of opinions by evangelical leaders, some who agree with the Vatican ban and others who disagreed. Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan is quoted as saying:

It’s always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name. Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God.

I’m not  sure if I entirely agree. I do agree that we should not use the name if it is going to offend someone. When I teach Hebrew at the University of Alberta we discuss this issue in one of the first classes. I explain a bit about the name and how it has been preserved in the various textual traditions and versions, the early practice of avoiding the pronouncing the name, and current practices. Then we decide as a class what we want to do. Typically there are some Jews in the class who are uncomfortable pronouncing the name and we decide to read either “Adonai” or “haShem” (“the Name”) when we encounter the Tetragram (i.e., the four-letter name for God, YHWH or יהוה).  At Taylor, however, where my students are all Christians, no one typically has any strong opinions either way.

Part of me wants to assert that if God didn’t want us to use the name, he wouldn’t have given it to the ancient Israelites. And I’m not sure if it is a matter of respecting God. I don’t like the practice of substituting a title (e.g., LORD) for a proper name, since it makes God rather impersonal.

On the other hand, the tradition of avoiding the pronunciation of the name is ancient. The Greek translators of the Septuagint — with some exceptions such as P. Fouad 266 (Rahlfs 848) — used the Greek word for “Lord,” kyrios (κυριος) to represent the divine name. While there are some scholars who maintain the original Septuagint (LXX) wrote out the Tetragram in Aramaic or paleoHebrew letters akin to the the Minor Prophets scroll (8 HevXIIgr), these manuscripts represent more of an archaizing tendency than anything original (see Al Pietersma’s 1984 article “Kyrios or Tetragram: A Renewed Quest for the Original LXX”). Thus as early as the third century BCE, a surrogate was used for the Tetragram.

Setting the divine name apart was also reflected in the practice of some Dead Sea Scrolls writing the Tetragram with paleoHebrew letters. And the early Christians continued the tradition started in the LXX of substituting kyrios (κυριος) for Yahweh. Thus, this practice is found in early Christian tradition as well as most of the versions and translations throughout Christian history — which the exception of the KJV employing “Jehovah” in a handful of passages. Speaking of Jehovah… and yes, this is one of my pet peeves… I think it should be stricken from all hymn books and choruses! While we may not know exactly how the Tetragram was pronounced in antiquity (in this regard “Yahweh” is the best scholarly guess), we know for sure that it was NOT pronounced as “Jehovah”!

Jewish tradition is also pretty clear: pronouncing the divine name was avoided in order to ensure it is never misused (putting a hedge around the Torah) and also for respect. Manuscripts in the Masoretic tradition  point the Tetragram with the vowels of title like Adonai as a perpetual ketiv-qere (interestingly, the Leningrad Codex is not consistent with what vowels are found with YHWH).

So when it comes right down to it, there is a long tradition of avoiding the pronunciation of the Tetragram, so perhaps we should follow suit.

What do you think? And what do you think is an appropriate surrogate?

Posted in Biblical Teaching, Hebrew, History of Interpretation, News, Old Testament | 8 Comments »

Danielle Lloyd: The Dumbest Hebrew Tattoo Yet!

9th September 2008

I don’t know who Danielle Lloyd is; I guess she is some sort of British celebrity. All I do know is that she — and her so-called tattoo artist — doesn’t know a stitch of Hebrew. And she apparently doesn’t know how to surf the web or google anything, since she went ahead and got a major “Hebrew” tattoo without getting it checked out. Here is the picture that is circulating on the news services (I have shifted its orientation to better read the supposed Hebrew):

Danielle Lloyd's Incorrect Hebrew Tattoo

Danielle Lloyd's Incorrect Hebrew Tattoo

Not only is the tattoo gibberish; it isn’t written in Hebrew (i.e., the language) at all! When I first looked at the pictures of the tattoo, I couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t Biblical Hebrew. I didn’t think it was modern Hebrew. I was looking up words in my modern Hebrew dictionary and starting to think that I shouldn’t be teaching Hebrew this semester! Then I figured it out. The tattoo isn’t written in the Hebrew language, but is English written with Hebrew letters! If you transliterate the Hebrew characters into their English counterparts, voila!, you get the supposed translation: “Only God can judge me, only God can judge me.” What makes this even more silly utterly ridiculous is that the transliteration isn’t even consistent. In the first occurrence, “can” is spelled qof-nun (קן) while the second time it is spelled kaf-nun (כן). Not only doesn’t Danielle know Hebrew, she apparently doesn’t even know how to spell “can” in English! (I won’t even comment on the rest of the supposed transliteration)

If there was a prize or award for the dumbest tattoo, this should certainly win. I just can’t believe it… this is beyond stupid.

I’m going to begin my Hebrew class tomorrow by highlighting yet one more benefit to learning Hebrew:  so you can make fun of דם celebrities!

(Note to any rich celebrities reading this: I will gladly provide you with the proper spelling for your Hebrew tattoo… at least for some money and fame!)

Posted in Hebrew, Tattoos | 21 Comments »

Is Yahweh a Hermaphrodite?

16th August 2008

Of course Yahweh isn’t! But that was the title of an article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, however. The article, “Is God a Hermaphrodite?“, makes reference to an article published in the CCAR Journal that argues the four-letter name for God in the Hebrew Bible (יהוה or YHWH, most often vocalized by scholars as Yahweh) is best understood mystically to refer to the Hebrew pronouns for “he” and “she.”

Here is an excerpt from the Tribune article:

Rabbi Mark Sameth, the New York rabbi who wrote the article, said yes indeed. Based on 13 years of study, he has concluded that God is a hermaphrodite.

“If we read the text as a mystic might, paying extremely close attention, assuming that the text conceals more than it reveals, we may find hints regarding God’s androgynous nature, so to speak, peeking out through the surface level of the Torah,” he wrote in the CCAR Journal.

“If Moses’ name spelled backward becomes the name HaShem [God's name,] might not God’s name spelled backward similarly reflect something essential about humankind? Indeed it does.”

Sameth argues that when the four letters are arranged in their proper order, they spell out the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she” or “hu” and “he.” Therefore, the ancient Israelites’ notion of God was not masculine, but dual-gendered, or hermaphroditic.

Sameth doesn’t advocate suddenly saying the name—backward or forward. But he does encourage Jews to open their minds and think more inclusively about God.

Yeah, OK. I guess if you want to read words backwards or change the order of the letters themselves almost anything is possible! That being said, I do see some validity to gematria in the Hebrew Bible, but this isn’t one of those cases.

What do you think? Has anyone read the actual article?

Posted in Bible, Hebrew, News, Old Testament | 7 Comments »

Bandstra Hebrew Handbook Giveaway!

18th July 2008

So, as I mentioned in a previous post, I had the chance to review a prepublication edition of Barry Bandstra‘s  Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008; Buy from or  As a result of the nice blurb I wrote for the publishers, I received a free copy of the book when it was published. As it turns out I ended up with two free copies, and while I like to read, I find reading one at a time works a bit better.

To make a long story short, what all this means is that I have an extra copy of Bandstra’s new book — it’s actually still in the original shrink wrap!  And then I thought since I have been so inconsistent in blogging for the last number of months, I wanted to reward my faithful readers who kept me on their blogrolls and continued checking for new posts (and even emailed me to see if everything was alright!).

Since I can’t give everyone a new book, I need some method of picking a winner. I could do something random like I have done before, but I figured I should somehow benefit from this massive giveaway. So here’s the deal. I will give the book to the individual who leaves the most humorous anecdote, joke, or faux pas about teaching or learning biblical Hebrew. Perhaps it was something another student did in class or a humorous way that your professor tried to teach a particular aspect of Hebrew grammar — it can even be a humorous resource for teaching Hebrew (a comic, short video, whatever!). I’m pretty much open to anything related the Hebrew that will make me smile and/or chuckle — I just want to give away a book. After one week, I (and perhaps my TA) will decide on a winner. And then presto! I will send you Bandstra’s book for absolutely no charge!

So let the free book giveaway begin!

(For those waiting with bated breath for my next “Yahweh – A Moral Monster?” post, I have it pretty much written and may upload it later today. Right now I have to go shopping with my teenage daughter… so pray for me! :-) )

Posted in Blog News, Contests, Hebrew, Humour | 15 Comments »

Some New Hebrew Resources

16th July 2008

I have re-written parts of and updated my “Mastering Biblical Hebrew” page over at Codex. Some of the more significant changes include the following:

Hebrew Bibles

In the Hebrew Bible section I have now included Biblia Hebraica Quinta project. As most of my readers are probably aware, BHQ is the new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible that is being produced under the auspices of the United Bible Societies. It follows in the tradition of BHS and BHK before it, with some exceptions. One change in approach that I am not entirely in favour of is the new policy against conjectural emmendations (i.e., a proposed reading that does not have external textual support, but does have intrinsic probability). While I am not a big fan of conjectural emendations (although I have always found the plethora suggested by Driver to be at the very least entertaining), they have a place in the practice of textual criticism. There are some places in the Hebrew Bible where the MT doesn’t make sense and other texts do not help. This is when a good text critic will suggest an emendation. At any rate, there are currently three fascicles available:

  • Biblia Hebraica Quinta, fasc. 18 – General Introduction and Megilloth (Gen. ed. Adrian Schenker et al.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2004). This was the first fascicle of BHQ available. The editors of the individual biblical books are Jan de Waard (Ruth), Piet B. Dirksen (Song of Songs/Canticles), Yohanan A. P. Goldman (Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth), Rolf Schäfer (Lamentations), and Magne Sæbø (Esther). Buy from Amazon.caBuy from
  • Biblia Hebraica Quinta, fasc. 20 – Ezra-Nehemiah (ed. David Marcus; Gen. ed. Adrian Schenker et al.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006). Buy from Amazon.caBuy from
  • Biblia Hebraica Quinta, fasc. 5 – Deuteronomy (ed. Carmel McCarthy; Gen. ed. Adrian Schenker et al.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2007). Buy from Amazon.caBuy from

Another new Hebrew Bible of sorts has just been published by Zondervan:

This is a nice leather-bound version of the Hebrew Bible (based on Leningrad, minus the critical apparatus) with a variety of additional helps, including form-specific glosses of all Hebrew words occurring 100 times or less (twenty-five or less for Aramaic words). It also helpfully shades proper names that occur less than 100 times. I’m sure this last feature will save beginning students countless hours of frustration since they won’t be trying to parse a proper name. Looks great for the beginning student or anyone who is rusty with their Hebrew vocabulary.

Hebrew Grammars

I have reworked my discussion of Hebrew grammars, distinguishing between reading grammars and reference grammars and including a number of new resources.

Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible

A new series of reading guides to the Hebrew text that deserves highlighting is The Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series. This series guides the reader through individual books of the Hebrew Bible (or significant sections thereof) underscoring its grammatical and syntactic features, typically with reference to modern linguistic approaches. There are currently three volumes available:

Tucker‘s handbook on Jonah is perhaps the most accessible for students who have completed a year of biblical Hebrew. He includes a translation of the book of Jonah followed by clause-by-clause and word-by-word syntactic analysis. Tucker’s discourse analysis follows in the tradition of Rocine and Longacre. I would think this Handbook would be ideal for second year students who want to work through Jonah on their own, though I am almost considering using it near the end of my first year Hebrew class when we typically work through Jonah (I think it may be too much; it would probably be better to use it in a third semester class where the students have already translated Jonah in order to introduce discourse analysis).

Bandstra‘s volume on Genesis 1-11 takes a different and somewhat unique approach to the text — and it  isn’t for the faint of heart. Bandstra introduces students to functional grammar through and in-depth analaysis of the opening chapters of Genesis. The 40-page introduction to functional grammar in and of itself is worth the book’s price. I had a chance to work through the manuscript prior to its publication and found the functional approach both intriguing and fruitful. I would recommend this work for more advanced students and scholars.

Williams’ Hebrew Syntax

Finally, one other grammar I want to highlight is John C. Beckman’s thorough revision and expansion of R.J. William’s Hebrew Syntax: An Outline.

This is a major revision and expansion of Williams’ Hebrew Syntax. While the new edition preserves the best of the second edition (at least based on my comparisons thus far), Beckman makes it far more useful for students and scholars alike. Students will like the interlinear translations of examples and everyone will benefit from the expanded definitions, improved organization, the cross references to other major grammars, and the new layout. Another useful resource connected with this grammar is a companion website that includes, among other things, a detailed outline (see  This edition marks a significant improvement  that will ensure Williams’ Syntax remains a valuable grammar for years to come.

I encourage you to take a look at my updated “Mastering Biblical Hebrew” page and let me know of any errors or omissions.

Posted in Codex Updates, Hebrew, Hebrew Grammar, Hebrew Resources | 2 Comments »