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In Memory of J. Alan Groves (17 December 1952 – 5 February 2007)

28th February 2007

groves.jpgThere has been a lot of mention of the passing of the New Testament textual giant, Bruce Metzger, among the biblioblogs, and it was great to see the latest Biblical Studies Carnival dedicated to his memory.

Another biblical scholar also passed away this month, J. Alan Groves. His death was mentioned by some bloggers and I was meaning to post on it, but I ended up getting sick. I would like to now honour his memory.

I didn’t really know Alan Groves. We met at SBL once or twice and exchanged a few emails occasionally, but that was the extent of our relationship. I doubt if he even remembered meeting me. That being said, his pioneering work on the electronic Westminster Leningrad Codex and the Groves-Wheeler Westminster Hebrew Morphology has touched my life enormously. A day rarely goes by when I do not look up something in the Hebrew Bible on my computer, perform a morphological or syntactical search of a Hebrew construction, or cut and paste a verse of the Hebrew Bible when making up a test for one of my Hebrew classes. These electronic texts are used by virtually all biblical studies software programs, including Accordance, Logos, BibleWorks, Gramcord, among others. Last December, the Board and Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary appropriately renamed the Westminster Hebrew Institute the J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research.

Alan and his family kept a blog that narrates his year-long struggle with cancer. It contains many moving posts; I encourage you to peruse it. His obituary is available here, while a more academic obituary may be found here.

lan Groves was a true servant of God who did a lot of his work behind the scenes.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Posted in Hebrew, News, Software | Comments Off

Biblical Hebrew Dictionaries and More

25th February 2007

John Hobbins over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has a good post highlighting the top Dictionaries of Biblical Hebrew. He notes the same major Hebrew-English lexicons that I discuss in my “An Annotated Bibliography for Mastering Biblical Hebrew,” but also helpfully notes some non-English dictionaries such as Meyer and Donner (Hebrew-German) and Alonso Schökel (Hebrew-Spanish).

jouon_muraoka_rev.jpgOn related note, I just received my copy of the new edition of Paul Joüon and Takamitsu Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Revised English edition; 1 vol.; Subsidia Biblica 27; Pontifical Institute, 2006; Buy from

There are a number of things that I quite like about this volume, not least of which is its binding. I find it far easier to prop open on my desk than the previous two-volume edition. I haven’t had much time to actually compare the content with the previous editions, though I like the fact that Muraoka’s additions are integrated with Joüon’s original text, the notes are cleaned up, and there is a great bibliography included. I wish they would have updated some of the charts in the volume, however.

Posted in Hebrew, Hebrew Grammar, Hebrew Resources, Online Resources, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

HBRW WTHT VWLS (Hebrew Without Vowels)

10th January 2007

When I am teaching about the Hebrew Bible, the fact that Hebrew was originally unpointed often comes up. And at that point I will provide some sort of example with English, such as the title to this post: HBRW WTHT VWLS.

Well, Mississippi Fred MacDowell (that’s a great name!) over at English Hebraica has an interesting post entitled, “Ravens and Arabians: Hebrew with and without points in English,” in which he provides an example where the English and Hebrew actually coincide; here’s an excerpt:

This interesting book, The Parchments of the Faith by George Edmands Merrill published in 1894 by the American Baptist Publication Society, does the best job I’ve ever seen of it because it combined words in English as they would be in Hebrew (“and the ravens” are three words in English, but just one, וה×?רבי×?, in Hebrew–”nd th rvns” less accurately shows what Hebrew is like than “ndthrvns”). In addition, the vowel letters are formatted the way nekkudot are, dotting the consonants.

This is a great example; take a gander at it.

Posted in Hebrew, Teaching & Learning | 1 Comment »

Fighting Shevas

29th December 2006

OK, this is too funny. This Chris fellow made an animation illustrating a sheva fight (In Biblical Hebrew, when two shevas are found at the beginning of a word, the first sheva becomes a hireq).


I will definitely show this to my Hebrew class when the semester begins!

(HT Biblische Ausbildung)

Posted in Hebrew, Humour | 1 Comment »

Hebrew or Israeli? Linguistics and Zionism

30th November 2006

Reuters has an article by Dan Williams (no relation) on maverick scholar Ghil’ad Zuckermann, entitled, “Hebrew or Israeli? Linguist stirs Zionist debate.” Zuckermann argues that modern Hebrew should be renamed “Israeli” and give up any claim to pure descent from the Hebrew of the Bible.

Here are some excerpts:

Israelis are brainwashed to believe they speak the same language as (the prophet) Isaiah, a purely Semitic language, but this is false,” Zuckermann told Reuters during a lecture tour to promote his soon-to-be-published polemic “Hebrew as Myth”.

“It’s time we acknowledge that Israeli is very different from the Hebrew of the past,” said Zuckermann, who points to the abiding influence of modern European dialects — especially Yiddish, Russian and Polish — imported by Israel’s founders.

Some critics throw Zuckermann in with revisionist academics who made their names questioning the justice of the 1948 war of Israel’s founding in what had been British Mandate Palestine.

Early Zionists were quick to assume Hebrew as part of an ancient birthright to land also claimed by Palestinian Arabs.

“His attitude toward modern Hebrew is less that of a professional linguist than of someone driven by the agenda of post- (if not anti-) Zionism,” wrote an Israeli contributor to the American newspaper Jewish Daily Forward.

Professor Moshe Bar-Asher, president of Israel’s Hebrew Language Academy, likened Zuckermann to Noam Chomsky, a renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist who in recent decades became a freewheeling critic of U.S. foreign policy.

“I think Zuckermann is a very good scholar, but he risks wasting his efforts by mixing up linguistics with politics,” Bar-Asher said. “He stirs up a lot of antagonism.”

There is continuity and discontinuity between Modern and Classical/Biblical Hebrew, so while I think differentiating between the two as scholars do is necessary, I’m not sure that calling “Modern Hebrew” “Israeli” is the best solution. Perhaps, akin to “Canadian English” or “American English”, “Israeli Hebrew” is a potential option.

Do my Jewish/Israeli readers have any opinions?

Posted in Hebrew, News | 5 Comments »

Friedman on Humour in the Hebrew Bible

9th November 2006

The Owings Mills Times has a small news report on a lecture Richard Friedman gave at a local synagogue. Here are some excerpts:

Friedman said it is difficult to get away from humor in the Jewish culture because it is part of the religion.

“It’s an integral part of our lives,” he said.


Jokes abound in the Torah, the five books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, Friedman said. The humor is especially obvious if the books are read in Hebrew. The Hebrew language lends itself to puns, he said.

The three pages of the Bible that are devoted to Jonah strike Friedman as the funniest. He said in Hebrew there are 35 puns in the story of Jonah.

The cast is composed of Jonah, who doesn’t want to do God’s bidding; a whale, who has to tote a poetry-writing prophet in his gut for three days and three nights, and a town full of repentants, people and cows who go around in sack cloth and ashes.

Jonah feels betrayed because he told the people they had 40 days to repent. God forgave them after only three days. After all, he did have his reputation as a prophet to consider, Friedman said.

Jonah leaves in a tiff, and goes to sit on a hill to sulk. In the end, Jonah learns a lesson about taking himself so seriously. The repentant people, not to mention the cows covered in ashes, are just as important as he is.

Friedman said jokes help people stay involved, whether they are attending a lecture or reading the Bible.

“Jokes are fun, they are a part of life, and they serve a purpose,” Friedman said. “They give comic relief when the lecture or book gets boring.”

I think that the humour in the Hebrew Bible is one of its most neglected features (see my previous post on this topic here).

Richard E. Friedman is the Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia, and Katzen Professor of Jewish Civilization, Emeritus, at the University of California, San Diego. He has written a number of books, including Who Wrote the Bible? (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997; Buy from | Buy from, The Hidden Face of God (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996; Buy from | Buy from, and most recently The Bible with Sources Revealed (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005; Buy from | Buy from The latter is a translation of the first five books of the Bible — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy into English, differentiating textual sources by type styles and colors.

Posted in Bible, Hebrew, Humour, Old Testament | Comments Off

Microsoft Drops the Hebrew F-Bomb

20th October 2006

It appears that Microsoft has committed a marketing faux pas with the name of their iPod competitor Zune — at least for Hebrew speakers. An ITWorld news article, “Microsoft Zune: Doesn’t sound sweet to everyone,” reports that the word “Zune” sounds like the modern Hebrew word for “f*ck.”

The word in question is זִיֵּן, ziyyen, which originally meant something like “to arm,” while the related noun is זַיִן, zayin, “weapon.” In Hebrew slang this word became used to refer to intercourse, i.e., “to slip someone your weapon,” with “weapon” being slang for penis. The nominal related to the verb which in vulgar Hebrew is equivalent to the F-word is זִיּוּן, ziyyun.
Here is an excerpt from the article:

Hebrew linguists are divided over Zune. Tsila Ratner, the head of Hebrew courses in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London, says Zune is an unsuitable name for a product. However, Haggit Inbar-Littas, a 30-year veteran Hebrew teacher with the London Jewish Cultural Center, says while the name is “ridiculous” and close to the bad word, it’s unlikely to be mistaken.

Microsoft breaks the controversy down to pronunciation. “While we do acknowledge the similarity in pronunciation to Hebrew zi-yun, that is not the intended meaning of the name Zune,” according to a Microsoft statement. Bloggers have picked up on the difference — one humorously writing that if you say Zune to rhyme with iTunes, out pops the profanity.

I’m not so sure that the words really sound much alike, though I am not a native Hebrew speaker. I would be curious what my readers who do speak modern Hebrew think.

(HT Matthew Barker)

Posted in Hebrew, Humour, News, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

Parallel Hebrew Bible with Paleo-Hebrew

19th September 2006

I have been meaning to put together a page for my Biblical Hebrew Resources pages collecting the various resources available online, so I have been collecting a fairly impressive list of sites. The Parallel Hebrew Old Testament just came to my attention the other day and it has a pretty neat feature: not only can you have the Hebrew Bible with the Latin Vulgate as well as a whole variety of English translations, you can also have it in paleo-Hebrew characters!

This is kind of neat, though practically the only use I can think of it is for text critics to be able to see how a passage would have looked in a paleo-Hebrew script. (You can also purchase the software for your own computer for a mere $5)
(HT Jim West)

Posted in Hebrew, Software | 6 Comments »

Abbott & Costello Learn Hebrew

7th September 2006

I am not sure where I got this little sketch written by Rabbi Jack Moline, but I always enjoy doing it in my introductory Hebrew course in the first couple weeks of classes (I also have a Dr. Seuss Learns Greek which is quite funny).

Abbott & Costello Learn Hebrew


ABBOTT: I see you’re here for your Hebrew lesson.

COSTELLO: I’m ready to learn.

ABBOTT: Now, the first thing you must understand is that Hebrew and English have many words which sound alike, but they do not mean the same thing.

COSTELLO: Sure, I understand.

ABBOTT: Now, don’t be too quick to say that.

COSTELLO: How stupid do you think I am – don’t answer that. It’s simple – some words in Hebrew sound like words in English, but they don’t mean the same.

ABBOTT: Precisely.

COSTELLO: We have that word in English, too. What does it mean in Hebrew?

ABBOTT: No, no. Precisely is an English word.

COSTELLO: I didn’t come here to learn English, I came to learn Hebrew. So make with the Hebrew.

ABBOTT: Fine. Let’s start with mee.


ABBOTT: No, mee.

COSTELLO: Fine, we’ll start with you.

ABBOTT: No, we’ll start with mee.

COSTELLO: Okay, have it your way.

ABBOTT: Now, mee is who.

COSTELLO: You is Abbott.

ABBOTT: No, no, no. Mee is who.

COSTELLO: You is Abbott.

ABBOTT: You don’t understand.

COSTELLO: I don’t understand? Did you just say me is who?

ABBOTT: Yes I did. Mee is who.

COSTELLO: You is Abbott.

ABBOTT: No, you misunderstand what I am saying. Tell me about mee.

COSTELLO: Well, you’re a nice enough guy.

ABBOTT: No, no. Tell me about mee!


ABBOTT: Precisely.

COSTELLO: Precisely what?

ABBOTT: Precisely who.

COSTELLO: It’s precisely whom!

ABBOTT: No, mee is who.

COSTELLO: Don’t start that again – go on to something else.

ABBOTT: All right. Hu is he.

COSTELLO: Who is he?


COSTELLO: I don’t know. Who is he?

ABBOTT: Sure you do. You just said it.

COSTELLO: I just said what?

ABBOTT: Hu is he.

COSTELLO: Who is he?

ABBOTT: Precisely.

COSTELLO: Again with the precisely! Precisely who?

ABBOTT: No, precisely he.

COSTELLO: Precisely he? Who is he?

ABBOTT: Precisely!

COSTELLO: And what about me?


COSTELLO: me, me, me!

ABBOTT: Who, who, who!

COSTELLO: What are you, an owl? Me! Who is me?

ABBOTT: No, hu is he!

COSTELLO: I don’t know, maybe he is me!

ABBOTT: No, hee is she!

COSTELLO: (STARE AT ABBOTT) Do his parents know about this?

ABBOTT: About what?

COSTELLO: About her!

ABBOTT: What about her?

COSTELLO: That she is he!

ABBOTT: No, you’ve got it wrong – hee is she!

COSTELLO:’ Then who is he?

ABBOTT: Precisely!







COSTELLO: Who is she?

ABBOTT: No, hu is he.

COSTELLO: I don’t care who is he, I want to know who is she?

ABBOTT: No, that’s not right.

COSTELLO: How can it not be right? I said it. I was standing here when I said it, and I know me.



ABBOTT: Precisely!

COSTELLO: Me! Me is that he you are talking about! He is me!

ABBOTT: No, hee is she!

COSTELLO: Wait a Minute, wait a minute! I’m trying to learn a little Hebrew, and now I can’t even speak English. Let me review.

ABBOTT: Go ahead.

COSTELLO: Now first You want to know me is who.

ABBOTT: Correct.

COSTELLO: And then you say who is he.

ABBOTT: Absolutely.

COSTELLO: And then you tell me he is she.


COSTELLO: Now look at this logically. If me is who, and who is he, and he is she, don’t it stand to reason that me is she?



ABBOTT: That is he!

COSTELLO: Who is he?


COSTELLO: I have just about had it. You have me confused I want to go home. You know what I want? Ma!


COSTELLO: I said Ma.


COSTELLO: What are you, deaf? I want Ma!


COSTELLO: Not what, who!


COSTELLO: Not he! Ma is not he!

ABBOTT: Of course not! Hu is he!

COSTELLO: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t care who is he, he is she, me is who, ma is what. I just want to go home now and play with my dog.


Posted in Hebrew, Humour, Teaching | 9 Comments »

Teaching Classical Hebrew

25th August 2006

I will be teaching Introduction to Classical Hebrew again this year. I have almost ten years experience teaching Hebrew and I can say that I still love teaching it! For my introductory course am going to use Kittel’s text, which is now in its second edition:

Biblical Hebrew: Text and Workbook, Second Edition.
Bonnie Pedrotti Kittel, Vicki Hoffer, Rebecca Wright
New Haven: Yale, 2005. Buy from | Buy from

While I have a number of issues with this text, including the fact that the second edition is only a negligible improvement over the first (if even that), I still find it the best for introducing undergrads to the language of the Hebrew Bible. I like its inductive approach, though I do augment it with a series of more deductive handouts to give students the “big picture” before the text actually provides it. I have developed a number of resources for teaching introductory Hebrew with Kittel and most of them are available on my “Resources for Kittel” page. I also have a discussion of introductory Hebrew grammars available here.

In regards to Classical Hebrew grammars, Joe Cathay has a good blog post where he surveys some Hebrew grammars. I pretty much agree with Joe, though I have never found LaSor that helpful. I’m also not sure that when it comes to grammars there are only “basic” and “advanced.” While there is some truth to the notion that learning Hebrew is an “either/or” proposition, I see an important role for intermediate grammars.

Intermediate grammars are helpful for students to make the jump from the basic understanding of the language gained in a one-year introductory course to being able to understand the discussions in GKC, Joüon and Muraoka, or Waltke & O’Connor. There are two different types of intermediate grammars: those that focus on developing reading ability with some attention to matters of morphology and syntax (I would put Ben Zvi’s grammar in this category); and those that provide a summary discussion of the advanced grammars (I would put Arnold and Choi, Williams, and van der Merwe in this category). While the taxonomy of “introductory – intermediate – advanced” may not be ideal, I still prefer it to Joe’s (too) two broad categories of “basic – advanced.”

You can see my discussion of intermediate and advanced Hebrew grammars on my “Annotated Bibliography for Mastering Biblical Hebrew” page.

Finally, Michael Bird over at Euangelion posted on teaching resources. In regards to Hebrew one article (among many) that I found quite helpful in my thinking about how to teach Classical Hebrew is an article by David W. Baker called “Studying the Original Texts: Effective Learning and Teaching of Biblical Hebrew” in Make the Old Testament Live: From Curriculum to Classroom, edited by Richard S. Hess and Gordon J. Wenham (Eerdmans, 1998; Buy from | Buy from

All my online Biblical Hebrew resources may be found here.

Posted in Hebrew, Teaching & Learning | 2 Comments »