John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt, Beginning Biblical Hebrew: A Grammar and Illustrated Reader (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). (Amazon.com)
John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt have created a introductory textbook for biblical Hebrew that is quite unique. In their preface they explain the logic that went into putting it together. First, they sought “to incorporate more recent ideas about pedagogy” as concerns teaching second-language acquisition. This means the book does not used a “grammar-translation”, but instead their goal is to “provide the student with competency in reading, listening, and even producing Hebrew.”  Their goal is not to have students master the language for mere translation, but to master the language itself. Second, there is less data to be memorized in their lessons than in other textbooks. Third, the textbook “centers around discrete grammatical issues.”  This means they move along in “small chunks” emphasizing “repetition” as “a key to language acquisition.”  Fourth, the exercises are “text-based”. The authors write, “The lessening of the morphology burden in the grammar has allowed us space to incorporate discussions of grammar that are conductive to reading and understanding Hebrew literature.”  Fifth, rather than being exhaustive the focus comes from the Book of Genesis. The authors note that the Hebrew we find in the Bible is not monolithic; it represents an evolution. To ignore this would be to mislead students. Sixth, the authors aim to incorporate more modern linguistics into their presentation. Finally, there is a “nonconfessional orientation” so that the book is about the language itself, not learning for the sake of a particular religious or theological agenda.
People who have taken or taught biblical Hebrew will find this book to be different from others. The authors have given us a minimalist textbook. Lessons can be two or three pages long. The content is rarely data oriented, but instead focus on the basics and then encourages students to jump right into reading and writing Hebrew. This does not mean that important paradigm charts and so forth are missing. There is a bit scattered here and there through the lessons as well as Appendices in the back for students to consult. The back contains Hebrew-English and English-Hebrew Glossaries as well. The most impressive element is the Illustrated Reader at the end of the book (with illustrations from Philip Williams) which allow students to visualize the passages that they are translating.
To help you get a better understanding of my description here are some pictures:
Example of a Lesson:
Example of Some Puzzles:
Example of a Chart and Lesson Vocabulary:
Example of an Appendix:
Example from the Illustrated Reader:
Now, I’m neither a linguist, nor an expert in Hebrew, but as someone who has studied Hebrew I think the authors are trying to do something that could prove very helpful for many people and there is no rule against accompanying it with a more traditional grammar for those instructors who believe students should spend time reading the nitty-gritty details about grammar. The Amazon.com preview allows people to view a lot of the book, so if you’re interested in this book and my brief preview is insufficient, go here.
This book was provided courtesy of Baker Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.
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