A sample of 1 Samuel 17:46-49 in the Hebrew Bible
Intoduction: Today’s post is intended for those who desire to learn more about the Hebrew Bible and begin the process of actually reading the text. The Hebrew language can be very intimidating for people beginning to study the language due to the appearance of the letters, the right-to-left reading patterns and vocabulary acquisition. However by following the suggested step-by-step process below, the diligent student can begin to site read some basic Bible passages and enjoy years of growth in God’s Word as the Hebrew Bible becomes a regular part of one’s spiritual regimen. I will simply make some comments on each tip and then provide examples of resources for the reader. We will divide today’s post into two sections: “Recommended Resources” and “Tips for beginning to study Hebrew”. May today’s post prove helpful to those wanting to begin their study of the Hebrew Old Testament.
PART ONE: RECOMMENDED RESOURCES
1. Start with Strong’s or some other type of exhaustive Bible concordance
A concordance is designed to list every word that appears in the English text of the Bible. In the back there will usually be appendices that include the respective Hebrew and Greek dictionaries for the Old and New Testament words. Thankfully many concordances (like the most popular “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance”) have numbers assigned to each word. If you can read a telephone book, you can learn how to use a concordance. By simply identifying what the number is beside each English word listed throughout the concordance, you can flip to the back and see which Hebrew or Greek word is assigned to that number. Most concordances will even have pronounication guides. Such a resource is relatively affordable and a must for the Bible student wanting to get their toes wet in the text.
2. Find free online Hebrew dictionaries (lexicons) and grammars
Two words are always good to see in the same sentence: “free” and “books”. With the amazing advances in technology, more and more books are being “digitized” and made available free online. Some of the resources for studying Biblical languages can be cost prohibitive – costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Thankfully some reliable resources are available free online. Two types of resources are necessary if you want to begin studying the Hebrew language: a good dictionary (also called a lexicon) and a grammar. Lexicons give you the definition of the words and will often show you the various nuances and verse references wherein you can see the word in its context. Grammars teach the student how all the words fit together in a sentence (or what is called syntax) and the various roles words play to communicate ideas (what is called grammar).
3. Purchase a good Hebrew dictionary (lexicon) and grammar
If you find yourself gaining an interest in the language or not too fond of using computer resources, then you need to purchase a Hebrew lexicon and grammar. Like their above digital counterparts, a lexicon and grammar in written form is a must for studying the language. Below are listed some of the most widely used (and most affordable) Hebrew lexicons and grammars:
Pratico & Van Pelt’s Hebrew Grammar
Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew & English Lexicon (also known as “BDB”)
4. Purchase an interlinear
The final tool to have as you consider studying the Hebrew Bible is what is called an interlinear. An interlinear arranges the Hebrew text on one line the English text, word for word, above or below in a parallel line. Most interlinears will have numbers assigned for each Hebrew word that correspond to a concordance like Strong’s Exhaustive concordance. By having an interlinear, you can actually begin working with the text, even if you have not learned hardly any vocabulary or no vocabulary! Below is pictured Green’s Interlinear:
PART TWO: TIPS FOR BEGINNING TO STUDY HEBREW
Now that we have some of the most essential resources listed above, once you have acquired the tools, where do you begin? What should be the immediate areas of focus. Certainly the Hebrew language is a large area of study and the remaining tips are not intended to be exhuastive. However for those starting out, the below three areas are “musts” for anyone wanting to begin their study in the Hebrew Bible. The last mentioned “tip” is a resource, however the final tip of today’s post will aid anyone who wants to begin mining the treasures of the Hebrew Bible.
1. Learn the Hebrew Alphabet
The most important element in studying any language is the alphabet. In Hebrew there are 22 letters, all consanants. In addition to the Hebrew alphabet, the student will want to learn the little dots and squiggles that represent the vowel sounds called “vowel points”. To get your foot in the door you must master the alphabet. For many students the first month is devoted to learning the alphabet in 4 to 5 letter segments and then being able to recite the sounds of each letter. This is why a good grammar is essential, since all grammars devote the first few chapters to the alphabet.
2. Focus mainly on the verbs
Once the student begins to work regularly with the text, the grammars and lexicons, the question that arises is “what is the first place to consider when working with e Hebrew sentence or when translating? Undoubtedly the king of any sentence and the one part of Hebrew Grammar that governs the paragraph, section or entire book of the Bible is the verb. Verbs are king. Why? Because in Hebrew the verb will have prefixes or parts that are attached on the front of the verb and suffixes or features that are connected to the end of the verb. These different “prefixes” and “suffixes” indicate everything from the type of verb to whether it is masculine or feminine, singular or plural, active, middle or passive and a whole host of other important details.
Oftentimes when reading Hebrew, and entire translated sentence can derive from one verb that has both prefixes and suffixes. No doubt about it, the verb does the heavy lifting in the Hebrew, which is why it is king and central to one’s focus when working with the Hebrew text.
3. Purchase a good commentary
Finally, when preparing to study Hebrew or when attempting to work with the Hebrew text, a good commentary that offers insights on the Hebrew text is a must. Being able to peer at that text through the eyes of a more seasoned and experienced scholar will add credibility and accuracy to whatever observations the student may glean. One commentary that comes to mind (again, that is fairly affordable and Biblically sound) is an “oldie but goodie”, Keil and Delitzch’s Commentary on the Old Testament, pictured below:
Keil and Delitzch’s ten volume commentary
Closing thoughts: Today’s post was written to help readers understand where to begin when considering the study of the Hebrew Old Testament. As the student begins in the suggested way above, they will soon be finding out other tools and resources that they can add later on in their study. We considered some resources when beginning to study the Hebrew text. We also fsuggested some necessary areas of Hebrew once the essential tools for such a study have been acquired. If the student stays diligent, the study of the Hebrew Bible can prove to be a spiritual enriching and mentally rewarding experience that causes the reader to discipline themselves in focusing closer on each word of God’s Book.