How to Practice Biblical Hebrew

In your study of biblical Hebrew, you might want to consider adopting some of the practices described in the linked article below. This article resonated with me because as I became more confident of my ability to read the Hebrew text,  I drifted away from ‘deliberate’ practice, i.e., the discipline of reading slowly, carefully, and deeply in order to discern the important nuances that are so characteristic of biblical Hebrew.

This was not always the case. After my first year of formal classroom study, my practice was to read and translate no more that 2 or 3 verses using a lexicon 1)I now use an online BDB and selected other online resources such as this one based on the Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, TWOT and an online lexicon that is based on the TWOT but keyed to the New American Standard Bible. Like the author of the article in the link below, as my skill improved, my practice grew more undisciplined. I would often find myself ‘chasing’ words – looking up one word then getting interested in another, and then redirecting my attention to that one.

I developed the ability to read biblical Hebrew quite comfortably but I thought the quality of my translations were rather superficial (as judged by other readers more knowledgable than me at the time). Upon reflection, this should not be surprising because biblical Hebrew is composed of words many of which have an unusually broad semantic range. The lexicon is your friend. No matter how well you read the text, understanding its meaning requires more than word recognition. My study habits now go something like this:

  1. Select a verse or two I haven’t translated before and read it slowly.
  2. Copy the verse in Hebrew (I use the Unicorn editor).
  3. Look up the meaning of, and parse, each and every word in your chosen verse: each and every word, no exceptions!
  4. Search your Hebrew Bible for other occurrences of each word in your chosen verse and carefully read those verses. You can use this online resource, here).
  5. Document any findings or interpretations that seem interesting or novel to you. Write these in your study log.

This takes a long time. For example, at the moment I’m studying Genesis 15:4 and it’s taken me about 4 hours over the course of two days so far. I’m down the rabbit hole with the word, יִירָשְׁךָ (yi·rosh·khah – meaning ‘possess’ or ‘inherit’).

Anyway, try to develop your own study habits. It’s not how much you study (time, # of flash cards, etc.,), it’s how deep you study. If you learn everything there is to know about one word each day you’ll become a master in due time.

Now, go and study

Practice Greek Like a Master Violinist

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The Biblical Basis for Marriage

Over at my other blog (Thus Said the LORD), I’ve posted my latest article titled The Biblical Basis For Marriage. Quite apart from the theology, the appendix has the details behind the translation of Genesis 1:26-27. Just download (or read on-line) the PDF article linked (see above).

Of interest to students of biblical Hebrew is that verse Genesis 1:27 illustrates a not uncommon error in translating verses – correctly matching the gender and number of an indefinite pronoun (e.g., ‘it’) with a grammatically compatible antecedent. For those interested in this challenge you also might want to study the commentary of Genesis 3:17-19, especially the phrase “by toil shall you eat“. The translation is quite complex to the point of being impossible (or, at least beyond my skill). Maybe one of you can offer some insight that I’ve missed. And, if you are still interested in the antecedent problem, check my commentary for Genesis 4:7. Most (all?) commercial Bibles I’ve looked at mismatch the antecedent. What do you think?

In addition to the challenge of finding a grammatically correct antecedent, the translation of 3:17-19 presents first occurrence of what is called an “energic nun”. Among its many [arguable] complexities is the understanding that the use of an engergic nun signals the reader that a verb in its command form is to be translated as a declarative statement. Good stuff.

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Construct Nouns

When first learning to read biblical Hebrew (not speak, read!) far and away the most important skill is the ability to recognize its letters, vowels, words, and phrases. Learning to recognize nouns in their construct state (i.e., expressing an “of relationship”) is a wonderful way to build that skill.

I’ve just rewritten and revised the introduction to construct nouns. The section is by no means exhaustive as I’ve not covered any of the numerous exceptions to the normal rules governing construct nouns. But, we have to start somewhere so we’ll start with the simplest case. Read the lesson and then attempt to count all the instances of the Hebrew word for “land of” (i.e., the Hebrew word meaning ‘land’ or ‘earth’ in its construct state.

If you have questions just post them in the forums or as comments to this post. Take your time and have fun.

Jacob Settles in Goshen

ויָּבֹא יוֹסֵף וַיַּגֵּד לְפַרְעֹה וַיֹּאמֶר אָבִי וְאַחַ֜י וְצֹאנָם וּבְקָרָם וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם בָּאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְהִנָּם בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן׃ 2 וּמִקְצֵה אֶחָיו לָקַח חֲמִשָּׁה אֲנָשִׁים וַיַּצִּגֵם לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה׃ 3 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־אֶחָיו מַה־מַּעֲשֵׂיכֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה רֹעֵה צֹאן עֲבָדֶיךָ גַּם־אֲנַחְנוּ גַּם־אֲבוֹתֵינוּ׃ 4 וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה לָגוּר בָּאָרֶץ בָּאנוּ כִּי־אֵין מִרְעֶה לַצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר לַעֲבָדֶיךָ כִּי־כָבֵד הָרָעָב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְעַתָּה יֵשְׁבוּ־נָא עֲבָדֶיךָ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן׃ 5 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר אָבִיךָ וְאַחֶיךָ בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ׃ 6 אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְפָנֶיךָ הִוא בְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ הוֹשֵׁב אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אַחֶיךָ יֵשְׁבוּ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן וְאִם־יָדַעְתָּ וְיֶשׁ־בָּם אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל וְשַׂמְתָּם שָׂרֵי מִקְנֶה עַל־אֲשֶׁר־לִי׃ 7 וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת־יַעֲקֹב אָבִיו וַיַּעֲמִדֵהוּ לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב אֶת־פַּרְעֹה׃ 8 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־יַעֲקֹב כַּמָּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ׃ 9 וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל־פַּרְעֹה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי מְגוּרַי שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי וְלֹא הִשִּׂיגוּ אֶת־יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אֲבֹתַי בִּימֵי מְגוּרֵיהֶם׃ 10 וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב אֶת־פַּרְעֹה וַיֵּצֵא מִלִּפְנֵי פַרְעֹה׃ 11 וַיּוֹשֵׁב יוֹסֵף אֶת־אָבִיו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזָּה בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ בְּאֶרֶץ רַעְמְסֵס כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה פַרְעֹה׃ 12 וַיְכַלְכֵּל יוֹסֵף אֶת־אָבִיו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו וְאֵת כָּל־בֵּית אָבִיו לֶחֶם לְפִי הַטָּף׃ 13 וְלֶחֶם אֵין בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ כִּי־כָבֵד הָרָעָב מְאֹד וַתֵּ֜לַהּ אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וְאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן מִפְּנֵי הָרָעָב׃ 14 וַיְלַקֵּט יוֹסֵף אֶת־כָּל־הַכֶּסֶף הַנִּמְצָא בְאֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם וּבְאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּשֶּׁבֶר אֲשֶׁר־הֵם שֹׁבְרִים וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת־הַכֶּסֶף בֵּיתָה פַרְעֹה׃ 15 וַיִּתֹּם הַכֶּסֶף מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וּמֵאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ כָל־מִצְרַיִם אֶל־יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר הָבָה־לָּנוּ לֶחֶם וְלָמָּה נָמוּת נֶגְדֶּךָ כִּי אָפֵס כָּסֶף׃

 

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Translations: Genesis 15:1-6

Just a reminder, this is largely a blog dedicated to learning to read and understand biblical Hebrew. So, these posts are intended to focus on the Hebrew, not the theology. However, sometimes theology cannot be avoided and the theology advanced by these 6 verses simply cannot be ignored.

In this post, I provide translations for Genesis 15:1-3, 6 – a set of verses that constitute the lynchpin of the Christian doctrine of salvation by faith. A doctrine that holds that we will attain eternal life, not by good deeds or by good works, but by our belief.

St. Paul’s mistranslation of the Greek Old Testament version Genesis 15:6

You may be surprised to know that many scholars claim that 15:6 is an egregious mistranslation and that all English Bibles get it exactly backwards. However, the Hebrew text is quite explicit: God does NOT judge Avram. In fact, it is Avram who does the judging and he (begrudgingly, it seems) judges God as righteous.

The five preceeding verses, Genesis 15:1-5, are important because they set the context. Specifically, they show Avram to have become frustrated (and maybe a little angry) with God for His incessent promising of descendents without any follow-through.

  • Genesis 15:1 
  • Genesis 15:2 
  • Genesis 15:3 
  • Genesis 15:4
  • Genesis 15:51)I will be providing the translations to verses 4 & 5 shortly.
  • Genesis 15:6 – long and technical. Best studied with a cup of coffee and Bach concertos in the background.

Let me know what you think.

לֵךָ־נָא וְדִּבְרֵי (Now, go and study)

 

 

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