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

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