Review of Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide

At long last, a compact reference guide to Biblical Hebrew!  Not long ago Zondervan released Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide, a helpful and portable distillation of Mounce’s oft-used grammar. Many such little books already exist for easily reviewing Koine Greek: Dale Russell Bowne’s Paradigms and Principal Parts for the Greek New Testament, Paul Fullmer and Robert H. Smith’s Greek at a Glance, and even the back of Kubo’s Reader’s Lexicon has a good summary of Greek grammar with paradigm charts.

There seem to be more resources available to students of Biblical Greek than to students of Biblical Hebrew.  For example, while there is just one (excellent!) “Reader’s” Hebrew Bible (uncommon vocabulary is glossed at the bottom of the page), I am aware of at least three Reader’s Bibles that exist for the Greek New Testament.  So Van Pelt’s Compact Guide, based on his and Pratico’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew, is a welcome addition as far as this eager Hebrew student is concerned.

The book is not terribly dissimilar from Pratico/Van Pelt’s Charts of Biblical Hebrew, but unlike that work, A Compact Guide is more than just a collection of charts and paradigms.  Each section includes a distillation of what is in the grammar text, followed by paradigms and charts for quick reference.

Oddly enough, though, at times there seems to be more precision and detail in this little book than in the larger grammar.  Or perhaps it’s just more nuance that has come to articulation with the passage of time since the publishing of the grammar’s second edition.  For example, whereas the grammar lists three kinds of Hebrew prepositions (independent, Maqqef, and inseparable), the Compact Guide adds a fourth: compound prepositions, where “two different prepositions, or a preposition and a noun” (28) combine to make a new preposition.

The primary focus of the guide is morphology (how words are formed, including paradigm charts) and syntax (how words are used in sentences, i.e., grammar).  There is nothing in the work by way of vocabulary, save for a Hebrew-English mini-lexicon at the back of the book.  Unfortunately, at least in the digital galley version I viewed, there was no introduction or explanatory note as to what constituted inclusion on the lexicon.  By contrast, in Mounce’s Greek counterpart, his lexicon notes that it includes words that occur in the New Testament 10 times or more.

In addition to a thorough listing of paradigms (the 11-page section on pronominal suffixes is particularly helpful), the book is filled with examples from the Hebrew Bible (with English translation).  The Hebrew font used, while not as easy to read as that of the grammar, is readable enough.

The section on verbs is a particular strength of this work–in addition to examining all the forms and stems (both strong and weak), there are extensive listings of paradigms for easy review.

All in all, I give a hearty two thumbs up for this work–and express my gratitude that it is now on the scene for those who want to keep their Biblical Hebrew fresh!  For a beginner in Biblical Hebrew I would recommend the full-length grammar textbook, but for those with even a semester or two of Hebrew (and beyond), this small reference guide will be a valuable and inexpensive addition to their library.

The guide releases August 20, 2012, although you can preview some of it here now. (I received a digital galley for review through Net Galley.)

UPDATE: I review the hard copy, now released, here.

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