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 Miles Van Pelt’s Compact Guide, based on his and Gary 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 larger grammar textbook, followed by paradigms and charts for quick reference. Seeing Van Pelt’s world-famous color-coded verbal diagnostics is a highlight.

Oddly enough, 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 or smoother grouping of material that has come about with the passage of time since the publishing of the grammar’s second edition. For example, there is a section in the Compact Guide on “particles” that is a unique and clearer grouping than what is in the larger grammar. And 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. (This fourth category appeared in the larger textbook later in its chapter as “Advanced Information”; having everything grouped together in the Compact Guide was easier.)

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).  Unlike Basics of Biblical Hebrew there is not much in the Compact Guide by way of vocabulary, save for a Hebrew-English mini-lexicon at the back of the book.  Unfortunately, there was no explanatory note as to what constituted inclusion on the lexicon.  (In Mounce’s Greek Compact Guide, the lexicon notes that it includes words that occur in the New Testament 10 times or more.)

From what I can tell, though, the Hebrew Compact Guide reproduces exactly the Hebrew-English lexicon in its larger textbook counterpart. In this case, the lexicon covers Hebrew words that occur 50 times or more in the biblical text. The Basics of Biblical Hebrew lexicon notes that it also adds “less frequently occurring words that appear in the grammar and workbook.”

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 quite as easy to read as that of the grammar, is readable enough. (And that may just be a matter of personal preference anyway.)

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 to 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. As Van Pelt notes in his preface, even “veterans” of Hebrew will be able to utlize the guide to “keep fit” in their language use.

Icing on the cake: the pocket-sized paperback comes encased in a sturdy, translucent plastic cover.

You can preview the book here.

Note: I received a review copy from Zondervan for the purposes of this review. I had initially reviewed a digital galley version of this book through Net Galley. The above reproduces my galley review, checked now against the hard copy for accuracy.

6 thoughts on “Review of Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide

  1. Great review! I’m currently in Dr. Van Pelt’s Hebrew class and would attest to how valuable this is. My strategy is to listen to the in class lecture, read the grammar, watch the video lecture, work the homework, then read through the compact guide. The great thing about the compact guide is that I’ll keep coming back to it later. I use it to prepare for exams and will no doubt use it when reading the Hebrew Bible later on!

    1. Hi, Bentley, and thanks for your comments! Sounds like you’ve got a great workflow for the class, and good point about coming back to the compact guide later. Happy Hebrew learning to you!

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