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A New Standard Lexicon for Hebrew?

November 3, 2013

HALOT has been the scholarly standard in Hebrew lexicons, but might that change?

The mammoth 8-volume Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH) is another major lexical source for readers of biblical Hebrew to consult. What is unique about the DCH is that lexicons like HALOT and Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) cover solely the Hebrew found in the Hebrew Bible. DCH, by contrast, covers a wider corpus–“from the earliest times to 200 CE,” it says. According to its product page:

It is the first dictionary of the classical Hebrew language to cover not only the biblical texts but also Ben Sira, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew inscriptions. It is the first dictionary to analyse the exact sense of every occurrence of every word, to follow every Hebrew word or phrase with an English equivalent, to print a frequency table of occurrences of each word, and to provide an English-Hebrew index.

Not least among its features is its addition of more than 3500 new words to the stock of the Hebrew lexicon, together with an extraordinarily rich bibliography surveying special lexicographical studies over the last century.

The Concise Version

The Concise Version

The 8-volume set in print is high-priced, as one would expect. It is much more affordable (as “affordable” goes, in these contexts) in Accordance, which is currently the only Bible software to carry it. The concise version seems to be financially within the reach of many students and pastors.

What is remarkable about the concise version of the dictionary is: “All the words in the full Dictionary of Classical Hebrew are to be found in the CDCH.” Of course, there are less instances of a given word’s occurrence listed, but that every word of the 8-volume set is treated in its 500-some-page younger sister is impressive.

The publisher notes:

The CDCH thus contains not only the c. 8400 Hebrew words found in the standard dictionaries, but also a further 3340+ words (540 from the Dead Sea Scrolls, 680 from other ancient Hebrew literature, and 2120+ proposed words for the Hebrew Bible not previously recognized by dictionaries).

By way of comparison, here is an entry for the same (rarely occurring) word in the concise and full dictionaries, respectively:

Full DCH

Full DCH

Concise DCH

Concise DCH

I use the Concise DCH for regular Hebrew reading in Accordance, but have just recently been really getting to know it as a lexicon. (UPDATE: see another post here on word frequency statistics in the lexicon.) The print version of The Concise DCH is here; in Accordance it is here. The full 8-volume set from Sheffield Phoenix Press is here, found also here at Accordance.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2013 7:14 am

    Hi Abram,
    I do not remember the DCH containing information about cognate languages. Many times, this information is helpful to determining a word’s meaning, especially in the case of a hapax legomenon. Otherwise, the DCH is a very good, especially for Dead Sea Scrolls.

    • November 3, 2013 7:39 am

      Hi, John! Thanks for the comment. Until I started looking more at lexicography, I had no idea what a flashpoint cognate languages could be! I think you’re right, that DCH doesn’t really cite (or want to cite) such data.

      • November 3, 2013 9:20 am

        If I remember correctly, they discuss this in their introduction. Due to the linguistic theory behind the work, they specifically try to avoid cognate languages.

        Great post, Abram! I haven’t used DCH much since we don’t own it at the moment, but I’d like to get it on Accordance eventually.

      • November 3, 2013 1:52 pm

        Thanks, Jessica! Didn’t realize you were a fellow Accordance user. The more I learn it, the more I appreciate it.

        There’s not a lot in the intro to Concise DCH about comparative philology, but I’ll be looking at the full DCH soon and will be eager to read more about it there.

  2. November 3, 2013 7:34 am

    Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    One other thing, the DCH is also soon to be available for Logos.

    • November 3, 2013 2:00 pm

      True–I think I’ve seen a few of your FB statuses and tweets (“How long, O Cliff?”) about it!🙂

      • November 3, 2013 2:12 pm

        😉

        i’m not a very patient person. i’m sure you’ve noticed.

      • November 3, 2013 2:34 pm

        Love is patient, love is persistent, same difference.🙂

  3. November 3, 2013 9:14 am

    One disadvantage of DCH when compared with BDB or HALOT is that it doesn’t give Aramaic words.

    • November 3, 2013 1:55 pm

      True enough. While this fact is consistent with its “Classical Hebrew” moniker, that could be a disadvantage to folks coming at it specifically from a Hebrew Bible vantage point, who also want the Aramaic. On the flip side, an advantage of DCH is that you get more Hebrew than just the Bible’s Hebrew.

      I don’t think any of the lexicons you’ve mentioned negate the need for any of the others. Ideally, they’d all be used in tandem, I think. Thanks for your comment!

  4. November 3, 2013 9:27 am

    Reblogged this on Cataclysmic and commented:
    Abram-KJ shares his thoughts on the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH). All you Hebrew nerds should go check it out…

  5. November 3, 2013 9:28 am

    Reblogged this on Cataclysmic and commented:
    Abram-KJ shares his thoughts on the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH). All you Hebrew nerds should check it out…

  6. November 4, 2013 12:32 am

    I hope it is soon available for LOGOS 5 too – the full 8-volume🙂

    • November 4, 2013 5:15 am

      Yes, I’m sure you’ve seen it in pre-pub there? No idea how long it will take to come out there, though I know Logos users are eager to have the full 8 vol. set that is already in Accordance.

  7. bubaflub permalink
    November 4, 2013 3:33 pm

    “and 2120+ proposed words for the Hebrew Bible not previously recognized by dictionaries”

    What are these 2120 words? Are they suggested (though unattested) roots of words that appear in the corpora?

    • November 4, 2013 3:57 pm

      Here’s how the introduction to the concise DCH answers that:

      “2. ‘New Words’
      The ‘new words’ in DCH and CDCH, marked with an asterisk (*) to the left of the headword, are those words that do not appear in the standard Hebrew–English lexicon of Brown–Driver–Briggs (BDB) of 1906. The great majority of these more than 3300 ‘new words’ do not appear in any other Hebrew dictionary. They are of two types:

      “1. Words not found in the Bible but occurring in classical Hebrew texts outside the Bible (Ben Sira, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Hebrew Inscriptions); there are about 1200 such words. The occurrence statistics for these words will show zero occurrences in the first position (e.g. 0.5.13.3), signifying that the word does not occur in the Bible but does occur in other Classical Hebrew texts. Such words are not registered in other Hebrew dictionaries since those dictionaries usually restrict themselves to the Hebrew of the Bible.

      “2. Words proposed by modern scholars, more than 2100 in number. Especially in the twentieth century, many new proposals have been made for the meaning of Hebrew words, sometimes on the basis of similar words in cognate languages like Arabic, Akkadian and Ugaritic, and sometimes on the basis of a new consideration of the Hebrew evidence. Many of these proposals have not yet gained the approval of the mainstream of scholarly opinion, and many of them are mutually exclusive. Users of the Dictionary should be aware of the tentative nature of such proposed words and of the fact that the occurrences of such words have traditionally been explained otherwise; nevertheless, it is salutary to be reminded, on almost every page of the CDCH, that our knowledge of the ancient Hebrew language is not entirely assured and that the meanings of some thousands of words remain debated. The complete DCH contains a full Bibliography of the scholarly literature concerning such words. For an example of such ‘new words’, readers may consult the Dictionary under the word ‏דבר‎. The verb is attested in over 1100 places as the normal word for ‘speak’; but no fewer than seven other words spelled ‏דבר‎ and meaning ‘destroy’, ‘turn the back’, ‘drive out’, ‘carry away’, ‘manage’, ‘follow’, and ‘have descendants’ have now also been proposed as occurring in twenty-seven of the passages where the usual ‏דבר I has traditionally been seen.”

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