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One Way to Improve Your Biblical Hebrew Is…

January 27, 2014

…to beef up your knowledge of vocabulary in the Hebrew Bible. But reading through the detailed instructions on building the tabernacle (Exodus 26 and following) can feel like too much of a vocab stretch. It seems like every other word is a rare one. Using an alphabetically organized lexicon for such passages really slows down the reading. Also, readers who have a way to gauge how common a word is can decide if they should know it or not.

Back in Print

Readers Hebrew English LexiconA resource that has been out of print for some time is now back and available in a (cheaper) paperback edition. Zondervan’s Reader’s Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament offers verse-by-verse glosses (short translation equivalents) for rarely occurring words in the Hebrew Bible. The glosses are based on the Brown/Driver/Briggs (BDB) lexicon, with the context of each verse also taken into account. Organized in canonical order and covering the whole Old Testament, the lexicon lists each word that occurs 50 times or less in the Old Testament. Next to the word is the gloss and how many times that word appears in (a) a given book and (b) the whole Hebrew Bible. Each entry also has the page number in BDB, if you want to consult that additional work for a longer definition of a word. For verbs, the number of occurrences of that particular stem is also noted.

The lexicon follows the order of books that the Hebrew Bible does (i.e., the ordering differs from English Bibles). Only numbers and proper nouns are not included. The lexicon clocks in at 720 pages. It’s not as portable as when this single work was split into four volumes, but those are as hard to find as the four-volumes-in-one hardback had been. A Reader’s Hebrew-English Lexicon is intended to be a sort of counterpart to Kubo’s Greek lexicon by Zondervan. Here’s what it looks like:

HebrewI often struggle to remember Hebrew words that occur between 50 and 100 times in the OT, so the additional appendix is especially useful–it has Hebrew words that occur more than 50 times. There is also an Aramaic appendix.

How I Use It, Why I Like It

I’ve used this reader’s lexicon in tandem with Zondervan’s nicely laid out  “reader’s” edition of the Hebrew Bible. Though that Bible already footnotes rarely occurring words, the frequency counts in this lexicon help me know if it’s a word I should have known (e.g., one that occurs 45 times) or one I shouldn’t be surprised to not know (e.g., one that occurs three times).

The glosses are sufficient for rapid reading of the text. And the frequency counts add a nice orienting element not found in the reader’s Bible.

This edition is a reprint, so nothing has been re-formatted or changed in terms of the font. The font, while not always crisp on every page, is readable, both in Hebrew and English.

Yes, there are good Bible software options for reading the text, but I still like to read through the Hebrew Bible in print, and this reader’s lexicon makes for a convenient and trustworthy guide. For bettering one’s Hebrew vocabulary and reading, I heartily recommend it.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy of the lexicon. Its product page is here. It’s here on Amazon.

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