T Muraoka’s Biblical Aramaic Reader (2015)

Muraoka Aramaic


Any time you see a T. Muraoka volume that retails at under $30, it’s worth paying attention to.

Peeters has released the short but sure-to-be excellent volume, A Biblical Aramaic Reader: With an Outline Grammar.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

This reader is for anyone very eager to read the story of Daniel in the lions’ den and many other fascinating stories in their original language, Aramaic.

A brief outline of Biblical Aramaic grammar is followed by a verse-by-verse grammatical commentary on the Aramaic chapters in the books of Daniel and Ezra. Both the outline grammar and the grammatical commentary presuppose basic knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew. Constant references are made in the commentary to relevant sections of the outline grammar. The commentary is written in a user-friendly, not overtly technical language. Some grammatical exercises with keys and paradigms conclude the Reader. Also suitable for self-study.

At just under 100 pages, it looks great. Find it on Amazon here.

Review of A Greek-Hebrew/Aramaic Two-way Index to the Septuagint by T. Muraoka

T Muraoka

As I read Isaiah 22:19 recently, I had a question about a rarely occurring word in that verse. The Greek reads:

καὶ ἀφαιρεθήσῃ ἐκ τῆς οἰκονομίας σου καὶ ἐκ τῆς στάσεώς σου.

(And you will be removed from your office and from your post.)

The word οἰκονομία occurs in the Septuagint only here and two verses later. In the New Testament it appears just nine times.

A traditional lexicon (like LEH or LSJ) can give useful information about the word, but not necessarily any information about the underlying Hebrew. Continue reading “Review of A Greek-Hebrew/Aramaic Two-way Index to the Septuagint by T. Muraoka”

Review of T. Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint

In studying the Septuagint, I’m regularly curious about how often the LXX translators used the same Greek word to translate a given Hebrew word. How often, for example, does καρδία translate the Hebrew לבב? And what other Greek words are used to translate it? Similarly, I wonder, for occurences in the Greek text of καρδία, what other Hebrew words might it be translating?

Takamitsu Muraoka has made such questions an emphasis of his scholarly writing and publishing throughout his career. His Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint is one of the standard lexicons in the field, and his Greek-Hebrew/Aramaic Two-way Index to the Septuagint is the best thing I’ve seen in print for Hebrew-Greek lexical studies in the Septuagint.

Preceding that latter work was Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint: Keyed to the Hatch-Redpath Concordance. I’ve had a chance to use the work in Logos Bible software; this post contains my review.

Muraoka notes the impetus for the work in the Introduction. The Hatch-Redpath Concordance (hereafter HR), published around the turn of the 20th century, listed all Greek words used in the Septuagint with the Hebrew they were thought to have translated. At the back of the concordance was a list that basically noted the reverse, showing Hebrew words alphabetically with the Greek words used to translate them… or, rather, a key to the Greek words in question. As Muraoka notes, you would have this entry in HR:

אָמַר qal 37 c, 74 a, 109 c, 113 c, 120 a, 133 a, 222 a, 267 a, 299 b, 306 b, 313 a, 329 c, 339 b, 365 a, 384 a, 460 c, 477 a, 503 c, 505 c, 520 b, 534 c, 537 b, 538 b, 553 b, 628 b, 757 b, 841 c, 863 c, 881 c, 991 b, 1056 b, 1060 a, 1061 a, 1139 a, 1213 b, 1220 c, 1231 b, c, 1310 b, 1318 b, 1423 c, 1425 b, 69 b, 72 b, 173 a, 183 b, c, 200 a (2), 207 c, 211 b.

Whereas the Greek to Hebrew portion of HR lists the Hebrew words underlying the Greek of the LXX, the Hebrew to Greek portion at the back just has page and column reference numbers, as above. So the user of HR would have to turn to page 37, column c, page 74, column a, etc., etc., in order to see what Greek words were in those locations. Only in that tedious way could the user of HR see all the Greek words used to translate the Hebrew אָמַר.

Muraoka’s wife (who is a true co-author of this work) tediously wrote out (yes, by hand) each Hebrew to Greek entry so that instead of page and column numbers, it contained actual Greek words. The above, then, would look more like this:

אָמַר qal αἰτεῖν (37c), ἀναγγέλλειν (74a)…

…and so on. The HR page and column numbers are retained, but now the user doesn’t have to flip back and forth, since the Greek words are all in one place.

T. Muraoka then took his wife’s data and critically examined HR’s assessments in as many places as he could, drawing on advances in the past century in textual criticism, manuscript availability (like the Dead Sea Scrolls), and adding in analysis of “apocryphal” books, which HR had not fully included. The resulting revision updates both HR’s work and his wife’s manual collation.

What results, then, is an eminently helpful work where one can look up any Hebrew word and see all the Greek words used to translate it across the Septuagint. To be able to do this is valuable, and Muraoka makes it easy.

There are two things that lack here, though neither one of them is really the goal of the work, so I don’t actually criticize it for these omissions. First, there are not frequency numbers. It could be especially helpful to know not only what Greek words translate a given Hebrew word, but how many times each does, so that the user can get a sense of the distribution of each. Muraoka doesn’t have this. Second, he doesn’t have glosses or translation equivalents for words, so there is no English in this index.

But this is an index, and marked as one, so neither of those is a flaw in Muraoka’s book. In fact, here is where using Muraoka in Logos is especially helpful: you can tie tabs together so that a simple click from Greek or Hebrew in his index takes you to a corresponding Greek or Hebrew lexicon in Logos, where you can see that word’s meaning. Logos in this way really enhances Muraoka’s tool. And, of course, frequency statistics are easy to come by in Logos.

This is a good resource, and worth owning for students and professors of the Septuagint. A question remains: with all that Logos can already do, is it superfluous to purchase Muraoka’s index? Using the Bible Word Study feature in Logos, for example, I can see all of the Hebrew words that a given Greek word is used to translate, as well as all of the Greek words used to translate a given Hebrew word, as here (click to enlarge):

This may be sufficient for what many people need, especially since you can also search for a Hebrew lemma from within the Greek Septuagint text in Logos and receive results in Greek, so that you have before you all the verses with all the various Greek words that translate that Hebrew lemma. (I just learned this today from the user forums-very cool.)

But if you’ve got the money (especially if you qualify for an academic discount), and are sitting on the fence about Muraoka’s resource, I recommend it. It’s nice to have easily at hand a listing of all Greek words used to translate a Hebrew word in the Septuagint, even if there are other ways to get that information in Logos. Here it’s consolidated.

One other nice feature is that all the abbreviations throughout the index are hyperlinked to what they stand for, which you can bring up just by mousing over them:

You can see there are no verse references given, which are useful for in-depth study of Greek translations. Muraoka’s more thorough Greek-Hebrew/Aramaic Two-way Index to the Septuagint offers more depth in this regard than this 1998 Hebrew/Aramaic (one-way) index. No Bible software currently offers the two-way index, but it would be great if Logos were able to make it available in the future.

All in all Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint is a solid resource. And its digitization in Logos has been well done, too. Logos can already accomplish much of what’s in this index, but the one serious about the Septuagint may want to have any and all tools at her or his disposal. In that case, this is a worthy addition to one’s library.

Thanks to Logos for the free review copy of this work, offered without any expectation as to the positive or critical nature of my review. Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint is available in Logos here.

Praising God through Academic Biblical Studies: Less Hypermodernist Objectivism, More Affect!

Why such an emphasis on wanting to get as close to the “original text” of the Bible as possible? Or, as some scholars call it, the “earliest attainable text”?

Earlier this week I wrote a bit about scholarly editions of the Jewish Scriptures, both the Greek and the Hebrew.

But I began asking myself today, why am I so interested in a rigorous scholarly pursuit of the text of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek?

One reason is that I love to learn. On the Strengthsfinder assessment I came out with “Learner” as my top strength both times I took the test. “Achiever” was not far behind. (See here for the descriptions of the 34 strengths themes in that assessment.) Here’s an excerpt from the description of the “Learner” strength that applies to me:

You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.

All true, except that when it comes especially to my pursuit of biblical studies, the process, the content, and the result are “especially exciting” for me.


The late Arthur Holmes articulates beautifully:

Christ the Truth becomes the dominant motivation in intellectual inquiry. No dichotomy of sacred and secular tasks can be allowed, and no subject is exempt.

The student will therefore welcome truth and submit to it wherever it is found, out of obedience to Christ. Academic work becomes an opportunity to extend the Lordship of Christ over the mind; thought merges into worship.

“Thought merges into worship.” I love this. And I think this is why–more than just being a “Learner”–I so love to delve into the depths of Scripture, in the most “original” form that I possibly can.

I’m not overly fastidious about Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic–as if God really spoke through those languages and then anything else is just mediated and somehow a dilution of God’s actual words. (Isn’t all language already mediation anyway?) If the word of God is “living and active,” it can be living and active in its faithful translations into other languages.

But one reason I geek out so much about the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible is that in my study I feel myself getting closer to that amazing time when God gave his word to humanity to be transmitted to future generations: first orally, then in written form. And I love seeing how the translators of the Hebrew Bible wrestled with putting the Hebrew into Greek. I love seeing how the New Testament writers grappled with, contextualized, and recontextualized the Old Testament.

I don’t even mind that at the moment I’m a bit perplexed by how Paul could both praise the law as being from God yet also refer to it as “the ministry that brought death.”


Because for me, as of late, my thoughts and my studies of Scripture–even at a scholarly level–have begun to “[merge] into worship.” How can I not praise the God behind these amazing words? Though we may never know what the autograph of any part of Scripture actually said, I believe we can get close.

And somehow the closer I get to the text of the Bible–in a scholarly setting–the closer I feel to God.

Not always, of course–sometimes I’m just confused. (Dash the heads of infants against rocks? And we pray these Psalms in liturgical settings???) But there’s been a real richness for me lately in delving into the Bible in its original languages, comparing variant readings across manuscripts and versions, trying to figure out why one Synoptic Gospel said it this way, why this one said it another way…. Even in seeking to answer those questions, I know that I am seeking more of God and God’s revelation.

This is not a taken-for-granted view of things in the field of biblical studies. Take this, for instance, from Michael V. Fox:

In my view, faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship, whether the object of study is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Homer. Faith-based study is a different realm of intellectual activity that can dip into Bible scholarship for its own purposes, but cannot contribute to it.

I haven’t contacted Michael V. Fox to confirm this, but I’d wager that what I’m describing above constitutes some sort of “faith-based study,” or at least, study that is informed by and that enriches faith.

But a bit more context from Fox:

The claim of faith-based Bible study to a place at the academic table takes a toll on the entire field of Bible scholarship. The reader or student of Bible scholarship is likely to suspect (or hope) that the author or teacher is moving toward a predetermined conclusion. Those who choose a faith-based approach should realize that they cannot expect the attention of those who don’t share their postulates. The reverse is not true. Scholars who are personally religious constantly draw on work by scholars who do not share their postulates. One of the great achievements of modern Bible scholarship is that it communicates across religious borders so easily that we usually do not know the beliefs of its practitioners.

I’m okay with trying to set aside a “predetermined conclusion,” though skeptical of that possibility. (Does Fox believe in the modernist project?)

Fox goes on, “The best thing for Bible appreciation is secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic.”


Taking the Psalms as an example, one cannot appreciate the Psalms who does not pray the Psalms. And wouldn’t good scholarship (religiously motivated or not) call for us to engage the text on the author’s terms? How can one do good scholarship on David, for example, if one is not willing to engage the text in the way that David intended for it to be engaged? If he wrote a Psalm for corporate singing or reciting, is the individual in her or his library carrel who seeks to bracket out faith commitments going to get anywhere near to uncovering the meaning and import of that Psalm until she or he sings it with others?

Fox’s whole article is here.

Parker Palmer has a good rejoinder:

Objectivism—which is a complete myth with respect to how real people have ever known anything real—has great political persuasiveness because it gives us the illusion that we are in charge.

But gospel truth, transformational truth, says that we are not masters but are subject to powers larger than ourselves—and that we are blessed with the chance to be co-creators of something good if we are willing to work in harmony with those larger powers.

If we embrace a gospel way of knowing, we can create a different kind of education and perhaps a different world: a world where all of us are called to embody whatever truth we know; where we gather together with others to check, correct, confirm, and deepen whatever insights we may have; where we understand that, even as we seek truth, truth is seeking us; and where there can be those vital transformations, personal and social, that might take us a step closer to the beloved community.

So when it comes to biblical studies, I say: less hypermodernist objectivism, more affect! Let’s allow our thoughts–as Dr. Holmes suggested–to merge into worship; our studies into praise; our reading into praying.

My quest for the earliest attainable text of the Bible, I am realizing, is driven by scholarly interest and a general drive to learn, yes. But more than that, I want to know God more fully through this academic pursuit. My insatiable desire to master Greek noun declensions, Hebrew verb parsings, and intertextual allusions is in the end a desire to be mastered by the God who stands behind the words of Scripture.

But that kind of a posture doesn’t compromise scholarship, in my view. It makes it richer, deeper, and directed toward its most proper end.

Basics of Biblical Aramaic

This textbook is a great one. I’m amazed at how much Aramaic it helped me pick up in just a long afternoon and evening. What follows is my review of Miles V. Van Pelt’s stellar text, Basics of Biblical Aramaic. It’s a winner!

Basics of Biblical Aramaic (BBA hereafter) is a “Complete Grammar, Lexicon, and Annotated Text.” I’ll review each of these components in turn.

Scope, Aim and Audience

BBA seeks to include “everything you need to learn biblical Aramaic” and is “designed for those who already have a working knowledge of biblical Hebrew.” This is a fair expectation, since most students of Aramaic only come to Aramaic having already had Hebrew (and often Greek, too). This allows Van Pelt to use Hebrew as a springboard for Aramaic throughout the book, which he does to great effect. He writes “for those students who desire to study, teach, and preach faithfully from those portions of the Bible that appear in Aramaic.”

I write as a member of Van Pelt’s target audience. I’ve had (more than) a year of Hebrew but no Aramaic to date.


Van Pelt divides the grammar into the following sections:

  • Phonology, in which he introduces the Aramaic alphabet, vowels, and syllabification
  • The Nominal System, in which he covers nouns (absolute, determined, and construct states), conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns and pronominal suffixes, adjectives, numerals, adverbs, and particles
  • The Verbal system, in which he covers the simple Peal stem in all its conjugations (perfect, imperfect, imperative, etc.), followed by the derived stems in their multiple conjugations
  • Six pages of quick-reference Charts and Paradigms

Here is a sample pdf of the Table of Contents and first few chapters. In the book’s layout and in many other ways, BBA is like Van Pelt’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew (BBH), which he co-authored with Gary D. Pratico.

As with BBH the typical chapter layout of BBA is grammar followed by vocabulary. And in this case, since the workbook is essentially included in the text, chapters close with exercises. There is no answer key included, but the book lists the site from which it can be downloaded.

Van Pelt classifies verbs according to the “Peal” stem and its derived stems–also explaining alternate verbal terminology (G-stem, etc.). As he explains the various conjugations, he keeps aspect firmly in mind:

The incomplete (or imperfective) aspect of the Imperfect conjugation is well suited for describing present and future actions and so a present or future tense English translation is common with this verbal form. However, it is important to remember that that imperfective aspect of the imperfect conjugation may refer to actions in the past, present, or future….

One of Van Pelt’s aims in this textbook is “pedagogical sensitivity,” which he notes has not always appeared in Aramaic grammars. (He may have this one by Alger F. Johns in mind, which, good as it is, is not as user-friendly.) He succeeds immensely in this regard. That Van Pelt is a professor in an actual classroom is on display throughout the text; his tone is warm and even encouraging in many places. Each chapter concludes with a “Before You Move On” section, which helps the reader distinguish between things he or she needs to commit to memory and what he or she can leave for future reference.

Van Pelt’s grouping of vocabulary also exhibits “pedagogical sensitivity.” Initial lists have vocabulary that is similar or identical to Hebrew, so that an Aramaic student can get a quick jump on vocabulary acquisition. Van Pelt groups several lists according to semantic domain and also parts of speech. This is merciful to the students who will work their way through BBA (and good pedagogy). He includes all Aramaic words occurring four times or more in the OT, which constitute 91% of the text.


The lexicon is a comprehensive one that includes every Aramaic word occurring in the OT. Van Pelt bases the definitions/glosses on HALOT. There are definitions for different stems of each verb, too. There are no word frequency counts, either here or in the vocabulary lists. (Basics of Biblical Hebrew has frequencies in the vocab lists at the end of each chapter, one of its great features.) However, this may not be as essential as in Hebrew, since the Aramaic corpus in the OT is smaller. Van Pelt does include frequency statistics for many prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs, particles, and stems as he introduces them throughout the text.

Annotated Text

This is the best feature of an already great textbook. In the same way that Van Pelt and Pratico’s Graded Reader of Biblical Hebrew helps the student to really dig into the text, the Annotated Text in the back of BBA allows the student to put his or her new knowledge of Aramaic into practice. Every OT verse and passage in Aramaic is included: Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 2:4b-7:28, Ezra 4:8-6:18, and Ezra 7:12-26. The footnotes link back to specific chapters and sections of the text, and Van Pelt includes detailed morphological and lexical analysis of various words.

Further reflections

I have only two (minor) critiques of this textbook, which are as much as anything hopes for small adjustments that might be made in a future printing or edition of this book.

First, there is little about Aramaic in its Northwest Semitic context. This isn’t an oversight; Van Pelt says his grammar is not “written for Aramaic scholars or for students interested in comparative Semitic grammar.” Instead he wants to help produce a “working knowledge” for those who will “study, teach, and preach faithfully” from the Aramaic portions of the Bible. Fair enough. And he does allude to further discussions of Aramaic as a language in his footnotes. But as I imagine myself teaching and preaching Aramaic portions of the Bible, I think it would be helpful to know something of Aramaic’s context and development, to explain to my congregation. This could simply be a few paragraphs in a future edition.

Second, the verbal diagnostics Van Pelt highlights (using “the identification of distinctive verbal features unique to a group of related verbal forms”) are explained in the individual chapters, but not color-coded in the paradigm charts. They are given in red in the Hebrew textbook Van Pelt co-authored, and this was one of the most useful parts of that book–it really aided in learning the paradigms. Van Pelt does explain what diagnostics to look for, but I’d love if a future edition or printing could color-code the vowels/consonants that constitute the various verbal diagnostics. (UPDATE: I had thought that perhaps the lack of color in verbal diagnostics was a print cost issue. I’ve now been able to confirm that there will eventually be an electronic release of the grammar with color.)

Also, though this might be asking a lot of a single text, I found the English to Hebrew composition exercises in the BBH workbook to be a great way to improve my Hebrew. Perhaps supplemental composition exercises could find their way onto Van Pelt’s site in the future?

I initially thought a $45 retail price was steep for a paperback. But considering that this includes a grammar text, workbook exercises, a comprehensive Aramaic lexicon, and an annotated text of all the Aramaic in the Old Testament… it’s actually reasonable. In the Hebrew and Greek equivalents to this textbook, the text, workbook, and set of annotated readings are all separate volumes. This was a good move on the book’s part, I thought, and makes it easy to refer to it time and again as a one-stop shop for Aramaic acquisition and development.

What stands out most to me about Basics of Biblical Aramaic is the very-nice-to-have Annotated Text at the back with all the Aramaic OT passages. And another standout feature of this text is that Van Pelt truly does display “pedagogical sensitivity” throughout the text. Who would have thought an Aramaic textbook could have such a conversational tone without sacrificing thoroughness and good pedagogy?

Five stars. I imagine this textbook will become the standard in seminary and upper-level college courses where students learn biblical Aramaic.

My thanks to Zondervan for the review copy of this textbook. Find it here on Powell’s or here at Zondervan’s product page.