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Beginning Biblical Hebrew – A Review by Greg Goswell

Author
Category Book Reviews
Date June 16, 2014

Book Review: Beginning Biblical Hebrew: A Grammar And Illustrated Reader, John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013], 324 pages, paperback, ISBN 978 0 80104 886 9.

Of the writing of Hebrew textbooks there is no end, and each new production requires explanation and justification. The authors claim that what sets Beginning Biblical Hebrew apart from its predecessors and rivals is the latest pedagogy for language acquisition (including the use of cartoons), a reduction in the amount of grammar taught, and greater place given to syntax and semantics, a focus on certain biblical texts in Genesis (not difficult material to master) and less technical jargon (replaced by Hebrew grammatical terms), though toward the end of the book, Cook and Holmstedt begin to use of lot of linguistic terms that are not always easy for the beginning student to grasp.

The reader is provided with an historical introduction to Semitic languages and to the Hebrew language in particular. Next, the consonants and vowels are taught. The first 14 chapters cover nouns and the verb is explained after that. The chapters are brief so that the student has to master only one main concept at a time in a step-by-step fashion. Some of the chapters are extremely brief. There is more focus on the meaning of word order patterns than is common in introductory textbooks (topic, focus, foreground and background) because these are trendy interests for those with a linguistic bent.

At the end of the book are thirteen readings from Genesis using comic strips, with new vocabulary progressively introduced and questions and activities related to the readings follow. Despite what people say, Hebrew is not a difficult language to learn, and this new textbook (complete with comic strips) may tempt some to tackle it in order to enrich their understanding of the Old Testament, which is, after all, the motivation of most Bible college students.

This review is reprinted with permission from the 1 June 2014 edition (page 17) of New Life, the Australian online Christian newspaper.

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