Monday, May 04, 2009

What are the Best Hebrew Grammars?

From a survey of the readers, what are the top Hebrew Grammars for teaching students:

Mark David Futato, Beginning Biblical Hebrew
Page H. Kelley, Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar
Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar
Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew
Other ???

I've used Ross a bit and, while it's thorough and systematic, it struck me as a book better for training linguists than pastors.


Brian said...


Joe Rigney said...

We've been using pre-pub copies of Garrett and DeRouchie's new grammar from B&H at Bethlehem College and Seminary. Our Hebrew instructors have found it to be very good.

Brandon said...

I have not idea if this is "the best" Hebrew grammar but we are using Russell Fuller's Invitation to Biblical Hebrew. I believe he uses a different methodology then most other grammars (e.g. very morphological and in line with how Jewish people lean the language). The book is very "user friendly" (which I love!), perhaps at the cost of some of the precision one might find in Ross and others.

Brandon said...

We used Seow at Candler. It's a very good grammar, although I don't think it's the best for introducing Hebrew because sometimes it reads more like a reference grammar.

--Brandon (the real one)

Jason said...

I loved learning from BBH, Pratico and Van Pelt.

Jim Hamilton said...

Fuller is the best.

Here's my blurb:

I had taken eight semesters of Hebrew courses in the standard way that Hebrew is taught, and in two semesters of studying Hebrew on Dr. Fuller's method I finally learned the language! . . . . This is the best way to learn the language, bar none!

Here's my review:

Russell T. Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi, Invitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar, Invitation to Theological Studies. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006. 364 pp. $49.00.

Warning: the use of this grammar could revolutionize the study of Hebrew. Follow all instructions. Use only if the desire is to learn the language. Mix with diligence to achieve desired result: ability to read Hebrew.

Kregel is to be congratulated, and Russell Fuller is to be praised for this pioneering approach to the study of Hebrew. Kregel has published not only the text of Invitation to Biblical Hebrew produced by Fuller and Choi, but also a set of six DVDs containing two semesters’ worth of lectures through the grammar. What ignites the use of the grammar and the DVDs, however, is undoubtedly the workbook. The grammar gives the student the raw data. The DVDs present Fuller lecturing through the grammar. And the workbook—if used—will drill students on the material until the fundamentals of the language are instinctive for them. Grammar, DVDs, workbook: an explosive combination.

Fuller and Choi honed this material through years of classroom use. This reviewer studied under Fuller and Choi as they were perfecting the material, and the method they use is the method that I now use to take my own students through the first year of Hebrew. The procedure looks like this: before coming to class, students are to read the chapter on their own. Having read the chapter, they then watch Fuller lecture on the material on the DVD. At that point, the student is ready to review the chapter. At the end of each chapter is a series of carefully crafted questions. In order to answer these questions, the student must not only regurgitate but be able to use the information presented in the chapter. Questions like these are priceless. They put information into action. Once the student can answer the questions, there is a set of drills waiting at the end of the chapter in the text of the grammar. These drills strategically review material from previous chapters, while pounding home the material from the present chapter. The student comes to class with a working knowledge of the material, hears the professor lecture on the material again, and then moves to the workbook. In the workbook is another set of drills designed to reinforce the material.

Working through the material this way takes the student again and again through the material. Basketball players who do their dribble drills over and over find that the basketball becomes an extension of their hand. Students of Hebrew who faithfully work through this material find that the fundamentals of the Hebrew language become part of the furniture of their minds.

The process may seem extensive and demanding, but the process gives students a real shot at learning a very foreign, very difficult language. Moreover, this process, however intense, is much less painful than the stress produced by other methods which do not drill the material enough for the student to actually learn what is necessary to be able to read.

Theoretically, this method could be used by those not enrolled in a Hebrew course at an institution. Everything necessary to learn the language on one’s own is provided. Thanks to Fuller and Choi, anyone with the time and discipline to consistently go after the material can learn to read Hebrew.

There are all manner of debates among Hebrew grammarians as to the best approach to learning the language: should students proceed inductively or be forced to memorize a bevy of paradigms, does modern linguistics provide a magic potion or is the older approach that compares Hebrew to Arabic and other ancient languages more reliable, and on and on. Fuller and Choi dedicate their work to Isaac Jerusalmi of Hebrew Union College, which will alert those aware of these things to the school of thought to which they belong. The student who comes to this grammar will neither be daunted by a bevy of paradigms nor thrown over the cliff of sheer induction. Rather, by combining the fundamentals of the language with a core of memorization, the student comes to understand how the vowel system works in both nouns and verbs. Whatever one’s perspective on the various debates among Hebrew grammarians, for the student, the method of this grammar, with its brilliant drills, make it the best approach to learning Hebrew. These drills were produced by a beautiful mind and reflect the greatness of a teacher who cares enough for his students to push them to understand the material. Thus, the drills, as with the questions at the end of the chapters, challenge students not only to reproduce the material but master it.

Great teachers, like great coaches, emphasize the fundamentals. Russell Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi understand the fundamentals of the Hebrew language, and their grammar presents these fundamentals in systematic detail. With the systematic detail come an array of pithy mnemonic devices that make the learning of a difficult language fun. One is tempted to call Russell Fuller the John Wooden of Hebrew teachers.

Wayne said...

Used Jouon-Muraoka, but not sure how high it rates on the student usability chart.

Celucien L. Joseph said...

Fuller's "Invitation to Biblical Hebrew" is very good and among the top Hebrew Grammars around. I've used in seminary in my Hebrew courses with Prof. Fuller.

Michael said...

Hi Mike!

The one I learned Hebrew with is Brian Webster's, Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew.

Brian Webster’s Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (CIBH) is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press ( is forthcoming at some point in 2009. I had him for the first three Hebrew classes, and we used his grammar (in inchoate stages) for the first two.

Brian’s approach to language in general is quite helpful as he takes time to show you HOW the forms are…formed. The text comes with an interactive flash program called TekScroll, which includes a vocabulary program and illustrations of all the stems and irregular pattern formations. The flash program is also a great tool to teach from.

The OT faculty at Dallas Seminary is in the process of switching from Ross’s grammar to the CIBH.

It's definitely worth a look when it comes out.

Patrick George McCullough said...

I'm surprised Lambdin hasn't been mentioned yet, but.... Lambdin.


Joel said...

Can I make a vote against Pratico; Van Pelt?

That was the assigned text in my biblical Hebrew course. They attempt to account for far too many of the special cases and it simply gets burdensome.

David Reimer said...

Tyler Williams has a nice overview of a few teaching grammars.

I've only taught briefly from Weingreen (didn't like it, but still the standard in Oxford, apparently, although they gave Ross a go), and several years with Seow consistently shows that students who dislike it in first year Hebrew are thankful for it as second years.


Steve T. said...

Since there is no place to send you guys an email, I want to ask your opinion on the Sacra Pagina series of Commentaries?

I know, they're Catholic, but I want your opinions. Your can write to me privately, as I would have done with you, had I found your email.

John Paulling said...

We used Ross in undergraduate Hebrew. He was widely disliked, and we came up with a phrase for him. "What Ross lacks in clarity, he makes up for in brevity."
I've found Weingreen to be quite good.

Danny Zacharias said...

See my poll on Hebrew grammars
from a few months back. Van Pelt came out with a slim lead over Seow, followed up by Ross.

To each his own, but I found Fuller and Choi abysmal to teach from. It is written to teach composition of biblical Hebrew. Perhaps it is just my teaching philosophy, but why do I care if the student knows how to properly point an article depending on the letter it is attaching too? I just care that they recognize it is an article!
About a 3rd of the way through this past year, I had to tell the students to stop doing the exercises given by Fuller&Choi and I made a book of exercises for them to do. I kid you not, I received a standing ovation from my class the day I announced this change.

As I am teaching Hebrew again next year, and developing an online intro Hebrew course, I set out to find a new grammar. I had settled on Kelley's grammar (Eerdmans), when I was informed in the comments of the aforementioned poll of an upcoming release by Brian Webster, the Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. I contacted the author and publisher and received a pre-pub examination copy just over a month ago. I was blown away— it is really fantastic. I plan to give it a full review on Deinde when it is officially released, but some of the things I liked:
1) Takes the approach of VanPelt (Perfect strong verb, then Perfect weak forms, Imperfect strong, Imperfect weak)
2) It doesn't have an insane amount of chapters, like Kittel and Futato. Canada has somewhat shorter semesters.
3) Spends a good amount of time actually discussing issues of narrative and poetics in the final chapters
4) It is an all in one package. It comes with a CD that has a PDF of the exercises for the student to print out and work with. Also comes with blank tables to practice paradigms, and word lists in PDF from.
5) The icing on top of this delicious cake is TekScroll. I cannot say enough good things about this. It is a computer program that comes with the book (Mac and PC) which is an ESSENTIAL accompaniment to the textbook. It is like a Hebrew gym for the student. It reiterates key points, animates vowel and letter changes, drills them on parsing, provides translation practice, and has vocabulary flashcards for each chapter. I'm pretty tech savvy and keep up on this stuff— there is nothing out there like TekScroll, it is in a class of its own. I am excited to teach Hebrew again next year now that I've found the right textbook!

So there you have it. CIBH is the textbook to beat!

Peter Gurry said...

I've been through Ross twice as a student and agree that it is dense. But that's why I liked it. It's still very helpful.

Levi said...

I really like Kelley. I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned more. It's a great grammar and it doesn't overwhelm most students.

Pratico and Van Pelt is good in a class, but is likely too overwhelming for a student studying alone.

Luke said...

I'm looking forward to the imminent release of Webster's CIBH text. What really attracts me to it is the TekScroll program b/c I think integrating technology into the learning experience is very valuable. I'm counting the days until it comes out. I used Ross in first year Hebrew and I thought it was abysmal. Terrible writing style, terrible organization, and terrible explanations. I will never pick it up again.

ros said...

I learned from Kelley, supplemented substantially by my teacher's own notes and explanations. It has quite a lot of weaknesses, especially in its attempts to explain the verbal system. It sounds like there are better things out there.

Andy Witt said...

I learned BH during two summer intensive classes with John Sailhamer, who gave us his own "textbook". He personally recommended using Ross' grammar to supplement his "book", but constantly talk about using GKC once a student gets the basics of the language down.

Ironically, Ross' grammar is about the only one I haven't checked out. For beginning grammars I would recommend:
1) Lambdin (you have to buy from the UK though!)
2) Seow (thorough, but manageable)
3) Garret & DeRouchie (important lessons on discourse analysis!)

For more intermediate/reference grammars:
1) GKC (the gold standard)
2) Waltke & O'Connor
3) Williams' Syntax (new edition)
4) Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (van der Merwe)
5) Fuller & Choi
6) Jouon-Muraoka

But honestly, the best thing to do once you get the basics down is memorize more vocabulary get into the text and start reading! Keep reviewing the basics and use a reference grammar as you read when you get confused over the use of some grammatical and syntactical element. Your knowledge of BH will grow and grow as you read and read.


Theophilus Christian said...

Has anyone compared the following audio CDs for learning Hebrew vocab & pronunciation: Old Testament Hebrew Vocabulary: Learn on the Go & Basics of Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary Audio? One is twice the price of the other and I can't tell if it is worth it. All I know if that both use the Ashkenazi pronunciation (too bad), but I think I can overlook this. Just don't know which is better for formal studies.