June 30, 2008

Chapter 1 - Hebrew today

• Transliterate the name "McDonald's" into the Hebrew alphabet. Then click the picture to see the transliteration on this sign at a McDonald's in a Jerusalem bus station.

• See the Hebrew transliteration of "Wikipedia" at Hebrew Wikipedia:

• Unmentioned in PVP is the importance of proper spelling on your Hebrew tattoo. Caveat tattooer.

more on this from Tyler Williams

• See the Hebrew letters of the name of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Rabin's Gate for Peace:

• See the transliteration of street names on this trilingual sign in Jerusalem.

Chapter 1 - Key Concepts

similar-looking letters (PVP p.4)

June 23, 2008

Chapter 1 - Key Verses

Judges 12:6

wayyō’mərû lwō ’ĕmār-nā’ šibōleṯ wayyō’mer sibōleṯ wəlō’ yāḵîn ləḏabēr kēn
They said to him, ‘Then say Shibboleth’, and he said, ‘Sibboleth’, for he could not pronounce it right.

June 20, 2008

Chapter 1 - Prayers

PVP doesn't include prayers, but for me, this has been a meaningful way for Hebrew to come alive, and for my study to be a liturgical and not just linguistic activity. Here are some basic prayers and invocations:

The Shema

Also see Parsons on the Shema

The Basic Blessing

From Parsons:
Barukh hamelamed et yadi lesapper et ha’otiyot.
Blessed is the One who has taught my hand to scribe the letters.

Chapter 1 - Useful Exercises

• Try to name each letter when it turns maroon before the narration gives the name. see PVP p.1-2.

• Name the letter before the narration gives the name; this page is at the H-BANES website, which has some excellent resources and drills for learning the alphabet

• Match the English name to its Hebrew source; this list is from Cook & Holmstedt p.6

more exercises:
Cook p.3-7
Dobson Lesson 1

Chapter 1 - Linguistic Background

My interest in the history of the alphabet began with this fascinating book. It's helped me, as I learn the alphabet, understand why these letters literally took shape the way they did, and how important the Phoenician alphabet was as the common ancestor of the Hebrew and Roman alphabets.

Looking at the original forms of the alphabet--their pictures and meanings--can help explain why they look the way they do, and maybe even help keep similar-looking letters apart. But I didn't do too much of this at first because I didn't want more to memorize.

Here's Sacks on aleph: (also see Benner on aleph)


* Fancy Terms in Plain English
* Field Notes
* Hebrew Today
* Inscriptions & Archaeology
* Key Concepts
* Key Verses
* Linguistic Background
* Mnemonic Devices
* Prayers
* Rabbinic Literature
* Reflections for Meditation and Preaching
* Useful Exercises
* Vocab


Help out a Hebrew student: buy any of these books by clicking on these links and I get referring credit. Thanks! Nathan






Buy something else


I warmly offer all of my original material on this site to be freely used under these conditions.

The attribution I'm requesting (for the 3rd item in the license, Attribution) is either my name ("Nathan Bierma") or the URL of this blog ("basichebrew.blogspot.com") or both. If possible, I'd love to know (contact me) how you were able to use the material, and how I could improve it.





Cook, John and Robert Holmstedt. Ancient Hebrew: A Student Grammar (Unpublished PDF draft, 2007)

Dobson, John. Learn Biblical Hebrew (Baker Academic, 2005)

Kelley, Page. Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar (Eerdmans, 1992)

Kittel, Bonnie P.; Vicki Hoffer; and Rebecca A. Wright. Biblical Hebrew: Text and Workbook (Yale, 1989)

Lambdin, Thomas. Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (Prentice Hall, 1971)

Pratico, Gary and Miles Van Pelt. Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammmar (Zondervan, 2001) (W) (buy)

Ross, Allen. Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Baker Academic, 2001)

Seow, C.L. A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Abingdon Press, 1995)

Waltke, Bruce and Michael O'Connor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Eisenbrauns, 1990)

Annotated reviews and companion resources from Tyler Williams

Web Lessons






Hebrew Linguistics

Groom, Sue. Linguistic Analysis of Biblical Hebrew (Paternoster, 1969). (G)(buy)

Hoffman, Joel. In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language (NYU Press, 2004). (G)(buy)

Miller, Cynthia. The Representation of Speech in Biblical Hebrew Narrative: A Linguistic Analysis
(Scholars Press, 1996). (G)(buy)

Nahir, Moshe. Hebrew Teaching and Applied Linguistics (U. Press of America, 1981) (G)

Steinberg, David. "History of the Ancient and Modern Hebrew Language." Version 8.1, 21 July 2008. Accessed at www.adath-shalom.ca/history_of_hebrewtoc.htm

Young, Ian. Diversity in Pre-Exilic Hebrew (Mohr Siebeck, 1993) (G)

Young, Ian, ed. Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology (T&T Clark, 2003) (G)

Hebrew Pedagogy

Griffin, William. "Killing a Dead Language: A Case against Emphasizing Vowel Pointing when Teaching Biblical Hebrew." SBL Forum, May 2007. Accessed at www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=675

Helabe, Rahel. "Ancient Languages are still Around, but do We Really Know how to Teach Them?" SBL Forum, March 2008. Accessed at www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=756

Helabe, Rahel. The Introduction to Biblical Hebrew the Practical Way. Master's thesis, University of British Columbia, 2005. Accessed at www.hebrew-with-halabe.com/intro%20biblical_hebrew.htm

Isbell, Charles David. "The Hebrew Teacher: Guru, Drill Instuctor, or Role Model?" SBL Forum. Accessed at www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=452

Nahir, Moshe. Hebrew Teaching and Applied Linguistics [see above]

Zahavi-Ely, Naama. "Teaching the Biblical Hebrew Verb." SBL Forum, 2007. Accessed at www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?ArticleId=771














Buy These FlashcardsIs there a better way to learn vocabulary other than flashcards? Well, I guess there's immersion (the linguistic kind, not the baptismal kind), and maybe divine foreknowledge, which neither you nor I are likely to have. So whether you make your own, install the Teknia program (which I can't get to work on my computer), use Davar, bookmark a cool web program like this, this, this, or this, or—my recommendation—buy the companion flashcards to PVP, it's time to get flashing.


To avoid the problems of font and browser displays of the Hebrew alphabet, at times I'll opt for transliteration at this blog. But the characters of the actual Hebrew alphabet are only a click away.

Granted, transliteration can actually be a barrier to getting familiar with the Hebrew alphabet (which is why Cook and Dobson, among others, use only the Hebrew alphabet for Hebrew). But I've also found that in the beginning stages, transliteration is one helpful check on pronunciation and spelling.

My own transliteration scheme is simplistic and imprecise (which, in a way, is a good reminder that romanization is only an approximation of Hebrew sound--plus, of course, we don't know what Ancient Hebrew actually sounded like). For verses, I tend to use the transliteration from Sacred Texts, which appears to use ISO 259.

I've realized another benefit of transliteration: it makes the sounds of Hebrew feel more like words. That, of course, is purely my bias and limitation as someone whose native language and other languages I've studied use the Roman alphabet. But the danger in reading a non-native alphabet is that it feels like you're deciphering, not reading. Transliteration helps remind me that these are words and sentences, not just symbols.

PVP has a good transliteration table on the first page of the book; but here are some printable transliteration guides from other textbooks.

About this blog

I've always been interested in language and languages, so when I started studying Hebrew, I knew that for me, biblical Hebrew couldn't just be a chore, a class, a exegetical tool, a grammatical system, or a bore—it had to be a language, and it had to come alive.

The Textbook
This blog follows the chapters of the Pratico & Van Pelt textbook, which, as I say below, is a step forward for biblical Hebrew grammars. If you click here and then buy it (or click here and buy something else), I get referring credit.

Basics of Biblical Hebrew
Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar
by Pratico & Van Pelt
Buy from Amazon.com
Problem was, I was taking a course that used the old Lambdin textbook—a handy resource for scholars; but a dense, dry blast of Hebrew grammar for beginning students like me. The stiffness of the book's presentation threatened to squelch my love for the language, and its almost complete avoidance of actual Scripture and prayer threatened to separate me from the core purpose of learning the language in the first place. (I started a blog—where some of the material at this blog originally appeared—to help correct that, and it did help, but it wasn't enough.)

The Lambdin book is worse than many but hardly unusual. Few would disagree that traditional Hebrew courses in seminaries have historically taught the language in such a way, and at such a level of detail, that they actually deter future pastors from reading and using Hebrew in their work—the exact opposite of what they should be doing.

Charles David Isbell describes the problem this way:
If a student has a desire to learn Hebrew for any reason, it should be considered a teacher’s sacred duty to fan the flames of that desire by every means possible. And I believe the best way to quench the fire of desire is by continuing to teach Hebrew the way most of us learned it. The routine is well known. Memorize these words. Learn these rules. Identify these forms. Translate these meaningless English sentences into “biblical Hebrew,” which you don’t understand yet and which modern scholarship assures us Moses himself did not write so clearly. Spend at least one full semester on these numbing exercises before you ever get to open the text of the Bible to an exciting narrative. continued...

(Most blatant, in my opinion, is the over-emphasis on patterns of vowel reduction related to grammatical inflection, which are often presented too intricately and
without a hint that these patterns, like the entire vowel pointing system, are the admirable but inevitably flawed effort of the Masoretes, centuries after Hebrew was actually spoken as a native language. Given such historical question marks surrounding the vowel marks, the hyper-precision seems out of place—and needlessly daunting to beginners. More here.)

And so the Pratico&Van Pelt textbook is a huge step forward for 1) simpler presentation more appropriate for beginning students, 2) meaningful interaction with digital technology (which is making the old grammatical-paradigm-driven pedagogy obsolete) and—most importantly in my opinion—3) application for reflection and preaching.

But still more is needed on all three fronts. I await a Biblical Hebrew textbook that will more fruitfully involve, as consultants or co-authors, people with a palpable vision for 1) language pedagogy, 2) digital technology, and 3) preaching, or, best yet, one person for each (in which case, I realize, they'd have to divvy up the royalties into tiny slices).

In the meantime, here is my blog scrapbook that tries to engage these three areas. I am an amateur in each. But to me, each is a essential connecting point with the fascinating, beautiful, historic, God-breathed language of Hebrew.