June 20, 2008

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.

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