Book Review: A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew

Book Review

Garrett, Duane A., and Jason S. DeRouchie. A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew. Nashville, TN.: B&H Academic, 2009.

At the beginning of the summer, I received a review copy of A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew from the kind folks at Broadman & Holman (just wanted to say thanks to B&H for an opportunity to review one of their newest products).  This grammar includes a DVD that contains digital flashcards and matching vocabulary audio files.  There is also a workbook that is designed to go along with the grammar, which also seems to be laid out fairly well.

I.  The Good

a.  Verbs

My initial thought is that this text would be like many of the other grammars that are currently on the market (i.e. Seow and Pratico & Van Pelt, etc.); however, the contents of this grammar really distinguish this text from its competition.  A student is often told that one of the most important aspects of Hebrew grammar is the verbal system, but most introductory grammars don’t introduce verbs until the book is half-way finished.  One such distinguishing feature is how early within the book Garrett and DeRouchie introduce verbs (Chapter 6!!!).  By introducing verbs this early, this grammar facilitates the reading of actual biblical texts fairly quickly.  A student using this book will not have to translate verbless clauses for an entire semester, before they move onto more sophisticated prose; because of this approach.

Garrett and DeRouchie also provide a sophisticated introduction to verbs, beyond generically translating perfect in the past tense and imperfect in the future tense.  There is a decent discussion of verbs functioning with tense, mood, aspect or voice.  This is nice; however, I wonder if this is a bit of an overkill for an introductory grammar (most readers of this blog think so after a recent poll).

I am also pleased to see that verbal paradigm memorization is not encouraged.  This is a pedagogical approach that many grammars employ and one that frustrates me the most.  MGBH uses diagnostics for stem, person, number, and gender identification.  I find that this approach is more helpful than wasting so much time committing endless charts to memory.

b. Appendices

Wow!  This is one of the best aspects of this book, which subsequently makes this text a borderline intermediate grammar.  The section entitled Basics for Using Your Hebrew Bible is wonderful.  I was pleased that there is a discussion on the most common sigla in the BHS and BHQ, as well as a small discussion on text criticism.

II. The Not So Good

a.   Layout and general ascetics

One negative of the grammar is its size.  The volume is 9 ½ inches tall by 7 ¼ inches wide.  These dimensions may seem insignificant; however, given the amount of text on each page, the page appears to be overwhelmed with words.  If the dimensions of the grammar matched the supplemental workbook, then this book, in my opinion, would appear less intimidating to a new student, esp. one learning a whole new alphabet[1].  The book needs more negative space (i.e. wider margins for notes), so that the eye doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

b.  Ancillary DVD Rom

I am not as impressed with this feature as I have been with other grammars that have included digital supplementary material (such as Brian Webster’s impressive Tekscroll software).  Vocabulary audio files and digital flashcards can be quite helpful, and is something that other grammars don’t offer (unless you purchase them ala’ carte).  However, I was hoping for much more information to be included on this DVD.  It would have been nice if the publishers could have included a file that contained all of the grammar’s “Blackboard” diagrams.  While the sentiment of digital supplementary material is appreciated, I think future editions should offer something a bit more robust.  The DVD felt like more of an after-thought in my opinion.

III. Overall

While I am still committed to introducing languages inductively, I think this is a great hybrid grammar (inductive and deductive methodologies); however, I wonder if this grammar is a bit too thorough for a beginning student.  On one hand having a lot of information is a good thing; however, too much information may overwhelm a new student.  MGBH does succeed in providing a wealth of information, making it one of the most thorough introductory grammars on the market.  All in all, Garrett and DeRouchie have put together a nice grammar and should be commended for their work.

Addendum:

Apparently B&H have decided to make their “blackboard” diagrams available on Powerpoint for download on their website.  This does increase the value of this product, but I wish it would have made it onto the DVD.


[1] It is interesting to note that such a subtle size change was made by Zondervan when they published subsequent editions of Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar by Pratico and Van Pelt (although the width of BBH 1st edition was about a ½ inch shorter then MGBH).  I have heard many students comment on this effective change that Zondervan had made.

4 comments to Book Review: A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew

  • Thanks for the helpful review. I haven’t seen this textbook yet.

    I do agree with you that diagnostics are preferable to memorizing paradigm charts.

  • Adam Couturier

    Karyn, thanks for stopping into my little blog, and I am glad that you found my review helpful.

  • Jay

    Adam, how does it compare with Garrett’s previous attempt at an intro grammar (I think a Modern Grammar for Classical Hebrew)? I assume there are a number of changes with Jason’s input, but I haven’t gotten the new grammar.

  • Adam Couturier

    Hello Jay,

    I am not sure how this present incarnation compares with the previous edition. I have yet to actually look at Garrett’s first book (save for 5mins. in the old GCTS bookstore). I will make an addendum to this post, when I get the time to track down that volume.

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