Beginning Hebrew Grammars: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew
A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. Jo Ann Hackett. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010. ISBN 9781598560282
Jo Ann Hackett’s A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew is a clearly written and fresh one semester Biblical Hebrew grammar, updating and improving traditional teaching methods with some original contributions. Hackett’s grammar is deductive, but it is organized intuitively and so has many of the advantages of the inductive approach. Hackett avoids overwhelming the student with technicalities but teaches traditionally advanced concepts when they aid comprehension. Two unique features of the grammar are Hackett’s term for the wayyiqtol form (consecutive preterite) and the presentation of verb paradigms starting with first person forms instead of third person forms. The grammar includes helpful appendices and a CD-ROM with audio pronunciations of Hebrew words.
Jo Ann Hackett’s A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew is an outstanding addition to the range of introductory Hebrew grammars. Clearly and concisely written, it approaches teaching Biblical Hebrew from an original (if, at times, idiosyncratic) angle, updating and improving traditional methods.
Hackett’s grammar is designed for one semester (10 or 15 weeks, three or two lessons per week). Reading mechanics are covered in the first six chapters, nouns, pronouns and adjectives in chapters seven through eleven, and verbs from chapter twelve on. Other parts of speech are scattered throughout the book. The fact that the mechanics of reading and pronunciation occupy the first six chapters means that, if the schedule of two to three lessons per week were rigidly kept, this would take up two to three weeks, which seems excessive. But as Hackett predicts in her introduction, instructors will likely want to cover more ground early on in order to make time for more difficult lessons later in the semester.
Verbs are introduced two-fifths of the way through. The problem is that the later the translation and creation of full sentences is delayed, the longer the student lacks the full advantage of inductive learning. The ideal grammar has the advantages of both deductive and inductive teaching methods: clear categories and structure so the student has a place to put the data mentally, and realistic translation situations as soon as possible, since retention and comprehension are best facilitated through application. This being said, the delay of the introduction of verbs in Hackett’s grammar is less serious than it initially appears for two reasons. First, as mentioned, teachers will likely choose to cover the first several lessons more rapidly than later lessons. Second, the Hebrew noun system is relatively simple, and full sentences are possible using only nouns. Because of this, Hackett’s grammar manages to teach the material as intuitively as possible for a deductive grammar while avoiding the pitfalls of an inductive grammar like that of Kittel, Hoffer, and Wright, which fails to provide a mental structure (i.e. paradigms) until relatively late in the book.
Hackett avoids overwhelming the student with technicalities but does not shy away from teaching traditionally advanced concepts when they aid comprehension. When a rule has exceptions, Hackett notes this in the text teaching the rule and then relates the exception(s) in a footnote. This arrangement is advantageous in that the text is not bogged down with minutiae, but the student also is not left in the dark concerning something for which standard Hebrew pedagogy has no systematic means of teaching outside of an introductory grammar. Students of Hackett’s grammar will be well prepared for more advanced discussion afterward, and will not be left constantly wondering whether a rule applies in a particular case. Knowing the exception ahead of time allows the rule to function as a genuine rule.
Hackett often chooses morphologically descriptive terms, like “prefix conjugation” instead of syntactic terms, like “imperfect.” At times, her terminology is unique. For example, her name for the wayyiqtol form, often called converted imperfect or imperfect consecutive (both of which Hebraists consider inaccurate, but which stubbornly persist in introductory grammars anyway), is “consecutive preterite”: “consecutive” because of the presence of a prefixed waw (with an aside to the student about the history of the form), and “preterite” for the form’s aspect/tense. Hackett confesses this uniqueness to the student and explains its reason. One can only hope that other Hebrew instructors will follow her lead.
Another area where Hackett is unique with a good reason is in the presentation of verbal paradigms. The standard way of presenting the Hebrew verb is in the order third, second, and first person forms, singular then plural. Instead, Hackett presents verbs in the order first, second, third person to more closely approximate the way other languages are learned. Furthermore, all charts are presented in a right-to-left direction to coincide with the direction of Hebrew reading. The only disadvantage to this organization is its lack of cross-compatibility with other grammatical tools, which universally present third person first. However, its benefit for students learning Hebrew may outweigh any drawbacks.
The grammar contains eight appendices, including the standard paradigm lists and glossaries, as well as the text of Genesis 22:1-19 (used at several points in the grammar) and a set guidelines to aid in the identification of weak roots. Also included is a CD-ROM that contains, among other things, the answers to the exercises, vocabulary lists, and audio pronunciation of Hebrew words. The value of the CD-ROM is not to be underestimated.
It is clear that this grammar was written by someone who is well acquainted with the specific problems of teaching and learning Biblical Hebrew. From its organization to its up-to-date and even original terminology, Hackett’s A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew is a very welcome addition to the market of introductory Hebrew grammars.
- CD-ROM with answers to the exercises, vocabulary lists, and audio pronunciation of Hebrew words
- Flexible, 30 chapter structure
- Does not burden beginning students with a great deal of technical information – focus is on getting students comfortable with the language as quickly and easily as possible
- Fundamentally deductive approach that lends itself to inductive methods relatively early on
- Clean, uncluttered graphic design is readable and inviting, not intimidating
- Lots of useful exercises in each chapter – the book is designed with the teacher AND the student in mind
- Some idiosyncrasies in terminology
- Sometimes the content is not evenly distributed: the grammar takes five chapters to cover the alphabet
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A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew–Book and CD-ROM