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on 21 August 2012
I've been looking forward to writing a review for this book for some time now because I want to express my gratitude for its existence and recommend it to others. I'm also very pleased to be the first on the UK site to do this.

I have just completed this grammar, having worked through every chapter and every exercise over a period of 10 weeks (though I wasn't working at it constantly, so overall it probably took me 6-8 weeks). I am a theology graduate about to begin a PhD in the gospels and I have taken both Greek and Hebrew to the advanced level in my BA. For my elementary Hebrew course (year 1), we used the Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar by Gary Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt of the same series as this new Aramaic grammar. Van Pelt authored this one.

So, first of all, this grammar, as probably with all Biblical Aramaic grammars, presumes a working knowledge of Biblical Hebrew. Secondly, I am accustomed to the format of this grammar, having been taught from the Hebrew one of the same series. So if you found the Hebrew useful, you will have the same experience here. It follows the same step-by-step breakdown of the language, covering all the elements such as articles, suffixes, pronouns, adjectives, numbers and so on, before tackling the verbal system. The explanations are clear, and if anything (and this was the case with the Hebrew edition), a little long-winded at times. Often I would find something explained many times every time it occurred (such as how a particular weak verb would behave in each stem/conjugation), but then I realised this makes it easier for quick reference - if the explanation is present on each occasion, it means you don't have to hunt for the only place they mentioned it when you are flicking around trying to confirm something.

I would emphasise that the better condition your Hebrew is in, the easier you will find this grammar. I feel I came to this study at the right time, when I had recently spent some time tightening my grip of the Hebrew verbal system and some of the other basic details.

What is Aramaic like? It is very similar to Hebrew (the Biblical variety uses the same script, unlike Syriac, for example). Most of the work is learning the various ways it is similar but also different, such as suffixes and pronouns. The syntax is also generally similar but looser and more free, which can be a little bewildering at times, though practice helps you assemble it all. I downloaded the answer key from their website, so I proceeded through all the exercises by writing my answer and then immediately checking it to find out where I'd gone wrong. It's time-consuming, but I think it's the best way to learn it well.

Why learn Aramaic? I'm learning it partly because I am a completist and I am committed to learning the Biblical languages long term. The idea that there are 269 verses of the Bible (two words of Gen 31:47; Jer 10:11; Dan 2:4b-7:28; Ez 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26) which I am unable to read troubles me profoundly! But the other reason I am learning it is it is necessary for gospels research, as it was likely Jesus' primary language.

It is worth pointing out also that there are many kinds of Aramaic. Biblical Aramaic, as Van Pelt explains, is classified as `Jewish Literary Aramaic'. His grammar is really focused on Biblical Aramaic; thus certain forms which do not appear in the Biblical corpus are not included. A review on the US Amazon site recommended another grammar if you need a broader basis on which to proceed to Targums etc. Perhaps they are correct, but for my part I trusted this author and series, and if I need to expand my knowledge of Aramaic in the future to include other sources, I'm sure I will be able to find the necessary tools.

Vocabulary-wise there are lists at the end of every chapter with 2 sets of exercises (in the Hebrew version of this series a separate workbook is required, which is another improvement with this Aramaic edition). The total amount of vocabulary to memorise is 268 words (of just over 700 occurring in the Aramaic sections of the OT), which are all the words that occur 4 times or more. Van Pelt writes that this will give students access to approximately 91% of the Biblical text without significant recourse to lexicons. A partial Aramaic-English lexicon is provided at the back, but you will need to buy one to proceed with the text itself, which is the only way to truly learn a Biblical language. [You cannot 'know' a Biblical language until you know the text - completing the basic grammar only prepares you to really learn the language. No-one, in my opinion, comes out of year 1 Greek or Hebrew actually `knowing' the language. That can only come from immersion in the text itself, which would ideally follow.]

As for lexicons, the standard is The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: Study Edition, 2 Volumes but this costs about £200. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament is a stripped down version of HALOT, however, and costs about £20 second hand.

One of the outstanding features of this grammar is that Van Pelt also provides the entire Aramaic corpus with his annotations to guide you through. So, having now finished the grammar itself, I am now going to work slowly through the texts. I think that having these texts at the back shows how much Van Pelt cares that the student actually goes on to read the text. I cannot fathom how much work it would take to produce this grammar with all its exercises (based on the Biblical texts), and so to provide a fully annotated text at the end of it as well really underlines this author's dedication.

I am deeply grateful to Miles V. Van Pelt and teachers/authors like him, and to publishers like Zondervan who support them.

A word to everyone else: if you are looking for a grammar with which to learn this language, the chances are that you have already learnt some Hebrew (and usually Greek too), and so you know what it is to learn a Biblical language. Learning a Biblical language, that is, really learning it (very different to learning a live language), is a solitary experience that is 99% your own determination. Even if you have classes twice a week for three years with outstanding tutors (like I did) and can discuss your learning and frustrations with other fellow students, the difference between really learning it and being able simply to pass an exam is how much time you spend alone at a desk or kitchen table doing the work and praying for success.

This is an excellent resource, and if God has given you the vision and the drive, you will succeed with it.

EDIT: I mention that a partial lexicon is provided at the back, but in fact it is a COMPLETE lexicon i.e. it contains of all the words which occur in the Biblical Aramaic corpus, with definitions derived from HALOT.
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on 26 November 2013
great for 1st year students at undergraduate level, you set the pace on this home study course. It is without any doubt beneficial for those who wish to advance there degrees further by reading ancient languages specifically when it is to compliment Theological degrees. A word here. You really need to have advanced beyond 1st year studies in ancient Hebrew to fully grasp this language. However, great study guide and I highly recommend this.
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