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Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide Paperback – 21 Sep 2012
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About the Author
Miles Van Pelt (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, where he also serves as Academic Dean. Miles lives in Madison, Mississippi, with his wife, Laurie, and their four children.
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I am currently taking Hebrew under Miles Van Pelt, and my only disappointment is that this book came out at the end of my time in Hebrew rather than before. Each day after class, Miles gives a specific summary of everything he wants his students to remember when the test is taken the next day. I would write all of these things down and then end up printing out the chart containing all of the necessary information from the CD-Rom that is included with the BBH Grammar and Charts books. Then this book came out and I was embittered because each chapter in the Compact Guide contains all the essentials for each subject from the Grammar. What I would do during Van Pelt's lectures is highlight the most important things that I needed to remember in order to pass the quiz the next day. Then to review, I'd comb back through and read the things I underlined. This book contains all of it. And because it's pocket-sized, you can carry it around with you and review.
This book will not help you learn Hebrew for the first time, but it is perfect for those in the process of already learning, reviewing, and refeshing themselves on their Biblical Hebrew. It's biggest strength is the convenience of having all the unnecessary stuff burned off and the essential information distilled into its purest form. Although there are disadvantages to keeping things compact, as far as I've been able to tell, nothing that Van Pelt considers to be of highest importance has been left out, and so you can be sure that this is a good purchase for most people dealing with the original languages (unless you're some sort of weird Hebrew savant).
I am now taking Hebrew Exegesis with Miles, and this book goes with me EVERY DAY to class and is always with me while I'm working on my translations. Besides being a topical journey through the language, the book includes a set of verb paradigms and charts as well as a brief and simplified lexicon in the back of the book. This sure beats lugging around the oversized grammar with you while you're on the go.
If you are involved with Biblical Hebrew you MUST buy this guide, it is worth many times its price.
There seem to be more resources available to students of Biblical Greek than to students of Biblical Hebrew. For example, while there is just one (excellent!) "Reader's" Hebrew Bible (uncommon vocabulary is glossed at the bottom of the page), I am aware of at least three Reader's Bibles that exist for the Greek New Testament. So Miles Van Pelt's Compact Guide, based on his and Gary Pratico's Basics of Biblical Hebrew, is a welcome addition as far as this eager Hebrew student is concerned.
The book is not terribly dissimilar from Pratico/Van Pelt's Charts of Biblical Hebrew, but unlike that work, A Compact Guide is more than just a collection of charts and paradigms. Each section includes a distillation of what is in the larger grammar textbook, followed by paradigms and charts for quick reference. Seeing Van Pelt's world-famous color-coded verbal diagnostics is a highlight.
Oddly enough, at times there seems to be more precision and detail in this little book than in the larger grammar. Or perhaps it's just more nuance or smoother grouping of material that has come about with the passage of time since the publishing of the grammar's second edition. For example, there is a section in the Compact Guide on "particles" that is a unique and clearer grouping than what is in the larger grammar. And whereas the grammar lists three kinds of Hebrew prepositions (independent, Maqqef, and inseparable), the Compact Guide adds a fourth: compound prepositions, where "two different prepositions, or a preposition and a noun" (28) combine to make a new preposition. (This fourth category appeared in the larger textbook later in its chapter as "Advanced Information"; having everything grouped together in the Compact Guide was easier.)
The primary focus of the guide is morphology (how words are formed, including paradigm charts) and syntax (how words are used in sentences, i.e., grammar). Unlike Basics of Biblical Hebrew there is not much in the Compact Guide by way of vocabulary, save for a Hebrew-English mini-lexicon at the back of the book. Unfortunately, there was no introduction or explanatory note as to what constituted inclusion on the lexicon. (In Mounce's Greek Compact Guide, the lexicon notes that it includes words that occur in the New Testament 10 times or more.)
From what I can tell, though, the Hebrew Compact Guide reproduces exactly the Hebrew-English lexicon in its larger textbook counterpart. In this case, the lexicon covers Hebrew words that occur 50 times or more in the biblical text. The Basics of Biblical Hebrew lexicon notes that it also adds "less frequently occurring words that appear in the grammar and workbook."
In addition to a thorough listing of paradigms (the 11-page section on pronominal suffixes is particularly helpful), the book is filled with examples from the Hebrew Bible (with English translation). The Hebrew font used, while not quite as easy to read as that of the grammar, is readable enough. (And that may just be a matter of personal preference anyway.)
The section on verbs is a particular strength of this work-in addition to examining all the forms and stems (both strong and weak), there are extensive listings of paradigms for easy review.
All in all, I give a hearty two thumbs up to this work-and express my gratitude that it is now on the scene for those who want to keep their Biblical Hebrew fresh! For a beginner in Biblical Hebrew I would recommend the full-length grammar textbook, but for those with even a semester or two of Hebrew (and beyond), this small reference guide will be a valuable and inexpensive addition to their library. As Van Pelt notes in his preface, even "veterans" of Hebrew will be able to utlize the guide to "keep fit" in their language use.
Icing on the cake: the pocket-sized paperback comes encased in a sturdy, translucent plastic cover.
Note: I received a review copy from Zondervan for the purposes of this review.
Well, it came yesterday and I could be more pleased. It is a wonderful book. Its binding is sturdy, as a handbook should be. It has a nice clear soft plastic sheath that keeps it protected. It can easily fit in a back pocket and it is filled with well-organized information helpful information on every important aspect of Hebrew grammar that a beginner or "relearner" could need. I could not be happier with this book. I only wish I had something like this while I was learning Hebrew 20 some years ago. This book will be my constant companion and friend as I begin the arduous task or relearning Hebrew.