Beyond Babel: A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages

Article excerpt

Beyond Babel: A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages. Edited by John Kaltner and Steven L. McKenzie. Resources for Biblical Study 42. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002, xiii + 241 pp., $29.95 paper.

Notwithstanding a few critical issues of concern to evangelicals, Beyond Babel: A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages will certainly be regarded as a most welcome supplementary textbook by Biblical Hebrew teachers and students alike. The stated purpose is to provide "a general orientation to the languages of importance for the study of the Hebrew Bible for readers who have not had detailed exposure to those languages" (p. vii). Ostensibly, the book targets students just beginning their academic career in the Hebrew Bible. Kaltner and McKenzie do admit that a familiarity with Biblical Hebrew is presupposed; but in reality, this is not a text to offer first-year students as recommended reading. The orthographical, morphological, and syntactical features presented for each language in Beyond Babel is more suitable to what I have elsewhere called Level Three proficiency: students possessing a working knowledge of basic Hebrew grammatical principles with an ability to recognize forms, roots, parts of speech, and syntactical relationships (cf. "Some Knowledge of Hebrew Possible to All," Faith & Mission 13 [1995] 108).

The languages or language groups examined in Beyond Babel (Akkadian; Ammonite, Edomite, and Moabite; Arabic; Aramaic; Egyptian; Hebrew !Biblical, Epigraphic, and Post Biblical!; Hittite; Phoenician; and Ugaritic) are considered by Kaltner and McKenzie to be the most significant "for purposes of comparative grammar and lexicography or for comparative history and literature, or both" (p. vii). Sumerian, Syriac, and Greek are not included. The editors suggest Syriac and Greek might hopefully be included in a companion volume on the NT. Unfortunately, Sumerian, on the other hand, might make the cut only if the volume goes into a second edition.

The chapters are written by scholars with proven track records of publishing in each language. John Huehnergard was tapped to write the first chapter, an introduction to the comparative study of Near Eastern languages in general, including issues relating to the Semitic language family, scripts and transliteration, historical linguistics, and common features. For the rest of the book Kaltner and McKenzie lay out a three-part format. Each chapter is to provide an overview of the language, its significance for the study of the Bible, and a review of the ancient sources of the language and its literature as well as the appropriate modern resources employed in its study. …