Learn Biblical Hebrew
Van Dyke Parunak, H., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Learn Biblical Hebrew. By John H. Dobson. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1999, 310 pp. and audio tape, $33.50.
The methods of language pedagogy typically depend on whether the language is classical or modern. Classical languages (e.g. Latin, Koine Greek, Biblical Hebrew) have no living native speakers. Their introductory grammars typically emphasize rote memorization of paradigms and extensive translation exercises, and prepare the student to read ancient texts. Modern languages are intended to be spoken, not just read and written. Their texts emphasize the social context of language (e.g. a French grammar might have a chapter entitled, "Taking the train to Paris"), and make extensive use of spoken drills, either with a teacher or in a language laboratory. Dobson's introduction to Biblical Hebrew (BH) approaches a classical language as though it were modern. Dobson fully appreciates the significant differences between BH and Modern Hebrew, but he also appreciates that language is intrinsically behavioral rather than visual. He instructs students to review each lesson with the accompanying audio tape, which contains the exercises read aloud in a pronunciation close to Israeli Hebrew but with distinctions between long and short vowels that the modern language has lost. So strong is the aural emphasis that students are urged to work through the entire book before attempting to write Hebrew. The book is rich in mnemonic hints, such as miming words, singing along with songs on the tape, learning and using simple greetings and other interactions with fellow-- students, sketching pictures to illustrate Hebrew phrases and sentences, and acting out a sentence while speaking it aloud.
The emphasis is not on decoding each sentence fully before moving to the next, but rather on trying to capture the gist of the text, using the parallel English translation given alongside each selection, and on moving quickly through the first thirteen chapters to build a broad overview of the language before delving into details. …