A Hebrew Bible for reading

I’m always encouraging my students (and other friends who are interested in learning) to get a Bible that’s readable.  My hope is that they’ll go on what I used to call “The Ten-Minute-a-Day Plan” — just reading Bible, in the original Hebrew, for at least 10 minutes a day, not stopping to look anything up or figure anything out, but just reading.

One great way to do that now is via the new Israel-based 929 project, which I discussed in a previous post.  That’s certainly a good idea, but it doesn’t help you understand what you’re reading.  I’ve been recommending one of two Bibles for regular daily reading:

(1) One choice is the deservedly popular Koren edition, using the much-praised and beautifully readable typeface designed by Eliahu Koren.  Since it’s an all-Hebrew text, the thing to do is keep an English Bible handy (or use Koren’s own Hebrew-English edition).  There’s a Hebrew-English edition of the JPS Tanakh as well, but I find the JPS Hebrew typeface not as reader-friendly as I wish it were.  And the English translation, though very well done, is too free to be useful as a “pony” for students.

(2) Another choice is the Reader’s Hebrew Bible produced by Zondervan.  The benefit here (as you can see by looking at the sample) is that you simply glance down to the bottom of the page when you encounter a word you don’t know.  Proper names are grayed out to keep innocent readers from a pointless chase after the meaning of something that isn’t actually a word to begin with.  This option — also quite readable despite the interfering numbers pointing you to the glosses — falls in between the Koren Bible by itself and the Koren with translation.  It assumes you already know or will quickly learn the most common Hebrew words plus basic morphology.  It’s strictly a vocabulary aid.

Now there’s a third choice: BHS: A Reader’s Edition, edited by Donald A. VanceGeorge Athas, and Yael Avrahami.  (That link is the only place I was able to find a picture of what it looks like inside; find it here on Amazon.)  I don’t know anything about Vance or Athas, but I’m friendly with Yael Avrahami, who cited some of my work in her book The Senses of Scripture.  So I wish I were happier with this book than I am.

The font is beautifully readable, and the marks indicating that there’s a note are much less intrusive than in the Zondervan book.  But some other, basic aspects of the book are extremely disappointing:

•  One has to go to the notes at the bottom to find out that a word is a GN (geographical name), PN (personal name), or DN (deity name).  Perhaps they thought it would be cheating to adopt the same “grayed-out” feature as the Zondervan edition.  This does give the reader more information, but at a cost of speed.

•  A great many words — all words that occur fewer than 70 times, plus every occurrence of a weak verb, no matter how common — are parsed at the bottom of the page.  There are over 10,000 of these parsings (according to the introduction), so to save space they all, most unfortunately, are given in code.  E.g., tDr25, which means “Hitpael converted perfect/perfect consecutive 3rd common plural.”  These codes “work,” but they are completely unintuitive, and they go a long way to making the notes at the bottom of the page so much harder to read that it almost defeats the purpose.  I’d rather my students understood the parsing on their own.  It’s not that hard to learn, especially if (as in the Zondervan RHB) the root and binyan of difficult words are given.

•  The notes of BHS are missing!  Students most certainly don’t need the Masoretic marginal notes that clutter the BHS page, but — at least after their very first year of Hebrew at the most — they do need the notes at the bottom of the page that point to difficulties in the text.  What exactly makes this Bible a “BHS” if those notes are missing?  The differences in the Hebrew text between BHS and other editions are not really important for beginning students.

•  This sucker is big.  It is ¾” fatter and half a pound heavier than the Zondervan book.  And trust me, that’s one heavy half a pound.

I ask my Penn students to buy BHS, since they will certainly want it at least for the second year of Biblical Hebrew.  I also encourage them to buy a more readable Bible to train themselves how to read comfortably, which one or two of them do.  I was hoping this “Reader’s Edition” of BHS would let me offer my students both features in a single package, but as it is I can’t really recommend it to them.  Please, friends …

– keep the beautiful font and the unobtrusive note markers;

– junk the ugly parsing;

– use “Bible paper” if you have to;

– and put back the BHS notes!

See now this review.

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One Response to “A Hebrew Bible for reading”

  1. George Athas Says:

    You’re not the first person to complain about the code. However, if we didn’t employ the code, the book would have been even bigger than it currently is (by at least 30%). The Hebrew Bible isn’t exactly small! It would have been too unwieldy. The first printing lacked the small bookmark ‘insert’ explaining the code, but that insert should be in subsequent printings. In the meantime, it can be downloaded on the Hendrickson page (my blog has a link to it). Finally, retaining the text critical apparatus would have made the book at least double the size. It also would have meant that you would have very little actual Hebrew text on each page. That wouldn’t really promote reading. So some things had to give. We can’t have a BHS (which refers to the Hebrew text, not the text critical apparatus) with a reading apparatus that does not use a parsing code, but which has the text critical apparatus, and yet is still the same size as the traditional BHS. It’s impossible! If it were possible, we would’ve produced it. Compromise had to come somewhere.

    What we’ve endeavoured to achieve is a one-stop *reading* Hebrew Bible shop that promotes Hebrew reading (not text critical analysis), but which could still be used in a single volume. Get the insert, and I think you’ll like it a bit better. Cheers!

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