Archive for the ‘Publications’ Category

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April 22, 2015



A Hebrew Bible for reading

February 15, 2015

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.

What Did Hannah Ask For?

June 23, 2011

The Journal of Biblical Literature, which published my note about the phrase זרע אנשים (zera anashim; see my earlier post here) in 1 Sam 1:11, has now published an even shorter note responding to it — by none other than Shalom Paul of the Hebrew University. After Mayer Gruber, now of Ben-Gurion University, he is probably the person second-most responsible for my becoming a scholar and teacher of Bible.

Paul’s note, which sounds critical of my view, in fact confirms it. He emphasizes that the phrase in question is not at all “absurd” (as I characterized it) but is found in Akkadian, Hebrew, and Aramaic with the meaning “human offspring.”

I did not, of course, mean that the phrase was linguistically absurd, but that it was absurd for Hannah to ask for a human child. (As opposed to what, Rosemary’s baby?) The bottom line is that the phrase does not mean “a male child,” as the commentators like to take it, and therefore requires explanation.

It is a great thrill for me to engage in scholarly exchange with the remarkable scholars whose student I once was. And I am glad to remind the scholarly world that — despite the fact that my main focus for the last decade has been my Commentators’ Bible series — I am still primarily a scholar of Bible at heart.

Zera Anashim

September 6, 2010

For those who have always wondered what this strange phrase in 1 Sam 1:11 means, I have just uploaded my new article in JBL that solves the mystery (if you accept my explanation).

You’ll find it on my new page at

I intend to begin posting some entries soon on the topic of Standard Biblical Hebrew vs. Late Biblical Hebrew.