J.A. Hackett, A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Hackett, Jo Ann, A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2010). Pp. xxv+302. Hardcover. US$39.95. ISBN 9781598560282.

Jo Ann Hackett, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas in Austin, has taught Biblical Hebrew for more than thirty years. Her experience and expertise are evident in her 2010 publication: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. This well-produced grammar consists of thirty lessons and correlated exercises. The lessons progress from history (1) and phonology (2–6) into morphology and syntax beginning with pronouns, adjectives, nouns and prepositions (7–11) and concluding with verbs. She concentrates on strong verbs[1] in the Qal (12–18), Niphal (19–20), Hiphil/Hophal (21–22), Piel/Pual (23) and Hitpael (24) before she covers weak verbs (25–28), middle weak stems (29) and geminates (30). The exercises emphasize modern Israeli pronunciation and Hebrew-to-English translation. Most of the translations are non-biblical phrases and sentences, though isolated biblical verses increasingly appear in lessons 13–30.

Hackett organized the lessons to be evenly distributed across a 15-week semester or 10-week term. However, as she qualifies, “Any instructor will find…that the last 6 lessons are more challenging than the first 24, so the ideal division into two or three lessons per week will probably never be followed” (p. xix). I estimate an undergraduate class could complete the grammar within an academic year, and graduate students could finish in a rigorous semester by combining the first six lessons and then proceeding at the recommended pace.

Each lesson is 3–7 pages in length, including its vocabulary and exercises, and resourcefully implements outlined boxes to highlight information and fashion ample white space for easy reading and note taking. Single line boxes contain “information that is interesting for the student to know but not necessary for learning the language,” whereas double line boxes encompass “something that is essential to the language” (p. xix). Hackett frequently specifies students should memorize or be able to recognize boxed material. Confusingly (perhaps typesetting errors), some boxes designated for memorization are single lined[2] as are other critical paradigms such as the nominal inflections (pp. 28 and 32) and the Qal participles (pp. 110–11). Additional boxes incorporating the construct inflections (pp. 50–51) and her effective clues for identifying derived stems (pp. 123–24, 135 and 143) would be helpful.

The vocabulary lists are classified by parts of speech and arranged alphabetically. Entries include English glosses, variant word formations, and appropriate parsing or semantic information. Hackett integrates simple pronunciation exercises into her extended and interwoven lessons on consonants and vowels. In lessons 6–24, she utilizes Gen 22:1–19, which she has divided into short sense units for additional reading practice (Appendix C). Her other exercises entail alphabet, vocabulary and paradigm reproduction; syllable, accent and weak verb recognition; parsing; and an ample amount of Hebrew composition.

Beyond this basic design, the most noteworthy aspects of the grammar relate to Hackett's verb treatments. First, the verb paradigms begin with the first-person forms.[3] Hackett chose this arrangement to avoid the confusion caused by presenting verbs and pronouns in reverse orders and by students' familiarity with first-to-third-person ordering in modern languages (p. xix). However, inverting the pronoun sequence seems to be a more natural resolution given the relative morphological simplicity of the third-person verbal forms.[4]

Second, Hackett proposes alternative terminology for the verb conjugations in an effort to avoid “complete misinformation (‘converted’) or old-fashioned methods… (‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’)” (p. xx). She replaces “perfect” with “suffix conjugation,” “imperfect” with “prefix conjugation” and the various designations for weqatal and wayyiqtol with “və-qatal” and “consecutive preterite.” I am sympathetic to Hackett’s terminology concerns. Nevertheless, I am not persuaded by this mix of historical, descriptive and transliterated terms, nor I am certain that she deviated enough from the traditional nomenclature to accomplish her goal.[5] Furthermore, she preserves the designation “converted perfect” alongside və-qatal after properly characterizing it as incorrect (p. 98).

Third, the prefix conjugation, volitives, and consecutive preterite are presented before the suffix conjugation, və-qatal, infinitives and participles in order “to get to the consecutive preterite as quickly as possible” (p. xx). Within this commendable objective, Hackett associates the imperative with the prefix conjugation two lessons before the other volitive forms, even though subsequent paradigms combine the imperative, jussive and cohortative under the heading “volitives.” Hackett also states: “[The imperative] is formed by removing the preformative from the second-person prefix conjugation forms” (p. 68). While many imperatives appear in this manner, the imperative is more accurately formed by removing the performative from the second-person jussive form.[6]

Finally, Hackett approaches the conjugations functionally rather than analyzing aspect and mood. For example, she indicates the prefix conjugation (i.e., yiqtol) may communicate simple future, ongoing action in any tense, habitual action in any tense, or a modal nuance (p. 66). Hackett's stem analysis is likewise functional in nature. For example, she lists the meaning of the Piel under the categories intensive, transitive, denominative, and unclassified (pp. 142–43). These pragmatic descriptions may be intentional due to the scope of the work and her target audience.

A few potentially desirable topics are absent or receive limited attention. Verb sequences and pausal forms are noted in single line boxes or footnotes.[7] Complete paradigms for the Hophal and Pual are conspicuously unavailable, though these stems are introduced alongside the Hiphil (p. 135) and Piel (p. 143). The grammar also lacks clear guidelines for distinguishing the dagesh types in begadkepat letters.[8]

Hackett has enclosed a supplemental multi-platform CD-ROM with interactive PDF files. The CD-ROM features high quality, cursor-activated recordings of Hackett and Prof. John Huehnergard, for the paradigms, vocabulary and numerous exercises and of Prof. David Levenson for Gen 22. Cleverly, the reading rate gradually increases without becoming too rapid for a novice. Printable versions of the eight appendices and a strategically placed answer key (i.e. it is less accessible than a bound appendix) are also provided.

Appendix A is a fantastic alphabet reference with step-by-step writing guides and transliterations. The second addendum summarizes vowel transliterations under the length categories: short, long, irreducibly long, diphthongs and reduced. Surprisingly, given the vast amount of linguistic and historical information found elsewhere, Hackett does not systematically discuss vowel classes or changes. She sprinkles remarks about vowel changes in relevant lessons, but a more formal discussion would enhance this work. Appendix D comprises two innovative aids for determining the triconsonantal root of a 3ms consecutive preterite. Hackett's excellent introduction to the primary Masoretic accents is expanded in Appendix E. Appendices F and G are English to Hebrew and Hebrew to English glossaries with convenient cross references to the lessons. Lastly, Hackett supplies color-coded charts for the Qal strong verb and some weak verbs. Her coloring system requires elucidation due to its variable application (p. 288), and the supplement would be strengthened significantly by including a complete set of paradigms and by adding an inflection column.

In conclusion, Hackett's work is well-formulated for instructors who want a coherent, deductive introduction to biblical Hebrew grammar to use in a traditional classroom or an online course as well as for first-year students who choose independent learning. Her distinct approaches to key pedagogical issues are worth scholarly consideration, and her articulate descriptions and creative supplements make this book a valuable resource for any library.

Jason Jackson, Asbury Theological Seminary

[1] Hackett integrates guttural and I-alef verbs as strong verb variations since unlike weak verbs every root consonant remains evident. reference

[2] These include the suffixed pronouns (pp. 41 and 43), the Qal prefix and suffix conjugations (pp. 67 and 96) and the absolute forms of the cardinal numbers that modify feminine nouns (p. 136). reference

[3] I am aware of two other grammars that adopt this approach: Russell Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi, Invitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar (Invitation to Theological Studies; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006) and Brian L. Webster, The Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew with CD-ROM (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Despite this inversion, Hackett continues to use the 3ms perfect in the vocabulary lists. reference

[4] I am aware of the following grammars that adopt this approach: John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt, Biblical Hebrew: An Illustrated Introduction and Biblical Hebrew: A Student Grammar (Online: http://ancienthebrewgrammar.wordpress.com/bh-textbook); Mark Futato, Beginning Biblical Hebrew (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2003); Duane A. Garrett and Jason S. DeRouchie, A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009); C. L. Seow, A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (2d ed., Nashville: Abingdon, 1995); and Arthur Walker-Jones, Hebrew for Biblical Interpretation (Atlanta: Society for Biblical Literature, 2003). reference

[5] However, she does accomplish her goal to utilize terms that are currently “part of the scholarly literature” which will certainly enable students to comfortably consult other resources. reference

[6] The Hiphil prefix conjugation (i.e. imperfect) 2ms of שׁלך is תַּשְׁלִיךְ, but the jussive is תַּשְׁלֵךְ and the imperative, which follows, is הַשְׁלֵךְ. reference

[7] For verb sequencing see (pp. 132 n.15, 153, 179, 180 n.30, 191 n.23 and 204 n.9); for pausal forms see (pp. 121 n.12 and 146 n.5). reference

[8] Hackett treats the dagesh lene and dagesh forte on pp. 6 and 21. reference