While the study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in the original language holds a certain general appeal, particularly in Jewish and Christian communities, the time-intensive task of developing a working knowledge of Hebrew can be prohibitively daunting, even for the most interested reader. For this reason, parallel and interlinear editions of the text provide a convenient medium by which the gap between original language and modern reader may be bridged. Hendrickson’s 2003 volume is a welcome addition to the rather limited selection of such publications.
The most popular parallel Hebrew Bible, the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (2nd ed., 2000), is one of several that retain the original order of the books in the Hebrew canon. To my knowledge, prior to the volume under review, the only publication to adopt the Protestant canonical order was Zondervan’s Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament (1987).
The English translation used in the present volume is the King James (Authorized) Version (hereafter, KJV), which is generally considered a relatively good, albeit archaic, rendering of the original. To its additional credit, the KJV utilizes a literary diction that in some ways mirrors that of the original, and in others yields an aesthetic sensibility of its own. Its longstanding association with Christianity notwithstanding, this translation lends itself more effectively to a close examination of the linguistic nuances and subtleties in the Hebrew than do many other English renderings including the NIV, and thus is better suited to a parallel edition.
The Hebrew text used is an adapted version of A. Dotan’s excellent edition of the Leningrad Codex (hereafter, L), also published by Hendrickson (Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia, 2001). The preface of the volume under review includes only an extremely brief discussion of the manuscript itself and the editorial processes applied by Dotan. It seems to me that little would have been lost by extending the two-page preface to perhaps four or five pages, and including a summary of these issues. Instead, I can only direct the reader to the foreword that appears in Dotan’s volume, which is very useful but perhaps more detailed than necessary for the present purpose.
A similar shortcoming in the preface is that it provides no details about the relationship between the KJV and the L. It calls attention to the most pronounced divergences between the two, such as in Joshua 21 and Nehemiah 7, where the English includes verses that, while attested in some Hebrew manuscripts, do not appear in the L. But since it does not address the development of the KJV, it is unclear whence these extra verses come, except for a note at each of the two passages that mentions “a few other manuscripts.” I believe the present volume could benefit from some further discussion of these details. In lieu of this, I direct the reader to articles such as L. J. Greenspoon’s “How the Bible Became the Kynge’s Owne English” (Bible Review, December 2003), and the volumes reviewed therein.
Most importantly, I think that a brief explanation of the Kethiv-Qeri system should have been included in the preface. To the inexperienced reader of the Hebrew text, this system is potentially very confusing.
While it is very brief, however, the preface does provide a concise explanation of various textual points of interest and the ways they are treated in the volume, including such issues as: conflicting versifications in the Hebrew and the English; the treatment of the superscriptions of several psalms as verses in the Hebrew but not in the English; and certain readings in the L that were not adopted in this edition, noted in the text and enumerated in the appendix (which is taken directly from Dotan’s volume).
These things being said, I would like to emphasize the excellence of the volume as a whole. The English and Hebrew fonts are very readable and the layout is both attractive and clean. Dotan’s edition of the Hebrew text rightly includes a wide array of obscure markings, some of which, such as the “inverted nun” that appears in Numbers 10 and Psalm 107, may be unfamiliar to a beginning student of Hebrew; but overall, its crisp simplicity is second to none. Students seeking further information on these symbols may consult outside resources such as Y. Yeivin’s Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah (Scholars Press, 1980).
The book’s visual presentation matches Hendrickson’s most recent reprintings of two other important resources: The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon (1995) and M. Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (2003). These three volumes together make a superb set of reference materials, of which the volume under review may be seen as the centerpiece.