C.L. Seow’s A GRAMMAR FOR BIBLICAL HEBREW

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Jason Hare
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C.L. Seow’s A GRAMMAR FOR BIBLICAL HEBREW

Post by Jason Hare »

Seow, Choon-Leong. (1995). A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Rev. Ed.). Abingdon Press.
This is the book that we used for first-year Hebrew back when I took it in Fall 1999. I had just finished my first year of Greek, for which we used Bill Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek and which I had supplemented with the same author’s Morphology of Biblical Greek. I, therefore, thoroughly enjoyed the attention to detail that Seow pays in his presentation of the various morphological issues in biblical Hebrew. This approach doesn’t work for everyone, but it certainly pushed me to better understand the forms and where they came from.

The systematic presentation drove us from one topic to the next. By the end of that first year, not having spent much time actually reading the text of the Hebrew Bible, I felt that my mind was mush, and I told my professor that I didn’t think I’d enroll for the second year of Hebrew. It was just overwhelming, dealing with binyanim, tenses and suffixes (oh my!). He convinced me to push forward to the second year, in which we would be doing reading as the basis of our studies, and it really paid off.

Only after reading the Hebrew Bible did I realize how profitable that first year had been and how much I had really learned from Seow’s textbook and presentation. I appreciated the book much more after I had become a reader of Hebrew and left the grammar book behind. When I teach Hebrew today, I make sure to include LOADS of text for reading and discussion. That was the real weakness of Seow, but maybe it could be improved upon by focusing more on the texts that he has you translate than on the translation exercises that he made up for drill.

Have you got any experience in using Seow’s textbook? What did you learn from? What do you see as benefits and drawbacks of the system that you learned from?
Jason Hare
Tel Aviv, Israel
The Hebrew Café
יוֹדֵ֣עַ צַ֭דִּיק נֶ֣פֶשׁ בְּהֶמְתּ֑וֹ וְֽרַחֲמֵ֥י רְ֝שָׁעִ֗ים אַכְזָרִֽי׃
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David Colo
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Re: C.L. Seow’s A GRAMMAR FOR BIBLICAL HEBREW

Post by David Colo »

I have a love-hate relationship with Seow’s Grammar. I used it for my first year Hebrew textbook as well. I was not prepared. I don’t think anyone in that class was prepared. Before taking that course, I had purchased and started making my way through Futato’s Beginning Biblical Hebrew. That was very helpful and it made me confident that I could actually learn it. Then when I started going through Seow in class, I felt like my face hit the asphalt. I was spending hours just memorizing grammatical rules and verb conjugations. I got so bogged down that I felt like even if I was learning Hebrew, the whole point was to understand what an actual Hebrew text was saying, but that wasn’t happening. We eventually translated the first two chapters of Jonah (one of the last exercises in the whole book). Even with my head crammed full of grammar, I was not prepared—especially for the second chapter. I could point out all kinds of interesting grammatical things, but had no idea what to do with it! I felt like my first year was a failure. Nowadays, I look back on it and think, wow, that introduced me to things that I had no conception of at the time, but take for granted now. Learning would have been so much more satisfying if I had spent as much time with an actual ancient Hebrew text than endless hours rehearsing how to attach suffixes to nouns or what Masoretic rules to apply for vocalizations.

A few things I wish I had learned from Seow or things I wish Seow did differently...

1. Talk about and show differences between poetry and prose.

2. Just because a verb is wayyitqol doesn’t mean it starts with “and” (something about grammaticalization would’ve been nice to learn since I had not taken a linguistics course before I started).

3. Focus on the consonantal text first (not the Masoretic vocalization).

4. Introduce Qal, Niphal, Piel, Pual, Hiphil, Hophal, and Hithpael, FIRST and what they communicate. Then introduce the Perfect, Imperfect, Imperative, Jussive, Cahortative, Participles, Infinitives, and whatnot, what they communicate, SECOND.

5. Have verbs and nouns from the same root together in the vocab lists... Have similar sounding or similar spelled words together in the vocab lists (for example, have "cloud" and "to answer/reply" next to each other... or have "friend," "shepherd," and "to feed/shepherd" together).

6. Feel free to introduce concepts for the first time from actual biblical texts instead of in a chart (i.e., spend as much time going through an actual text than explaining the ins and outs of a particular grammar subject).

7. Do a better job talking about historical grammar.
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