- Linguistic Analysis of Biblical Hebrew
Sue Groom's monograph,1 a revision of her master's thesis completed at the Open University of the United Kingdom,2 is designed to provide "a well-informed and critical, but also accessible, introduction to the use of linguistics methods, especially the most recent ones, for the study of the text of the Old Testament" (Graham Davies, in the foreword, p. ix). In the main, the author succeeds at her task, though regrettably, in this reviewer's opinion, the book does not live up to its full potential. Moreover, as we will see below, there are many errors and typographical mistakes (especially when Hebrew font is employed) which unfortunately mar the presentation of her prose.
But before moving to these areas of concern, let me first describe the book's contents and note the manner in which the work does succeed. Groom begins with a nine-page introduction on the "basic hermeneutical model" of "author-text-reader." She presents such divergent views as Gadamer's focus on the reader's historical and social context and Hirsch's emphasis on authorial intent, and she then relates these approaches specifically to the enterprise of biblical studies. These pages comprise a fine entree into the subject, though this reviewer questions their placement at the very beginning of the book. I would have preferred arriving at this topic towards the end of the book, in part 3, "Modern Linguistic Methods." In its present position, the introduction devoted to the hermeneutics of reading sets a tone for the book, which on the one hand remains with the reader throughout, and on the other hand does not impact fully on the following treatments.
The bulk of the book is divided into three parts, each of which is in turn divided into different chapters: part 1, "Preliminary Issues" (with chapters 1-3, "The Data," "The Masoretic Text," and "The Nature of [End Page e1] Biblical Hebrew"); part 2, "Form and Meaning" (with chapters 4-5, "Comparative Philology" and "Versions"); and part 3, "Modern Linguistic Methods" (with chapters 6-7, "Lexical Semantics" and "Text Linguistics"). A conclusion and bibliography round out the book.
In general, all these topics are presented in a very clear and succinct manner. Groom typically presents the topic first from the perspective of general linguistics and then turns to applying these findings to the specific subject of Biblical Hebrew (see, for example, my summary of the introduction above). As will become apparent from my remarks below, she utilizes Judges 4 throughout to illustrate points raised. In addition, the influence of James Barr is seen at every turn. The book is at once both a fine introduction to place in the hands of students desiring to know more about ancient Hebrew, and a volume which even seasoned scholars will wish to consult for surveys and analyses of particular subjects.
From the following assorted comments, the reader will gain an idea of many of the topics covered in this book. More importantly, it is my hope that these remarks will improve the reader's use of this volume and/or serve the author should she contemplate a revised edition.
•. It is odd to find the statement "Other scholars have concentrated on detailed study of LBH" [=Late Biblical Hebrew], supported by a footnote which refers to R. Polzin's Late Biblical Hebrew (1976), but not to A. Hurvitz, whose lifelong research has been specifically in this area (pp. 12-13, with n. 45).
•. On pages 13, 15, Groom sets the date of 200 C.E. for the end of Mishnaic Hebrew (MH) as a spoken language. Most scholars, I believe, would set that date later; and indeed the Academy of the Hebrew Language uses 300 C.E. as its marker.
•. On pages 13-14 Groom notes, correctly, that BH and MH occasionally use different terms for body parts, "which would be expected to remain reasonably constant in any language." For both the novice Hebrew student and for the scholar of the Bible who may know less about MH, a few...