by J. David Pleins with Jonathan Homrighausen, adapted from their new book Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories: A Student’s Guide to Nouns in the Old Testament.
A command of Hebrew vocabulary is the essential key to an enjoyable encounter with sacred Scripture. Yet beginners who master the basics soon realize that their limited word stock stands in the way of fluid reading and an intuitive grasp of the biblical text. What should be enjoyable exercises in reading Scripture, unmediated by translation, become tedious page-flipping exercises through lexicons.
No one tool provides the answer to this frustration. The eager student needs many vocabulary-building resources: Biblical Hebrew word frequency books, Hebrew-English lexicons, a copy of A Reader’s Hebrew Bible with marginal glosses, flash cards, and perhaps a biblical vocabulary app or two.
What makes Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories (BHBCC) unique among all these resources is that words are grouped into logical categories. This approach is crucial because the mind constructs its mental space for language by making connections between words. Without these associations, vocabulary building is reduced to rote memorization that all too often becomes an exercise in futility.
Unfortunately, until this book was compiled there was no handy reference that brought together all the Hebrew words for items such as gems, trees, birds, weapons, idols, storms, and the like. To be sure, there are a few volumes that cover specific word groups, such as the plants or animals of the Bible, but these books are often limited in scope, cumbersome to use, expensive, and usually only available to those who have access to a specialized theological library. The student requires a more comprehensive and user-friendly resource.
At last, in one place, are gathered the words for the body’s anatomy, soldiers, ships, musical instruments, celestial phenomena, and more.
Students who become familiar with the various lists in this book will find large tracts of Scripture open to them. This is the case not merely for the more popular biblical narratives but also for texts that at first blush seem more advanced. A student who tackles the worship and cultic terms gathered here, for example, will learn to appreciate the rhythm and poetic sensibilities of a book such as Leviticus. Too often such biblical texts remain closed worlds for students of Biblical Hebrew. It is hoped that this book will encourage the student to tackle the whole of Scripture and not merely favorite passages.
To this end, it is also recommended that students listen to the biblical text read aloud by a professional reader. (The website haktuvim.co.il is a marvelous resource in this regard.) By treating biblical vocabulary in this immersive fashion, readers will find their reading of the Hebrew Bible to be a much more rewarding and enriching experience, stimulating the mind and nourishing the heart.
Bonus Section: Sample “Cluster Verses” for Study
Reading biblical vocabulary in contexts that are particularly revealing of a word’s meaning can be quite helpful for memorization. We offer here a list of some of the more useful passages for this purpose.
Cluster verses are individual verses or passages that contain several words from one category or subcategory. These cluster verses enable you to learn words in context:
I. The Created Order
- Heavens and Earth: Gen 22:17; Deut 28:12, 32:22; Judg 5:4; 1 Sam 13:6; 2 Kgs 23:5; Ps 18:7 – 16, 29:7 – 9, 77:16 – 19, 83:13 – 15, 104:3, 135:7; Prov 8:24 – 29; Job 38:22; Isa 29:6, 51:13 – 15; Jer 10:13, 17:6, 51:16; Ezek 38:20 – 22
- Stars: Job 9:9; Amos 5:8
- Earth: Isa 40:4
- Rain/Storm: Deut 32:2; Ps 65:10 – 11
- Water: Exod 15:8; Ezek 31:4
- Time: Gen 7:11, 8:22; 1 Kgs 6:1, 6:37 – 38
II. The Human Order
- Human: Lev 21:13 – 14
- Human Anatomy: Lev 13; Song 4:1 – 5
- Disease, Mortality, and Disability: Lev 13, 21:18 – 21, 26:16; Num 5:2; Deut 15:21
- Disabilities: Exod 4:11; Lev 19:14; Deut 23:1, 28:28; 2 Sam 5:8
III. The Social Order
- Immediate Family: Lev 18:6 – 18
- Worship/Cultic: 1 Kgs 7
- Ark of the Covenant: Exod 25:10 – 22
- Vow: Num 30:5
- Idolatry: Lev 26:1
- Divination: Exod 28:30; Deut 18:10; 1 Sam 28:3
- Law and Covenant: Gen 20:5, 31:36; Exod 23:6 – 7; Lev 5:1, 19:15; Deut 16:18 – 20, 19:15 – 19, 25:1 – 2; 1 Sam 24:15; 2 Sam 15:4
[Editor’s note: The full cluster verse lists in BHBCC are much longer than the samples above. These brief samples are here just to give you a taste of how cluster verses will assist you in your study.]
— J. David Pleins with Jonathan Homrighausen, adapted from their new book Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories: A Student’s Guide to Nouns in the Old Testament
How To Use This Book
This book is for new and advanced students of biblical Hebrew, and for any serious reader seeking deeper engagement with the Hebrew Bible.
Why study language by conceptual categories? Since our minds acquire and recall language by making associations between related words, this book takes advantage of how our brains learn.
This book will get you beyond rote memorization to a more dynamic grasp of Hebrew vocabulary, ultimately equipping you to read with more fluidity and with a deeper and more intuitive grasp of the biblical text.
Order your copy of Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories today!
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Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary