Book Reviews

Book Review: Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic (Benjamin Noonan)

Benjamin NoonanAssociate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Columbia International University—has written an accessible introduction of the depths of scholarship on Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. One’s exegesis is related to their knowledge of the biblical languages, which which should be informed by scholarship which seeks to understand the Hebrew Bible. But it’s hard for pastors to keep up with the swaths of scholarship. It’s even hard for professors to keep up with it all. In it Noonan introduces students, pastors, professors, and scholars to current issues on the languages and why they are important to know in order to understand the Old Testament. 

Noonan’s goal is to introduce his readers—students, pastors, professors, scholars—to the most important areas of development in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. Noonan writes that, “The advances that have taken place lead us to new insights, enhance our exegesis, and correct misunderstandings” (26). But why is this so important? Noonan continues, “If knowledge of the biblical languages truly is necessary for understanding the Hebrew Bible, then we ignore any advances to our peril, as the history of Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic scholarship confirms” (27).

Linguistics has specific and complicated terminology. In chapter one Noonan clarifies words and concepts so that those of us who aren’t abreast of the vast material can understand have an adequate grasp of it. Then he looks at the history of scholarship—stretching back to the Middle Ages and Medieval Jewish grammarians and lexicographers—and how we got to where we are today (chapter two). Then Noonan moves to lexicography (chapter three), verbal stems (chapter four), tense, aspect, and mood (chapter five), discourse analysis (chapter six), word order (chapter seven), register, dialect, style-shifting, and code-switching (chapter eight), dating Hebrew and Aramaic texts (chapter nine), and teaching and learning the languages (chapter ten).

Noonan introduces a chapter talking about why that topic (such as discourse analysis) is important. Then he clarifies specific terms. With discourse analysis, there must be coherence and cohesion. Coherence is when a text makes sense with how we understand the world. To give an example from Noonan, “If you saw a canoe coming down the street with four flat tires, how many pancakes would it take to cover a doghouse?” That simply doesn’t make sense. It does not cohere. Cohesion is how one part of a text connects to another part. Discourse units are “‘chunks’ of thought,” as “people take in information in chunks” (148).

After this Noonan surveys different approaches, those who practice that approach (as seen in the picture above), and then ends with a brief evaluation of that approach. Next, Noonan surveys Hebrew Bible discourse grammars and commentaries like the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible, the new ZECOT series, and the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series. He ends this (and each) chapter with a section called “The Ways Forward.”

Chapter ten covers methods in teaching and learning the biblical languages. Aside from textbooks, more professors (and authors) are using technology to teach Hebrew (e-workbooks, audio/video supplements, Bible software). How does one teach the languages in way to be understood and remembered? Bible software can be helpful, but it can end up being a hindrance by relying too much on it and by not seeing its limitations. Others are using full immersion into a language or some sort of hybrid method to get their students to read, write, hear, and speak Hebrew. Noonan ends with a 44-page bibliography.

Recommended?

This is a fantastic resource for students, pastors, professors, and scholars. For the student wanting to dive deeper into Hebrew, they will easily be able to get an overview of different theories and whom they should read for further specified study. For the busy pastor who wants to further his Hebrew, Noonan gives an important summary of different “big name” scholars (Holmstedt, van der Merwe, Gentry, Robar, DeRouchie) whom these pastors will probably have heard of without having the necessary time to understand each scholar’s specific approach. For the professor and the scholar, they can read about the plethora of different theories of tense, mood, aspect, word order, etc., and then test them out in their personal study. Though one can critique Noonan (which you can find in other reviews), the issues are small. Noonan has produced a masterful work that will be helpful to anyone who picks it up and devotes their time to it. 

Lagniappe

    • Author: Benjamin J. Noonan
    • Paperback: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan Academic (February 18, 2020)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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