Book Reviews

Book Review: Ruth (Adam Howell)

Adam Howell—Assistant Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Boyce College and host of Daily Dose of Hebrew—has written a book to help Hebrew students from becoming “lapsed” Hebrew students. I thoroughly enjoyed Hebrew at Southern, but then other classes came into view, my first son was born, and Hebrew slowly slipped away. The paradigms, the syntactical forms, and many of the rules have floated away. How can I get back into Hebrew without just (or in addition to) looking at my notes? How can I get into a book and know that I understand it? 

Howell has provided …

In the introduction, Howell explains some of his terminology used throughout the book—both what he uses and why—such as the use of “perfect” and “imperfect,” nominal and verbal clauses, and construct packages (or bound nouns). He discusses the Masoretic accent system throughout to help identify syntactical units, “guiding them as they translate potentially confusing word arrangements” (8).

As Howell notes, understanding the disjunctive and conjunctive accents can help students know something as simple as which word in the sentence is the subject (8). He does see at least some exegetical significance  in the accent system, he also acknowledges that the system is neither inspired nor infallible, and so interpretive conclusions must be held with extra caution. 

Unique Features

Howell discusses the Hebrew clause-by-clause, phrase-by-phrase. He explains morphology and verb parsing. Verbs can be troublesome, especially weak verbs. Howell’s discussion continues to remind students on the principles of learning Hebrew verbs. Howell repeats this information throughout the book. Though that can be repetitive if you read straight through the book, he does this so that if you skip around, you don’t miss an earlier discussion. Also, when we learn anything, we need to see it again and again. Another feature is accent phrasing for the purpose of “identifying the major clausal structure [of a passage] according to the accents” (9). (Extra helpful when these sorts of things are confusing, cf. p. 154.) Howell also identifies Masoretic marginal notes, which he includes in certain places within the guide. He also includes footnotes to other grammars, such as Williams’ Hebrew Syntax (3rd ed.), the works on grammar and syntax by Fuller and Choi, Arnold and Choi, and more. 

Here you see that Howell gives both the Hebrew verse (Ruth 3:9) and then the accent phrasing. He sees Ruth 3:9 as being separated into four sections. He then explains each section one at a time, with the first section being at the bottom of this picture. 

Here is a taste of how Howell explains morphology. He doesn’t do this all of the time, but when it is required he takes the time to lay out how צִוַּתָּה is formed. 

Along with Hebrew syntactical details, Howell also gives exegetical gems. In Ruth 2:21, the narrator reminds us that Ruth is a Moabite because he doesn’t want us to forget that fact. Boaz is a kind man showing lovingkindness “to the quintessential ‘least of these'” through obeying the law toward this foreign widow. But Howell backs up and looks at the larger context of redemptive history and writes, “this is the display of lovingkindness that brings us to David (4:18–22) and eventually to Christ (Matt 1:5)” (178). Rather than being neglected because she wasn’t an Israelite, “Yahweh, through Boaz, demonstrated his exceeding kindness to his people,” specifically to Ruth (178). 

Recommended?

This is an awesome work. This is for anyone who has had a year of Hebrew and who wants to go further in syntactical discussions of Biblical Hebrew. Here you have a Hebrew professor sitting right next to you, guiding you through a book of the Bible. Howell lets you know that a specific clause begins with a disjunctive vav and how that shapes the text, or how an adverbial accusative is placed with a preposition and what it implies, or how a certain accent mark works (or should work). This would be brilliant with every book of the Old Testament, though I think such a task would be very difficult (or would at least take a long time). Either way, if you want to either get up to speed on your Hebrew or continue ahead with what you have learned, this is a book you ought to pick up. 

Lagniappe

    • Author: Adam J. Howell
    • Paperback: 318 pages
    • Publisher: Lexham Press (June 1, 2022)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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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