“Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar: Introduction”

One of the fundamental grammars for Biblical Hebrew is Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. Right now, I am reading it. As I work through it, I’ll be posting some observations about the grammar which I find intriguing.

First, as one of the fundamental grammars to Biblical Hebrew, it contains references going back to the 17th century. Because the 2nd edition of the English edition I am reading was published in 1910, this is not too surprising. Nonetheless, it is fascinating to see references to the scholarship which paved the way for modern biblical scholarship.

Second, in terms of chronology, it assumes quite a bit. For example, in describing the origins of Biblical Hebrew, GKC comments that it began “as early as the time of Moses” (2n). A similar sentiment is expressed concerning the age of Akkadian: “As regards the relative age of the Semitic languages, the oldest literary remains of them are to be found in the Assyrio-Babylonian (cuneiform) inscriptions, with which are to be classed the earliest Hebrew fragments occurring in the old Testament” (1m; bold-font added for emphasis). In both cases, GCK assumes the history reality of characters like Moses and Genesis 1-11. Most current scholarship would not use these chronological markers for explaining the history of biblical scholarship.

Third, GCK briefly introduces poetry, pointing to a metrical scheme for biblical poetry. In my training, though, it is accepted metrical schemes do not play a role in biblical poetry; rather, one of the basic building blocks in parallelism. This is a good reminder that much of what I take for granted as “how things are” in scholarship may not be so 50-100 years from now!

Fourth, concerning grammar and on a similar note to the previous, GKC discusses what makes the grammatical structure of the Semitic family unique, pointing towards how “the verb is restricted to two tense-forms” (1f). Although some still use “tense” to describe the language of Biblical Hebrew, I am convinced that Biblical Hebrew is primarily an aspectual language, tense being secondary.

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