Chapter I in “Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar”

The subtitle of Chapter I is “Elementary Principles or the Sounds and Characters”. To no surprise, it is very dense. Nonetheless, the density of data is counterbalanced by very thorough and technical discussions of the descriptions. For example, in the discussion of the ayin and aleph, Gesenius (6e) points to the various ways in which the LXX transliterated gutterals, along with Arabic pronunciation. In doing so, he effectively demonstrates how he, along with other scholars, determine the strength of vowels, how the Hebrew alphabet works, and other similar things. In other words, Gesenius deals with information in a manner which doesn’t merely present “facts”; rather, he attempts to provide multiple examples for any grammatical, phonological, or syntactical claim.

Moreoever, his discussion of vowels, especially that of the waw and yod with their respective phonological shifts (such as au to a o with and ai to e), is laid out very clearly. As far as I am aware, professors do not typically assign Gesenius as a grammar. And while I surely don’t think an entire class should use Gesenius as a first year grammar, providing excerpts of some of his explanations may help some students. I, for example, don’t do well with memorizing raw data; however, once I understand how something functions and why it functions as such, I tend to hold onto the information much better. Explaining how something functions and why something functions as such is precisely what Gesenius, along with subsequent editors, do. Therefore, Gesenius can be a helpful tool for teaching, at least when used judiciously.

Furthermore, one particular point by Gesenius  makes me want the more conscious of the letters used at the beginning of lines in poetry. In section 5h, Gesenius notes that “The sequence of the three softest labial, palatial, and dental sounds… and of the three liquids… indicates an attempt at classification.” Although I am not necessarily convinced by this statement, or any of the evidence referenced, it would be productive to consider the phonological value of consonants and how they functions within the Hebrew Bible, especially within poetic texts. Though I don’t know what sort of results this may yield, it would be an interesting feature to investigate when present. It could be aided by the basic divisions between gutterals, palatals, denials, labials, sibilants, and sonants (section 6o).

In conclusion, if you are a 2nd year Hebrew student or later, just go and read Gesenius’ Hebrew grammar right now. If you don’t want to, at least consult it to find clarification on particularly confusing phonological matters.



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