A New Tool for Teaching and Studying Biblical Aramaic

A New Tool for Teaching and Studying Biblical Aramaic

A review of Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook, Hendrickson, 2016, described by the publisher as “an essential tool for everyone who wants to read the Aramaic portions of the Bible with ease, understanding, and enjoyment.”


In 2015 Hendrickson Publishers issued Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: A Reader’s Edition, prepared by Donald R. Vance, George Athas, and Yael Avrahami, a volume for students in which almost every word of the Stuttgartensia is annotated with lexical and grammatical information, albeit using a very awkward and concise grammatical code. Here the material for Biblical Aramaic has been extracted and the annotations converted into a more legible format for this much shorter volume. Rather than trying to explain the format further, a picture of a typical page may suffice.

Note that the 53 forms (not lexemes) that are most frequent are not glossed in the notes but are rather listed in a “Glossary” at the very end of the book. The ubiquitous and multifaceted דִּי is annotated each time, however.

The bulk of the volume, however, is made up of 63 “Vocabulary and Morphology Lists” prepared by Jonathan G. Kline. These are divided into Frequency Lists, Parts of Speech, Verbs by Stem, Verbs by Root Type, Verbs by Frequency of Attested Form and Number of Stems, Pronominal Suffixes, Easily Confused Words, and Loanwords.

There is obviously a lot of material here and one may quibble about this or that detail, especially concerning the usefulness of the annotations for students. For example, as seen in the above, at Dan 3:15 the expression בַּהּ־שַׁעֲתָה is not explained but rather simply annotated as two separate words. In the lexical lists I would have preferred to see verbs glossed as, e.g. “to bring” rather than simply “bring”. There are no paradigms, rather the student is expected to deduce them from the attested forms in the lists, a process that might prove more difficult than the authors hope.

I have never been a fan of word by word annotated biblical texts for students. To be sure, if the instructor demands that students come to class ready to recite everything in those annotations without looking at them, some learning is sure to be achieved. But at best, that is all. If the students have to go to the lexicon, however, to identify a difficult form in the first place, to learn the various usages of the lexeme and follow its usage across multiple biblical texts, the amount of learning is magnified exponentially. Of course, it depends on what the instructor is trying to achieve.

Nonetheless, this volume can probably serve as an adequate introduction to Biblical Aramaic for students of Biblical Hebrew, and will surely be helpful for former seminary students and scholars in other fields who wish to refresh their knowledge. The question I would like to consider here, however, is whether this volume constitutes a solid foundataion for those who wish to move on to a greater breadth of Aramaic studies. I believe it can if used as a resource and not just as a prop. All of the most common vocabulary should be mastered and the lists used for extracting grammatical principles in a systematic way under the guidance of an instructor or a plan. In any case, the authors are to be thanked for providing what should serve as a useful new resource and introduction to Biblical Aramaic studies.

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