Thursday, July 05, 2012

Book Review:  From Exegesis to Exposition - A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew, by Robert Chisholm.

This is one of the more difficult books I have struggled through recently, but it seems to me quite useful.  The goal is to explain both why knowing Biblical Hebrew is valuable to preparing lessons and sermons along with what the proper procedure is for analyzing Hebrew text and extracting meaning.  The procedure that Chisholm offers is one of painstakingly translating the Hebrew with attention given to every verb form and every idiom.  Each idiom must be compared to all other usages, while a particular verb with a particular form must also be compared with the various usages.  Hebrew has many ways of emphasizing different verbs that don't necessarily come out so well in the English, while certain pronouns are more precise than English and their linkage to other words is more precise due to the grammar.  These and other factors are to be thoroughly tracked down ... before trying to figure out what a passage really means.  My one semester of Hebrew was enough to follow many of the discussions, but somewhat weak for a few of the more advanced topics.

Where this really comes in helpful is that the procedure allows for many similarities to be caught that I would have passed over.  For example, Isaiah 1:2 has "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth ..." in a prophecy regarding Israel's unfaithfulness to the Jewish law and the consequences.  The same sort of expression occurs in Deuteronomy where the law is originally given:  "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth." - Deuteronomy 32:1  This expression is repeated several times in Deuteronomy.  The only way to find these patterns would be to search on "heavens" + "earth" and see what turns up.  This can be done in English, but many of the searches can only be done in Hebrew when we are, for example, looking for all instances of a particular verb in the Hiphil form with a particular type/ending.

A key part of this method is a recognition of what is hyperbole and what is not.  It is important to adhere to attested interpretations as much as possible.  At many points there are subtle disputes among serious students as to the exact meaning of an expression and there is an expectation that the Hebrew student should be able to weigh the relative merits of the arguments.  This is an ambitious goal!

This book is required for the second and third semesters of my Biblical Hebrew sequence.  I am glad to have  finished reading the book before these semesters start, but dread having to do this process, write it out, and then turn it in for a homework assignment.


Delirious said...

I don't envy you the work, but I do envy the ability you will have when you are done!

Looney said...

Hopefully the Lord will help me to complete this task and allow me to do something useful with it!