Review of Keep Up Your Biblical Hebrew in Two Minutes a Day, Volume 1 by Jonathan G. Kline

July 16, 2018

Kline, Jonathan G. Keep Up Your Biblical Hebrew in Two Minutes a Day, Volume 1.

Hendrickson: Peabody, MA. 2017, 370pp. $39.95.

keep-you-hebrew

In Hendrickson’s 2 Minutes a Day Biblical Language Series, Jonathan Kline has compiled and edited one year’s worth of readings in the original biblical languages.  Kline received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, and is the author of several key Hebrew resources, including his contribution to Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: A Reader’s Edition, and Allusive Soundplay in the Hebrew Bible.  Kline is currently the academic editor for Hendrickson Publishers in Peabody, MA.

In this volume, Kline provides biblical Hebrew verses “to help you build on your previous study of Hebrew by reading a small amount of the Hebrew Bible in its original language every day in an easy, manageable, and spiritually enriching way” (p. vii).  To that end, Kline has produced a resource that many will find most helpful as a guide for short daily readings in the Hebrew Bible.

The book begins with a preface describing the goal of the book as well as how best to use it.  In this preface, one finds the pertinent information for making the most of this work.  Kline discusses first the format of each reading.  Each day’s reading includes the verse in English with a few Hebrew words in parenthesis following their corresponding English word.  Kline points out that for those who may only have 10 seconds to 1 minute of the day to use this resource, reading the English translation alone may be helpful for learning and retaining some basic vocabulary by seeing these parenthetical Hebrew words (p. viii).  One caveat to mention here is that these English translations come from a variety of contemporary English translations (CSB, NASB, NRSV, MLB, ESV, NIV, etc.) that may or may not best capture the Hebrew in a way that lends itself toward learning the Hebrew language.

The next element on each day’s page is the vocabulary apparatus.  In this apparatus, Kline lists one new word, and he includes its number of occurrences as well as the key number in Strong’s Concordance.  In addition to the new word, Kline lists two additional “review” words that have occurred in previous readings.  In doing so, Kline argues that one will be regularly reviewing the vocabulary and “enabling you to build a robust vocabulary base” (p. vii, see also pp. ix-x for creative ways to use the vocabulary apparatus).

The third major element included with each day’s reading is the Hebrew text.  Within the Hebrew text, the vocabulary words are again highlighted so that the reader continues to reinforce those basic words.

The final element of each day’s reading is a phrase-by-phrase breakdown of the text.  In this section, Kline breaks the text into its respective phrases to show the reader how the English translations match up to the Hebrew phrases/clauses.  This section is probably the most helpful for the novice Hebrew student since it shows the correspondence between the Hebrew text and English translation, allowing one to see how to move from text to translation.  Kline points out that the correspondence is never perfect, and so it is important to realize that he has constructed phrases and translations in this section to best match what the Hebrew is saying rather than to give clunky and unhelpful word-for-word translations.

An overall assessment of this work would list it as minimally helpful for the novice student, and only marginally helpful for intermediate to advanced Hebrew students.  First, for the novice Hebrew student, the primary benefit would be the vocabulary review and apparatus.  However, there are other, more beneficial methods for learning and retaining Hebrew vocabulary than the assortment of words in this work.  Even so, Kline’s structure for learning and retaining vocabulary is creative and could serve introductory students well, especially by giving them the words in the context of the Hebrew Bible rather than in random lists.

Second, for the novice to intermediate student, this volume fails to include grammatical, syntactical, or exegetical comments about how to translate Hebrew.  Likewise, there is no parsing information for verbs, one of the foundational (and potentially more difficult) elements of Hebrew translation.  For a first year Hebrew student, this volume would not help him or her develop parsing and translation skills; it would only show them how a Hebrew phrase leads to an English translation.

Third, for the intermediate to advanced student, this volume could serve as a guide for daily readings.  However, I have to imagine that most intermediate students intend to move beyond the scope of what this volume offers, and most advanced students already read Hebrew daily, and perhaps in larger swaths than a single verse.  Kline has certainly accomplished his goal to compile a year’s worth of daily readings, but for students with enough Hebrew knowledge to use this volume proficiently, it would serve only as a format for daily reading, very likely less reading than they do now.  Without parsing verbs and presenting Hebrew syntax, there is little in this volume that would move a novice student toward intermediacy, or an intermediate student toward a more advanced knowledge of Hebrew.  Certainly, Kline did not set out to construct a Hebrew grammar, graded reader, or handbook.  Even so, basic syntactic and parsing information would be more beneficial than vocabulary for what I would consider the target market for this volume.

Overall, Kline’s Keep Up Your Biblical Hebrew in Two Minutes a Day: Volume 1 is a valuable guide for those wanting to maintain some Hebrew knowledge and need a “checklist” or format for doing so.  The vocabulary apparatus will help solidify basic vocabulary, and Kline’s translations of the text phrase-by-phrase demonstrates how an English translation derives from the Hebrew text in smaller chunks.  I would recommend this volume to students and pastors who need a daily guide for Hebrew reading, and who have minimal time to invest in retaining their Hebrew.  However, for the vast majority of Hebrew students, I would not recommend these daily readings primarily because handbooks, grammars, and graded readers are more helpful for advancing one’s study of Hebrew.

Adam Howell

Boyce, The College at Southern

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