Beyond the Book with Dr. Hardy: “Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew”

Although the benefits of learning the biblical languages are myriad, many students turn back before they have experienced a breakthrough in learning Greek or Hebrew. Written to facilitate these breakthrough moments, “Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew,” is an intermediate textbook designed to help students gain proficiency in biblical Hebrew and continue learning for a lifetime.

Combining informative lessons, interpretive exercises, and supplemental resources, “Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew” was written with the classroom in mind. Authors Chip Hardy, associate professor of Old Testament and semitic languages at Southeastern Seminary, and Matthew McAffee, professor of Old Testament at Welch College, guide readers deeper into Hebrew grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and interpretation, making this an invaluable and accessible resource for students who already have a year of biblical Hebrew.

In the following Q&A, Hardy, who also serves as senior research fellow for Old Testament for the Caskey Center for Biblical Text and Translation at Southeastern, takes the time to answer a few questions about this new book:

What is the scope of “Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew,” and who is the target audience?

The target audience is anyone who has completed a typical course of study in biblical Hebrew and is interested in applying that knowledge to read and comprehend the word of God better. The book aims to build a wide range of exegetical skills needed to understand the Bible. We aim to encourage readers to grow in their knowledge and to guide them in ways we find most effective in honing these skills.

What is the structure of the book, and how is it designed to help readers succeed in learning biblical Hebrew grammar and interpreting the Hebrew Bible?

The first two chapters discuss Hebrew language and text. The following chapters engage with various word classes (verbs, nouns, prepositions, etc.) and characteristics (verb stems, conjugations, etc.). Three guided lessons provide additional guidance in text criticism, word studies, and syntax and give extended examples of these exegetical skills. An extensive glossary provides greater accessibility to some of the technical linguistic terminology.

The chapter content focuses on interpretation. Each begins with an extended exploration of an exegetical issue. It explores how the details of grammar provide helpful answers to potential questions. And other examples are provided throughout to illustrate unique features discussed in the grammar.

In addition to the exegetical and grammatical material, each chapter provides exercises chosen to practice specific knowledge and a guided reading example with vocabulary and other notes. One appendix presents high frequency Hebrew vocabulary to be learned, and another gives additional encouragement and resources to continue their Hebrew reading beyond this volume.

How does the book differ from other intermediate biblical Hebrew textbooks?

Most volumes take either an inductive or deductive approach. The inductive method focuses on reading larger sections of the Bible and handling grammar and interpretive issues as they arise. The deductive method, on the other hand, aims to teach the minutiae of grammar with short, disjointed example texts. We have attempted to take the best of both and meld them together into a single readable resource.

How did your time in the classroom with students inform the way you wrote the book?

Everyone can imagine trying to do or learn something difficult. You practice it again and again, you rehearse the steps repeatedly, or you keep failing but don’t give up. Then, in an instance, everything changes! You find your balance on a bicycle or water skis. You hit a high note, make a free throw, or land a toe flip. The intermediate Hebrew course is like that for many students.

In that course, students memorize verb paradigms, build vocabulary, and hone the skills of English translation for about seven months. Then they start reading actual Hebrew! It is transformative and beautiful. And even passages that seem familiar become new and exciting for all the right reasons! They hear God speak in Hebrew. I get to experience that moment through the eyes of my students each time I teach Hebrew! I wanted to harness that magical moment in this volume and bottle it in the prose. Hopefully, anyone reading the text will experience similar discovery and success.

What factors commonly keep first-year students from pursuing a second year of biblical Hebrew courses? Why should they consider intermediate courses?

I am not a naturally gifted snow skier. Poor eyesight and bad balance contribute to my ineptitude. Yet, I wanted to learn and signed up for a church ski trip. I spent the entirety of my first day on the slopes falling over. At times, I must have looked like one of those bright orange, inflatable stick figures flopping from one side to another in front of a discount furniture store. I wanted to quit and walk down the slope. And I nearly did several times that day. But I had a very patient teacher, who hadn’t learned to ski until he was over 50. He cared for me and remembered how tough it was to learn. He stuck by my side throughout the day; helped me stand to reattach my skis on the slopes; and picked up my poles, my goggles, my skis, and my confidence. Because of his encouragement, we went back out together, and day two went much differently. I was able to descend the runs safely, and it started to feel natural and fun. If I had quit at the moment of greatest difficulty and failure, I would never have gotten to the point of enjoying the very thing I struggled to do.

Learning Hebrew can feel like months of falling down. Without proper direction and encouragement, it may be easy just to get by or quit right at the moment of breakthrough. I fear that many learners stop just short of experiencing real discovery and joy in reading Hebrew. I want to help students to push through discouragement (everyone struggles!) and to motive them to do something great! Reading Hebrew can become enjoyable and even life giving. It can facilitate a real encounter with the living God. Why would we imagine that it would be easy? It might mean pushing ourselves a little bit more than we think is possible, and trusting someone who has been there before to stand us upright and point us in the right direction.

Reading Hebrew can become enjoyable and even life giving. It can facilitate a real encounter with the living God.

What first-year biblical Hebrew textbooks and resources would prepare students well for “Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew”?

Our approach takes students from any background and builds on what they know. We explain various (admittedly, confusing) terminologies and move toward the standard nomenclature used in most modern commentaries and grammatical resources. We also attempt to introduce the concepts used in linguistic research in easy-to-grasp ways.

Why should Christians study the biblical languages for themselves, especially when so many interpretive resources are readily available online?

If God has given you the opportunity and privilege to study his word in the original languages, why would you not want to pursue and grow that skill with all you have? Not everyone has that chance. We need not squander it just because we have a wealth of helpful resources at our fingertips. Just because you can listen to nearly any volume read as an audio book, doesn’t mean that we don’t teach our children to read for themselves.

What’s more, those interpretive resources are not themselves self-interpreting. And even the best of them is not free from embedded assumptions and limitations. I know because I have had a hand in creating several of them. The well-equipped interpreter needs to know enough to evaluate even the best resources. In the esteemed words of Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility!

How does “Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew” equip readers to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission?

The prophet Hosea spoke of the frightful circumstance in which God indicts his people for three dire charges: (1) there is no truth, (2) there is no covenant faithfulness, and (3) there is no knowledge of God. As a result, God’s people have subverted his ethical standards, the world falls apart, and the religious leaders are rejected (Hosea 4:1-6). The passage ends with the famous line: “My people are silenced for lack of knowledge [of God’s law]” (v. 6 CSB). If God’s people — and particularly ministers — want to serve the Church and be God’s ambassadors in the world, they must be careful to know God, practice faithfulness, and speak truth. For each of these, the starting and sustaining point is always knowing and meditating on the word of God. My hope is that this volume motivates current and future ministers of the gospel to focus on the fundamentals.

If God’s people . . . want to serve the Church and be God’s ambassadors in the world, they must be careful to know God, practice faithfulness, and speak truth.

How has writing the book shaped you spiritually?

Writing is an exercise in discovery. This entire volume led me to a deeper understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures and how God chose to reveal himself to his people. It was a tremendously enriching and encouraging endeavor. I hope that those using it likewise will find it formative in their interpretive and language skills, but even more so it will enable a real encounter with God whose word is living and active.

Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew

Learning any language is no small task, not least one that sounds as unusual as Hebrew does to most English speakers’ ears. Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew primarily aims to equip second-year grammar students of biblical Hebrew to read the Hebrew Scriptures. Using a variety of linguistic approaches, H. H. Hardy II and Matthew McAffee offer a comprehensive and up-to-date textbook for professors and students.

February 1, 2024

Paperback, 784 pages

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