Review: Basics of Classical Syriac

27840558Steven C. Hallam is assistant professor and Chair of the General Studies department at Alaska Christian College in Soldotna, Alaska. He received his MDiv and PhD from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Hallam has taught a number of different graduate-level language courses, including Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac.

Basics of Classical Syriac: Complete Grammar, Workbook, and Lexicon is well-situated within the growing arsenal of Zondervan’s language resources. This resource functions well alongside and is comparable to the other volumes in the “Basics of” language series, including Aramaic, Ugaritic, and more. That said, apart from New Testament Greek, there are few languages more important to the study of the New Testament and early church history than Syriac.

As expected, Hallam begins with the nominal system led by the alphabet and vowels, and followed by nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and prefixes and suffixes. The remainder of the book is dedicated to the verbal system, including derived stems and weak verbs. The reader is brought into the biblical text and translating passages early. The volume closes with a number of appendices. Some highlights include a comparative chart of Syriac and Hebrew, reading eastern and western text, and a Syriac-English lexicon.

The benefit of Syriac is discovered in its importance to development and study of the early New Testament text. That is, of the early transitional languages of the New Testament, none is more important than Syriac. This is realized most clearly in the importance of the Peshitta (the early Syriac translation of the Bible) to the Greek New Testament. Syriac also affords an opportunity to engage various early church history text and commentaries.

While the benefit of learning Syriac is likely evident for those looking to purchase this volume, for this journey to be worthwhile it must be encountered with determination and purpose. Syriac is like any other language; it takes both time and repetition to master. This is not a one-time stop resource. But, rather this is a stepping stone towards a lifelong pursuit. Moreover, as an observation, I found that having a foundational understanding of both Hebrew and Aramaic will also be of great assistance.

Overall, I found Hallam’s presentation clear and persuasive. I have second-year knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew (though this isn’t required of readers) and had little exposure to Syriac grammar prior to picking up this volume. That said, as a student of New Testament with a passion for New Testament textual studies, my interests in Syriac has been perked and Basics of Classical Syriac: Complete Grammar, Workbook, and Lexicon by Steven C. Hallam has begun to build that foundation.

If you are interested in learning Syriac for the purpose of better understanding the landscape of early Christianity, the text of the New Testament, or for any other reason, this is a volume that will get your feet planted on a solid foundation. Certainly, it goes without saying that Basics of Classical Syriac will not be a resource for everyone. Nonetheless, those interested now have a proper entry point that has been designed for intentional use. It comes highly recommended!

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