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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Review: The Biblical Hebrew Companion for Bible Software Users

26263554 The Biblical Hebrew Companion for Bible Software User by Michael Williams is a unique language resource that both refreshes and guides the reader through a plethora of Hebrew grammatical terms utilized by today’s leading Bible software programs. This resource rightly recognizes the popularity of such programs, and instead of allowing the users of such programs to float aimlessly amid a sea of grammatical terms (they may or may not know), Williams has intentionally curated The Biblical Hebrew Companion to fill this void.

The Biblical Hebrew Companion presumes ownership or access to a biblical language software program. There are a number of options available and most of the programs on the market today possess the ability to hover over or click a word to display the grammatical information relevant to that specific word. It is here that the reader discovers the grammatical terms comprising the content of the book. The terms are addressed alphabetically and each entry contains a two-page spread including three major sections: (1) What It Looks Like, (2) What It Does, and (3) An Exegetical Insight.

I use Bible software daily and have been for nearly a decade. I use it for personal study, leisure reading, academic work, various ministerial duties, and much more. I even use multiple Bible software platforms for different objectives. It should be noted to the reader that most of the top-tier Bible software platforms also provide at least a glossary definition of the grammatical terms mentioned above with a quick hover. In other words, it is safe to assume that most of the software programs have recognized and attempted to fill the same void as Williams here—at least in part. Still, it is clear from even a cursory use of this book that Williams has provided the reader with much more than a short definition with examples.

The organization of the book intentionally guides the reader from the point identification to application. It is here that The Biblical Hebrew Companion exhibits the most benefit. Not only is Williams removing the grammatical rust from the reader through helping them (re)identify and (re)discover the meaning of the term, but he is also actively helping them restore the original finish that once provided exegetical payoff. The latter is exceptionally useful for readers of all levels of linguistic understanding—from seasoned readers of the biblical languages to the Bible software user with no formal training whatsoever. Lastly, for those landing in the latter category, or somewhere in between, Williams has provided a host of helpful appendices on Hebrew consonants, vowels, syllables, the effects of the accent on vowels, and much more.

The use of technology in Bible study and academic work isn’t going away. Today more than ever, pastors, students, teachers, and laity are utilizing the ever-growing and increasingly accessible market of Bible software. The answer isn’t to eliminate these tools to promise proficiency in the original languages, rather the answer is to equip the user with resources to ensure that these tools do not become a replacement for proficiency. It is here that The Biblical Hebrew Companion for Bible Software Users by Michael Williams is best represented, and it is here that this resource comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Unless Someone Shows Me

WIPFSTOCK_TemplateLearning the biblical languages without a firm understanding of how your native language works is in many ways destined to be a disaster. There is a certain underlying grammatical foundation needed if competency is expected. The problem is that most grammars being used today, while they assuredly recognize the need, devote little if any, page real estate to the development and formation of a grammatical foundation for the English language. It is here that Unless Someone Shows Me: English Grammar for Students of Biblical Language by John A. Davies successfully fills a much needed grammatical gap.

Like everyone else native to the English language, I never formally learned English grammar prior to learning the English language. It was acquired by submersion rather than study. It wasn’t until much later in life that I was exposed to English grammar, and I use the term “exposed” loosely. When it came time to acclimate myself with the biblical languages my first major hurdle, still somewhat of a hurdle to this day, was the lack of a grammatical foundation and understanding of my own language. I was never trained to think about language in this fashion, and if I am completely honest, it was somewhat of a culture shock.

Recognizing this chasm in my understanding, I took it upon myself to be familiarized with English grammar as much as possible. I knew that with this understanding and exposure the process of learning the biblical languages would be easier and return a more fruitful payout, both in the comprehension of the grammatical language and rules being utilized by the grammars and the end goal of translational recognition. My only regret would be not having a resource like Unless Someone Shows Me at that time. Had this book been available at the beginning of my linguistic journey I could have saved ample time and energy.

Unless Someone Shows Me begins with a brief introduction into the world of grammar. For the reader, it will be easy to detect the level of experience that Davies brings to the table. He is clear, capable, and judicious in his discussion. Moreover, as one would expect from a good English grammar, Davies leaves no page unturned without a proper explanation and example. Still, the unique feature of this book is the intentional care that has been taken in orienting the explanations and examples towards the goal of the user for competency in the biblical languages.

While I believe that Unless Someone Shows Me would have been more than helpful at the outset of my journey, I still believe it will function as a helpful reference tool for those of us who have, for the most part, made it past that grammatical hurdle. The layout of the book is clearly oriented in such a way to cultivate cross-reference and usability. Moreover, the index, while it is certainly brief, can function as a quick look up guide for various topics that may arise in one’s studies. Lastly, each chapter ends with a number of exercise questions to aid in retention and application of the content.

If you are just beginning your journey into the biblical languages, as a native English speaker Unless Someone Shows Me: English Grammar for Students of Biblical Language should be a requires text. If it is not, make sure it becomes one for you. It will prove to be worth its weight in gold. If you have been on this journey for some time now and are in the market for a practical aid and/or refresher in English grammar, Davies has provided something special, and I trust that it will glean many years of use in the English-speaking world. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.