The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Mar 21, 2021

Some words of praise for Benjamin J. Noonan's Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic.

As a Greek and NT specialist who teaches two semesters of Hebrew on a 2-year cycle, I need all the help I can get! Indeed, teaching Greek and Hebrew within 24 hours of each other really messes with my brain. True story: I was in the eye doctor's office the other day, trying to read the eye chart from right-to-left. I was confused, she was confused, we were all confused!

In light of that, I am almost finished with Benjain J. Noonan's brand new book, Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. I'd like to mention a few positive aspects of the book, from the perspective of a Greek specialist who gets the privilege and challenge of teaching Hebrew grammar and syntax.

First, however, please note that this is not an easy book if you have not specialized in Hebrew at least at the ThM level (I have not). It is worthwhile if you invest time in it, but this is not your casual "get a bowl of ice cream to chill in my favorite chair" kind of a book. It's more like the "grab your highlighter and pen to take notes and . . . good gravy! I didn't even understand a stinking thing in that entire paragraph so I better read it again!" kind of a book.

Yet kudos to Noonan. He accomplishes what he set out to accomplish, and now that I am nearly at the end of the book, I feel that (1.) I definitely understand the key debates in Biblical Hebrew better, and (2.) I have a general idea of the areas I, personally, would like to explore more. 

Also, since Advances deals with broader linguistic categories, there were a couple moments that just "clicked" with me. For example, the discussion on page 122-23 of "prominence" was very helpful, and reading the following paragraph was an "aha, I get it now!" moment for me:

"In light of this framework, we consider modern English a tense-prominent language. On the one hand, English uses endings like -s and -ed to mark the present and past tense, respectively. ON the other hand, English requires the use of non-affixing helping verbs to express both aspect (e.g., perfective I wrote versus imperfective I was writing) and mood (e.g., realis I wrote versus irrealis I could be writing). Thus, a paradigm of the English verb is primarily marked for tense rather than aspect or mood. This is true even in English's non-indicative moods, which generally utilize the same inflectional paradigm as the indicative paradigm with the addition of helping verbs." (Noonan, Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic).
I had never quite thought of "prominence" in those terms before. Indeed, one of the book's strengths is that this is a book on linguistics in a more general sense in addition to being a book on Biblical Hebrew.

I will say that sometimes I feel Noonan's own biases intrude a bit into his evaluation of the various positions. This is obviously not a bad thing per se, and it's not like I am in a position to criticize Noonan's grasp of Hebrew grammar and syntax! Nonetheless, I did come away from a couple of the discussions wondering if everybody had gotten quite the same "fair shake." I feel that the author was a bit more opinionated, for what it's worth, than Constantine Campbell's companion piece Advances in the Study of Greek (also an excellent book). This does not detract from the value of the book, since the reader still has enough information to decide for themselves which viewpoints they wish to study more.

One closing point. For most of the issues Noonan discusses, one is left with the impression that it is still a debate in progress. A couple interesting exceptions exist, however, including the issue of the dating of the Aramaic of Daniel. Scholarship seems to have decisively refuted the argument that the Aramaic of Daniel could not have been written before Alexander the Great. The work of K. A. Kitchen, especially, and the forthcoming dissertation by Jongtae Choi seem to have firmly established that Daniel's Aramaic is, at least primarily, Imperial Aramaic, within the range of 600-200 BC. Granted, that doesn't "prove" that Daniel wrote the book that bears his name, but at least it refutes objections that Daniel could not have written it, because Daniel's Aramaic is the sort of Aramaic (broadly categorized) that was in use during the Persian Empire.