Our New Biblical Hebrew Textbook

We are very excited to report that we have just finished a draft of our new biblical Hebrew textbook:

Biblical Hebrew: An Illustrated Introduction.

Why, you might be asking, have we written a second Hebrew textbook? The answer has to do with pedagogy

Our first textbook, Biblical Hebrew: A Student Grammar (which has its own page above and here and has been positively reviewed here), is in the mold of the grammar-translation model of language learning. That is, after each lesson, the exercises focus on producing a few forms (such as inflected verb) and then translating examples taken from the biblical text. This model of teaching and learning biblical Hebrew—indeed, all ancient languages—is the overwhelmingly dominant approach. Now, for some students this approach works very well; for more students, this approach to language learning results in PHSD (‘post Hebrew stress disorder’). Our own teaching experience confirms that the following description reflects many students’ assessment: “Grammar translation method: A dull, dry, and ineffective teaching method.”

This second, new textbook takes cues from the communicative approach to language teaching/learning, which stresses meaningful communicative over grammatical structure, that is, “use” over “usage”. And yet, “using” an ancient language is significantly limited and bound to knowledge of “usage.” Moreover, the typical student of biblical Hebrew studies the language not to use it but to read the Bible (i.e., to understand how the biblical authors used it). Thus, this textbook bridges two (if not more) models of language learning in our quest to take advantage of the various results of applied Second Language Acquisition research while maintaining what we call a philological realism—no-longer-spoken languages simply cannot be learned in the same ways that spoken languages can.

To that end, we have reorganized the presentation of language concepts and devised entirely new exercises (for a fuller explanation, see the preface, for which a link has been given below). The exercises combine a visual (hence the “illustrated”) component with recognition and production. What is learned in the context of the illustrated biblical texts is reinforced through cycles, whereby the same pericopes are revisited, with each cycle increasing in difficulty.

And for those who may be wondering, the grammar description is essentially unchanged from our first textbook, except for pedagogically motivated changes of nomenclature (e.g., we use the Hebrew terms דגשׁ קל and דגשׁ חזק instead of the Latinate terms dagesh forte and dagesh lene).

Below are links to the frontmatter (title page, preface, and table of contents) and a sample from the “readings” (the illustrated exercises).

BHII Frontmatter

BHII Reading Sample

An instructor’s manual includes both answer keys to the Readings and Lessons exercises and running comments that provide context or helpful ‘heads-up’ hints.

Audio files also provide students with the texts of the Readings in mp3 format.

If any Biblical Hebrew instructors who happen across this post are interested in looking over the materials or even joining the group of instructors who are using it this year, please contact us. We will then point you to our online instructor forum where you can download the materials and interact with the other instructors.

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40 Responses to “Our New Biblical Hebrew Textbook”

  1. Joseph Says:

    What is the future of Biblical Hebrew: A Student Grammar? Will it be published, or remain online and free for downloading?

    • johncookvw Says:

      Thanks for asking, Joseph. For the foreseeable future it will remain online and free as something we are committed to continuing to do. However, the publication future of both grammars is an open (and much discussed) question for us at this point.


  2. francesco bianchi Says:

    After having taught Biblical Hebrew for eight years and Modern Hebrew for four years, in my opinion your new visual grammar could work. Although Italian students study Greek and Latin in secondary schools in the same way of Hebrew (as a dead language), I found an increasing difficulty to teach along the lines of Lambdin, Weingreen and Glinert. Maybe this way could be more helpful for a generation imeges-addicted. The homeworks sound good and well prepared to built a grammatical knowlegde and a first vocaboulary. Good luck

    • robertholmstedt Says:


      Thanks for the input and good wishes.

      I’ve found that the Canadian university context has been slightly better than where I taught in the U.S., although not nearly what you’re describing in Italy. Up here my students have studied at least one language besides their first tongue. Even so, these are rarely classical languages (most students have studied English and French, or Chinese and English, etc.) and rarely learned from a grammar-translation perspective. Thus, even my multilingual students tire of the paradigm-and-translation centered teaching approach.

      Although I’ve done my fair share of kvetching with colleagues about the attention span and visual stimulation expectations of the current generation of students, I’d like to cast our use of illustrations as simply a more complete approach to language teaching/learning, that is, the use of whatever physical senses possible. Many textbooks have audio companions (as ours will), but none that I know of have (con)-textual illustrations. The next step, of course, is to add Total Physical Response (TPR) exercises in class, which our exercises are set up to work well with.

      (For current TPR approaches to BH, see Randall Buth’s work at http://www.biblicalulpan.org or the CoHeLeT project at seminary.ashland.edu/cohelet/index.html.)

      If you decide to give our textbook a try, just let us know and we’ll get you connected to our forum.

  3. francesco bianchi Says:

    Yes I would like to try it, although in next academical year I shall not teach because of the reshaping of the Facoulty of Oriental Studies of Rome. The Facoulty will come back to the Facoulty of Arts as was in the past. By the way, I remember another attempt of teaching a dead language into a visual form in Gregorian University as concerning the study of Latin. The book was full of images and try to make the language as a living one.

    • robertholmstedt Says:


      Some of the motivation for this new textbook was born when I was teaching at UW-Milwaukee, where one of the Latin professors taught Latin by immersion — after the first week or so, he never spoke in English. It worked very well with the students (the prof had been doing this for years and years, though, so he was quite good at it).

      The “living Latin” approach is also associated with the University of Kentucky, where they’ve done with quite a bit. As it typical, we in Hebrew studies are simply getting to the party a bit late.

  4. francesco bianchi Says:

    The topic is so interesting that needs to be known also here In Italy where everyone follows the ancient path.
    Let me know when our papers on Qohelet’ s language will be published. Twenty years ago (!) I wrote on it a long review article prepared in Jerusalem under A. Hurvitz and later printed in ZAW. I reviewed all the opinions and I ventured some working hypothesis. Since then I kept on working on Qohelet.

    • robertholmstedt Says:


      I and my grad students are well aware of your helpful article on the scholarship concerning Qoheleth’s language — it is one of the first articles I have them read. Grazie Mille!

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  6. Bob MacDonald Says:

    The illustrations look delightful. The comic book OG the Terrible was very useful for my 13-old student who himself is preparing to teach a word or a letter a week to our Sunday school aged 5-8 – where we sing in Hebrew and teach a 3-5 minute lesson about 30 weeks a year + a couple of special occasions when all the children of the neighborhood come for a fun day and one of the ‘tents’ is a Hebrew tent. I would love to work with a draft copy of your text and I would be happy to provide feedback.

    • robertholmstedt Says:


      Not long ago I bought OG the Terrible to work through with my 8-yr-old this year. It looks like a lot of fun.

      Email us at the email given in the post and we’ll get back to you about the textbook.

  7. Adebayo Adesina Says:

    The text is nice.
    How may I have a copy?

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Please email us at the email address included in the post.
      Also, if you would, indicate why you’re interested — are you an instructor or simply learning on your own? This helps us understand the nature of those using the text.

      Thank you.

      • Vicky Says:

        Could you please send me a copy of this? I home school and our whole family would love to learn biblical Hebrew.

      • robertholmstedt Says:

        Dear Vicky,

        We are finishing our revisions after this last year’s use and we will post the entire textbook on the blog soon. Please check back around July 1 (our target date).

        Robert and John

  8. Influence | Anthony Hamlin | Photographer | Designer Says:

    [...] reading John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt’s draft of “Biblical Hebrew: An Illustrated Introduction“, I came upon this interesting tidbit of [...]

  9. Francis Tran Says:

    Hello Dr. Cook,

    I am a student studying in Rome right now. I came across your Biblical Hebrew Book which is my life saver because I couldn’t grasp the way the teacher explained it. Now I am trying to follow your book and practice the exercises so I can pass the qualification exam. However, I am looking for answer keys to confront with my work. Do you know where can I purchase a copy of answer keys to check my work (online is the best way for me right now since I am in Rome, Italy)? If you can help me to find the solution, it will be best because right now I am so lost in the class with limitted capacity in Italian.

  10. johncookvw Says:


    We’re glad to hear the textbook has been useful. I assume you are referring to the “Student Grammar” version as opposed to the newer one described in this blog? The newer one is only being distributed to a handful of instructors giving it a “trial run.” In any case, there is no answer key currently available, though one is being compiled for the newer grammar. The heavy reliance on verbatim biblical texts for the exercises, given with references, in the earlier version makes an answer somewhat otiose as the verses can be referenced in a modern translation.


  11. Cardabelle Says:

    Hello, I live in France and I have been learning Hebrew for 3 months now. I am quite interested in your Illustrated Grammar (seems to be quite attractive !). How can I get a copy ?
    Many thanks in advance.

    • johncookvw Says:

      Hi Cardabelle,

      Thanks for your interest in our grammar. We are currently testing it with a number of professors in classroom settings. We are waiting to make it more widely available until it has undergone another set of revisions (this summer). We are also limiting it in this way because it is not very well designed for self-study, which is what it sounds like you are undertaking. If you are part of a class that wants to test the grammar, please e-mail us at BHII and we can set you up with that.

      John and Rob

  12. ishah Says:

    hi. i would like to join the forum but cant seem to open the link to contact you.

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      please send us an email describing your interests in using the textbook (since currently we are limiting distribution to instructors). Use this email address: bibhebii [at] gmail [dot] com.

  13. Helene Dallaire Says:

    Dear John & Robert,
    I just looked at the sample of the ‘illustrated BH grammar’ and it looks wonderful. Would you accept to give me access to the online version? With blessings,

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Hi Hélène!

      I’m assuming you wouldn’t use it this term, so do you mind waiting until June? We’ll have a revised version then (fixing some typos, completing the Instructor’s Manual).

      Kol tuv,

      • Helene Dallaire Says:

        No problem at all! June is fine. Thank you for all the work you and John are doing in spreading this exciting pedagogy for BH.

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  15. Rev.C.Davis Says:

    Dear Cook I am Rev. C.Davis from Sivakasi -South India – India. I am doing hebrew Grammar thru Dr. Karl.D.Coke. He is giving basic and advanced hebrew when he visited India. Now I saw your metirial I have also teaching with the help of winegreen text book and Page.H. Gelly but your book is very simple and neat. I appreciate you. Can you give Me permission to publish this book in India for theological students and other lay people and pastors. If You give permission surely I am very Great full to you. Please send your mail to me. I will send my address to you.

  16. johncookvw Says:

    Dear Rev. C. Davis,

    We are very happy that you have found our textbook helpful. I assume you are referring to the Biblical Hebrew: A Student Grammar, which is freely available for use in pdf form. We have plans to eventually publish that grammar through a traditional print publisher, so while we are happy to allow you to use it and spread the word about it, we do not want to grant permission for any sort of publication and distribution program with it in India.

    John and Rob

  17. Krn Says:

    I am ‘learning’ (slowly) Biblical Hebrew on my own. I came across your web site while searching for learning aids. I perused the PDF ‘Biblical Hebrew: An Illustrated…’ and I like it. I am a visual learner and I like what I have seen so far. Is it possible for me to get a copy for personal use? I would be more than happy to give feedback.

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Dear Krn,

      We will be revising this summer and then we’ll likely post a public PDF of the illustrated textbook. Look back here in early July.

  18. Lloyd Edwards Says:

    I am a newly-retired clergyman who never was required to study Hebrew, and therefore didn’t. Now I want to learn Biblical Hebrew in order to understand the Tanakh better. Thank you for your first Hebrew grammar. I have an idea that I would learn better using the methods of presentation in your second one. Is it possible to obtain a copy for my own study?
    Many thanks.Lloyd E., Columbia SC USA

  19. Krzysztof Grzemski Says:

    Dear Authors,

    I am learning Biblical Hebrew since last October (using Lambdin’s “Introduction to Biblical Hebrew”). Although I am quite happy with that textbook (used together with reading passages from the BHS and listening to the audio Hebrew Bible by Abraham Shmuelof), I found your idea of the communicative approach in learning Hebrew awesome. I really do appreciate that you made available the results of your hard works for free. Hopefully this will stimulate commitment among students and teachers to learn/teach Hebrew even more dilligently.

    I’ve got one question. Are the audio files corresponding with the Reading Textbook also available?

    Best regards,
    Krzysztof Grzemski, Poland

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Dear Krzysztof,

      This kind of feedback is always very satisfying to hear. Thank you.

      The audio files are currently not available. We made a copy 2 years ago, but for 2 reasons they are no longer appropriate. First, we made enough small changes to the text that the recordings don’t quite fit. Second, the sound quality is poor. Because the Baker is now working on the manuscript for publication (hopefully in 2013), we will be re-recording the audio files this coming summer in a professional studio.

      Robert Holmstedt

      • Krzysztof Grzemski Says:

        Thank you very much for your answer, Robert.
        I am awaiting the re-recorded version then.
        Best regards,
        Krzysztof Grzemski

  20. Aviyah Says:

    I had the privilege of learning Biblical Hebrew at U of T from Professor Robert Holmstedt in 2008 using the first text. At that time I found the exercise of sketching out short ‘comic strip’ type drawings helpful in bringing the lessons to life. The illustrations certainly increased the depth to which my brain was able to process the vocabulary and even the introductory grammar, in contrast to the level to which it processed (or failed to) the vocabulary and grammar without them.
    I have yet to look through BHII, as I have only come across it tonight, however based on my previous experience I am sure this text is an excellent teaching tool. Thank you to the authors for being kind enough to post it online and make it free for anyone interested in learning Biblical Hebrew! I am personally aware (to some extent) and very appreciative of how much time and effort was put into producing such excellent work!

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Many thanks, Aviyah. Of course, if all students approached the study of Hebrew with the same abilities and passion as you do, then any textbook would work.

  21. Aviyah Says:

    Hi Professor Holmstedt,

    Thank you for such kind words. As the saying goes, ‘It takes one to know one’ – and Professors with excellent teaching skills such as yourself are far and few between!

    I wish you all the best with this text.

    Warmest regards,

  22. David J Cadenhead Says:

    Professor Holmstedt,
    I am currently taking a course in Biblical Hebrew, I think, from one of your former students, who is one of the best professors (he is approx 20 years my Junior) I have encountered in my scholarly pursuits, and wanted to thank you 2nd hand for your efforts . With Highest Regards and Gratitude
    David J Cadenhead

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