The title Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew immediately caught my eye. Then the subtitle, A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation, made me want to pick up the book right away. The idea that I could do some Hebrew grammar review while mining for “exegetical gems” seemed like a worthy use of my time and attention.
After a few chapters, though, I had to ask myself: “What is an exegetical gem”? To me, those words had theological significance. That didn’t exactly end up being the case.
For Hardy in this volume, an “exegetical gem” takes the form of one grammatical point with sufficient intrigue to write a chapter. For instance, chapter 4 looks at construct phrases using Genesis 29:17b, “Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (NIV). That phrase in Hebrew, יְפַת־תֹּ֖אַר וִיפַ֥ת מַרְאֶֽה, has an interpretative question just big enough to offer a good review of construct phrases in general and end the chapter with a conclusion. Shapely and beautiful (CSB)? Graceful and beautiful (NRSV)? Beautiful of form and appearances (NKJV)? Hardy has some thoughts. I mainly had one thought: “This is a gem?”
Exegetical Gems is a valuable book, but I’d hesitate to say it lives up to the promise I inferred from the title. Maybe that’s on me! But for those like me who would read the title and have hope for theological insight—and I have a feeling that Shepherd’s Study readers would generally fall into that category—it would be best to adjust those expectations if you pick this up.
Each of Hardy’s 30 chapters follows the structure outlined above: introduce the Bible verse in question, give a grammatical review of the concept at hand, and conclude with a valid interpretation or two. The chapters progress much like you would expect a beginner Hebrew textbook would: Chapter 1 is on Hebrew language and literature in a general sense, chapter 4 introduces a chunk of chapters on nouns, chapter 9 introduces a much larger chunk of chapters on verbs, and the end of the book has chapters on finer details like the directional he or interrogatives. By building concepts one on top of another, Hardy offers a fine pattern of review for Hebrew grammar.
This is, once again, where the subjectivity of the title comes into play, this time with the word “refreshing.” That’s not a word I would use to describe the level of review that Hardy ends up with. The chapters have simple enough concepts, but I found the presentation to be much denser and more rigorous than I anticipated. Thorough, yes! Useful, sure! But refreshing?
Hardy’s interpretative conclusions at the end of each chapter are fine. There are thoughtful remarks and interesting grammar points. But are there gems? Again, I guess it depends on what kind of gem you’re mining for. Here is the concluding paragraph of the chapter on Genesis 22:13, where God provides the ram for Abraham as a sacrifice in place of Isaac. The major question is textual criticism of the word אַחַַר and whether it ought rather to be אֶחָד. Was the ram “behind” Abraham, or was it “one” ram? Hardy’s opinion:
In the final assessment, the reading אֶחָד (one) is likely original. This determination yields several exegetical insights:
- The single ram was not necessarily hidden from Abraham (i.e., behind him) when he was preparing the altar to sacrifice Isaac.
- The numeral “one” is not obligatory, so its inclusion signals that God provided one particular ram to stand in for one particular son.
- Abraham’s surprise . . . was the result of not the location of the ram but the provision of the ram. (12)
End of chapter. This is one of the more theologically impactful conclusions of the 30 chapters. Take that how you will!
Hardy introduces the book by asking the question, “Who can benefit from this book?” His answer is students in college or seminary, former Hebrew students, and Hebrew instructors. As I read through the book, I kept these three audiences in mind.
Is this book useful for Hebrew students? For some students, certainly. Students who are embarking on advanced degree programs or looking to parlay general linguistic study into the study of Hebrew or semitic languages will find this a useful review. For students in our circles, those who study Hebrew with the specific intent of using it practically in a ministry context, I’m not so sure. It’s far from beginner-friendly, and I imagine that most students will come away with the same gem-related questions that I had.
Is this book useful for former Hebrew students? Academically, I think it certainly could be. Practically, theologically, with the understanding that the “former Hebrew student” is now in a pulpit? Less so. It was certainly useful for me in my very narrow, specific context—I used this book to brush up before taking our seminary’s online Summer Hebrew Institute. Maybe pick it up if you’re thinking about enrolling next year. It was helpful for me to get my brain back in “Hebrew mode.”
Is this book useful for Hebrew instructors? This is where I think I can answer with an unqualified “Yes,” although I’m answering that question as one who is not a Hebrew instructor myself. I think there is potential for our college and seminary Hebrew professors to work through this book and gather new insights on how to teach or present the grammar points detailed within. Perhaps, in some advanced Hebrew courses or electives, chapters from this book could make for assignments or projects. The chapters I found most insightful were on Textual Criticism (2), Adjectives (6), Jussives (11), Infinitives Absolute (16), Verb Voice (19), Negations (21), and Pragmatics (30). To any Hebrew professor reading this review, you are one audience I think should have this book on your radar.
When it comes to my personal recommendation, I’ll simply say this: your mileage may vary. If the inferences you draw from “gems” and “refreshing” are similar to mine, you may come away disappointed. But once I figured out how to approach the book for what it is rather than get annoyed with what it isn’t, I did appreciate my time with it.