There are several collections of biblical Hebrew word lists on the market today. Every one of them is unsatisfactory. The volumes of Landes and Van Pelt-Pratico group words according to frequency of occurrence and include 2,148 and 1,903, respectively, of the some 9,980 vocabulary items found in the Hebrew Bible. But studies show that readers must be able to recognize 98 per cent of the word stock of a corpus to sight read without difficulty. Landes and van Pelt-Pratico do not set the bar high enough.
From a pedagogical point of view, furthermore, there is something perverse about trying to assimilate vocabulary according to frequency spectra. Vocabulary may be organized in any number of ways. If the goal is to commit vocabulary to memory, organization by frequency spectra is among the least useful methods imaginable. It is helpful to think about the interrelationships of vocabulary items which derive from a common root. But there are also pitfalls to that approach which Landes and Van Pelt-Pratico do not adequately address.
Arnet’s volume represents an advance. He includes 2500 vocabulary items and groups them into semantic classes. But the semantic categories are too broad, and subcategories are not properly demarcated. Furthermore, Arnet lists words by semantic class once only. This is unnatural. A typical word will fall into one semantic category in one context and another category in a second context.
Landes, George M. Building Your Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary: Learning Words by Frequency and Cognate. Edited by Steven L. McKenzie. Resources for Biblical Study 41. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001 .
Van Pelt, Miles, and Pratico, Gary D. The Vocabulary Guide to Biblical Hebrew.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
Arnet, Samuel. Wortschatz der hebräischen Bibel. Zweieinhalbtausend Vokabeln alphabetisch und thematisch geordnet. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 22007 .
Further critical remarks might be offered, but it seems more to the point to offer alternative approaches to learning and conceptualizing the vocabulary of ancient Hebrew. In a future post, I hope to demonstrate the advantages of learning vocabulary by semantic domains directly from pericope-length texts. But it remains possible to learn vocabulary by semantic domains over the entire corpus of ancient Hebrew. Below the fold, I provide an example.
A glossed and vocalized basic terminology of human anatomy in ancient Hebrew is offered first. Once you feel you have mastered the basic list, it is time to test your knowledge by working through it in un-glossed, un-vocalized format - also provided. Grad students and Hebrew teachers should start with the un-glossed, un-vocalized list, and check knowledge against the glossed and vocalized equivalents in case of doubt. It would be nice to have a list like this related to a 3D image of the human body. Unfortunately, that is beyond my technical capabilities. In future posts, “basic plus” terminology and a “full listing” will be presented.
An asterisked item – in reference to human anatomy - is attested as such in terms of number and gender, but not in terms of state, pronominal suffix, or lack thereof.
The Human Anatomy in Ancient Hebrew
Glossed Basic Terminology
עַ֫יִן, עֵינַ֫יִם eye, a pair of eyes
אֹ֫זֶן, אָזְנַ֫יִם ear, a pair of ears
לָשׁוֹן, לְשֹׁנוֹת tongue, tongues
שֵׁן, שִׁנַּ֫יִם tooth, a pair of set of teeth
שָׂפָה, שְׂפָתַ֫יִם lip, a pair of lips
כָּתֵף, *כְּתֵפַ֫יִם shoulder, a pair of shoulders
שָׁדַ֫יִם a pair of breasts
*מֵעִים abdomen, viscera
קֶ֫רֶב inward parts
זְרוֹעַ, זְרֹעוֹת arm, arms
יָד, יָדַ֫יִם arm/hand, a pair of arms/hands
יְמִינוֹ/נָהּ his/her right hand
שְׂמֹאלוֹ/לָהּ his/her left hand
כַּף, כַּפַּ֫יִם hollow/palm, a pair of palms
אֶצְבַּע, אֶצְבָּעוֹת finger, fingers
מָתְנַ֫יִם a pair of hips
יָרֵךְ, יְרֵכַ֫יִם thigh, a pair of thighs
בֶּ֫רֶךְ, בִּרְכַּ֫יִם knee, a pair of knees
רֶ֫גֶל, רַגְלַ֫יִם foot, a pair of feet
כַּף רֶ֫גֶל, כַּפּוֹת hollow/sole of a foot, soles
אֶצְבַּע, אֶצְבָּעוֹת toe, toes
עֶ֫צֶם, עֲצָמוֹת/עֲצָמִים bone, bones
צֵ֫לַע, צְלָעוֹת rib, ribs
נֶ֫פֶשׁ living being
Basic Terminology (Unvocalized)
כף רגל, כפות