There are two types of grammars: reference grammars and student grammars. Student grammars are used while learning a language, while reference grammars are for those already acquainted with a language, who encounter a particular difficulty. The standard BH reference grammar is Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar as Edited and Enlarged by the Late E. Kautzsch . . . Second English Edition . . . by A. E. Cowley, first published in 1910, which is called "Gesenius" for short.

Gesenius is a difficult tool to use. Its language is typically very technical, but with the help of dictionaries, such as in Mario Pei and Frank Gaynor, Dictionary of Linguistics (1975), unknown terms may be clarified. It is sometimes worth returning to one of the student grammars to clarify the outlines of a point before attempting to understand the details that Gesenius is offering. For this purpose, Moshe Greenberg, Introduction to Hebrew (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965) , Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (NY: Scribners, 1971), and Marc Zvi Brettler, Biblical Hebrew for Students of Modern Israeli Hebrew (New Haven, CT:  Yale Univ. Press, 2001—see esp. the glossary and index) are particularly useful.

Gesenius is divided into three sections: phonology, morphology and syntax. When citing Gesenius, it is the convention to refer to paragraph numbers and letters (§) rather than pages. Information may be found relatively easily in Gesenius by using his three indices:
  1. "Index of Subjects"
  2. "Index of Hebrew Words and Forms" (alphabetical, following the Hebrew alphabet) and
  3. "Index of Passages" (which follows the order of the Hebrew Bible, with Chronicles last). The newer printings of Gesenius (1985 and following) contain a more complete index. These indices are preceded by paradigms.

A typical use of Gesenius is when a form is encountered that cannot be easily understood or translated. For example, when reading Genesis 22:2, the function of in is not immediately evident. It is almost always easiest to use the "Index of Passages," which (in the newer editions) refers to §119s. That same paragraph could also be found by looking under the "Index of Hebrew Words and Forms," under " . . . uses of 119 r—u." (The relevant paragraph appears in the "Index of Subjects" under "Dativus ethicus," but only the person who knew the function of would look there.)

It is often difficult to begin reading a paragraph of Gesenius in the middle of a chapter, and it is a good idea to first read the initial paragraph of the chapter, and then several paragraphs before the one in question. Thus, § 119 deals with how nouns (including pronouns) are connected to verbs, specifically with the function of prepositions in this role. (Note: even without understanding , it is quite clearly an imperative verb plus a preposition [ ] with a pronominal suffix.) § 119r discusses the general uses of , which our passage obviously does not fit. It then in § 119s suggests a special use "after imperatives" and lists our passage Gen 222. The use suggested by Gesenius, if it is correct, is quite subjective and difficult to translate: "in order to give emphasis to the significance of the occurrence in question for a particular subject."

Another useful BH reference grammar in English is Paul Joüon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, translated and revised by T. Muraoka (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1991). It is not quite as detailed as Gesenius, but is often easier to follow, and is more up to date. Like Gesenius, it concludes with paradigms and three indices. Using these indices, it is easy to find that the of Genesis 22:2 is discussed in § 133d, where he suggests that "dativus ethicus," the term used by Gesenius and others, is not appropriate, and instead this use carries an "indirect reflexive nuance." The sections of Joüon-Muraoka which concern the syntax of the verb are especially useful, and the footnotes in this grammar refer to many recent articles and monographs on grammatical subjects.

Of some use is Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990). However, at over seven hundred pages, this book is hardly an introduction! It is useful in that it attempts to apply modern linguistic theories to BH. It contains a very helpful "Glossary" (pp. 689 — 94) and is well-indexed.

Often, it is difficult to predict which grammar will cover a particular problematic issue. A Cumulative Index to the Grammar and Syntax of Biblical Hebrew, compiled by Frederic Clarke Putnam (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1996), has compiled references to grammatical discussions to each biblical verse, and is quite useful. Biblical grammarians are similar to lexicographers: they are descriptive, using the biblical text, ancient translations and other languages as evidence in constructing their grammatical principles. This is quite different from modern prescriptive grammars, which, e.g., say that "ain't" is not acceptable. Thus, grammars may make mistakes: the same pieces of evidence may be categorized or interpreted differently. Although it is difficult to do, these biblical grammars must be used critically.

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