Question: Dear Prof. Luginbill: I gather from your Biblical language training that you are qualified to recommend a Hebrew grammar. Can you recommend, from what is out there, the best Hebrew grammar text? I have taken an intro course and have since been trying to learn on my own from an assortment of sources. Again, thank you for your reply. God bless and look forward to reading your site.
Response: As to Hebrew grammars, there really is only one choice for anything "in-depth" in English and that is the Oxford edition of Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar ed. E. Kautzsch; trans. A.E. Cowley (Oxford 1980). This is a scholarly reference grammar, however, and might be a bit difficult to get in to. Additionally, it does not have some of the syntactical information that scholarship has come up with in the past century (indeed, there is still much to learn about Hebrew grammar that is not in any book I know of; cf. my comments on the e-mail response: Why does Judah get greater honor than Jerusalem in Zechariah 12:7?).
You might want to consider Introduction to Biblical Hebrew by Thomas O. Lambdin (New York 1971 - there may be a more recent edition of this). Lambdin is a pedagogical grammar and assumes no prior knowledge of Hebrew; it also doubles as a reference grammar and does have some very good information on some of the more interesting aspects of Hebrew syntax that are beyond the basic level. In between one finds a number of monographs that are helpful from the syntactical point of view. Two of my favorites are S.R. Driver's classic Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew (Oxford 1892; rpr. 1969), and J. Wash Watts, A Survey of Syntax in the Hebrew Old Testament (Grand Rapids 1964). The former is, I fear, long out of print, but you may be able to find it used on-line.
If I might also suggest something, in my experience it is very difficult to get a handle on a new language, even a "dead" language, without engaging the ear. So very much of what happens in language happens in the mind and in the ether totally dependent upon sound. It is really the mental "ear" that learns a language - the eye only learns to function in it with help from the ear. In the ancient world, the notion of "silent reading" would have been a novelty (everyone in Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem always read out loud). So I would recommend that you find a tape of the alphabet that includes some readings of parts of the Bible. I had a book with a tape like this many years ago, but must have given it to someone a long time back, so can't give you a particular reference here. But I would bet there are a number of such introductory books with tapes currently available. One last thing on this. When it comes to interpreting Hebrew passages, it is often the vocabulary that is the key even more so than the syntax. I would be happy to discuss with you the issue of tools for lexical study as well. Two essentials:
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ed. Harris, Archer, Waltke (Moody 1980)
A Hebrew English Lexicon of the Old Testament ed. Brown, Driver, Briggs (Oxford 1951)
Please see also my links page: Hebrew Language Study Resources
You may also find these links helpful:
Tools and Techniques for Bible Translation.
Bible Interpretation: Interlinears, Academics, Versions et al.
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations I
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations II
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations III
Bible translation and John 8:58
Are New Bible Translations Part of a Conspiracy?
Use and Origin of Bible Translations at Ichthys
Yours in our Lord Jesus Christ,