Several years ago (like with the Greek New Testament) I bought Zondervan’s A Reader’s Hebrew Bible (hereafter RHB) and have used it quite a bit. It’s a handy volume and I haven’t really looked to replace it; however, now that I’ve got a copy of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: A Reader’s Edition (hereafter BHS-RE), I will likely default to it (the BHS) over the other (RHB). Let me first say that the Zondervan edition is not necessarily inferior—it’s quite a nice volume. My preference for the BHS-RE is based on a couple of elements, both of which I’ll discuss briefly in the review.
First, concerning the more superficial element, by which I mean the aesthetics, the BHS-RE is slightly larger and thus a bit bulkier than the RHB. BHS-RE clocks in at 1,765 pages, whereas the RHB comes in slightly lower—1,652. While some may think this difference amounts to significant size difference, it’s actually a negligible amount. Once you’re dealing with a book whose pages number into four-digit territory, 113 pages really isn’t that much. No matter which you choose, they’re both big and bulky. The RHB is duo tone and has held up well over the years. The BHS-RE is hardcover (though it’s also available in black flexisoft) and time will tell whether or not it is durable. My impression thus far is that it should be able to withstand ordinary use for many years. Other aesthetic elements of note in this volume are the font and the paper. The font, which looks a lot like (and may be) SBL Hebrew, is preferable to the RHB’s HebraicaII font. This is a matter of personal preference and every reader will have their own likes as far as the font is concerned. For me, this font looks better on the page. Speaking of the page, the paper used in the BHS-RE is not the typical paper used in bibles. It’s a more of a sepia tone and is thicker, thus it prevents ghosting more so than the RHB. The BHS-RE’s particular paper/font combo is much easier on my eye’s than that of the RHB and is one of the reason’s I prefer it over the RHB.
Now, on to the more important elements—the text and features. The text is the complete text of the BHS and has been checked against the Leningrad Codex (which will differ slightly from the text of the RHB). As for the vocabulary, which can make or break one’s ability to read any language, BHS-RE includes glosses for all words that occur fewer than seventy times and these glosses are defined contextually, thus obviating unnecessary potential meanings that would be out of place in a given section. For those who might need to look up a word that’s not included in the lexical notes, there is a glossary in the back that includes all words that occur seventy times or more, even proper nouns. So, all words used in the Hebrew Bible are glossed in this volume.
One element that will take some readers time to adjust to is the parsing scheme (you can get a “schematic” or operation manual for parsing here). BHS-RE has gone to great lengths to provide ample parsing information for the reader, but it will take a little practice to figure out the system. In the RHB, verbs are not fully parsed; rather, the lemma is provided and all other information for a given verb is not listed. For example, the first verb listed in the footnotes for Exod 25:2 is יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ. It appears in the footnotes as “נדב Qal: impel, stir; incite”. Looking at the same verb in the BHS-RE, we have “נדב. bG25. So the question becomes, “How do I know how that verb is parsed?” The system devised for this task goes like this (for this particular verb): G=German Grundstamm (or “base stem”), 25=3 masculine plural. The “G” can indicate both prefixes and suffixes. Other stems are noted as
- N = Niphal (reflexive or middle)
- H = Hiphil (causative)
- D = Piel (factitive; “D” is for the doubled middle radical)
- p = all passive stems (following the uppercase stem label)
- Gp = Qal passive
- Hp = Hophal
- Dp = Pual or Polal
- tD = Hithpolel
- (there are others not listed here)
I’ll leave the indicators of person, gender, and number for you to read should you get a copy—it’s a little more tedious to reproduce here. To describe it briefly, it’s basically a numerical system, where different elements of the verb are represented by variations of tens and ones. Obad 1:4 begins with אִם־תַּגְבִּ֣יהַּ and is parsed in the footnotes as H22 גבהּ go high, soar. The H22 then indicates this verb is a Hiphil imperfect 2ms—H = Hiphil, 22=2ms. Another example is 1:7, where we find שִׁלְּח֗וּךָ, which is parsed as D15s2. Broken down, this indicates the verb is a Piel perfect 3 common plural with a 2ms suffix. It’s a bit complicated at first, but after a bit of practice it probably works as a more efficient way to read through sometimes-cumbersome verb details.
In sum, this is a very nice volume. The intent behind it, as made obvious from the subtitle, is to foster regular reading of the Hebrew Bible and that end is made quite possible thanks to the hard work put into this text. Once you can get a handle on the parsing system, you’ll be able to read the Hebrew Bible with new efficiency and joy.
Αυτω η δοξα
Read a sample chapter here.