The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock (Biblical Hebrew)

I’ve worked into biblical Hebrew the children’s song, “The Wise Man Built His House upon a Rock.” I happened to hear the Boy singing it one morning, and I found myself putting most of it into Hebrew while shaving.

I like it as an exercise for my students because it’s simple, and because the vocabulary is so well attested biblically: build, descend, ascend, fall; wise, house, rock. The choices I made about verb patterns could give rise to fruitful conversation about the qatal, yiqtol, and wayyiqtol. It’s good for me, too: I had initially been drawn to the Infinitive Absolute for the concurrent action of rain falling and floods rising, until my search for biblical parallels suggested I was on a wrong track. (I’d be on firmer ground if the two verbs shared a single agent.)

Another song I plan to put into biblical Hebrew is a version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” While not all of this vocabulary is biblically well-attested, it has value for communicative teaching of Hebrew: it uses words that have high “pay off” for daily usage. (So, I’d be open to songs that use body parts, colors, numbers up to thirty, and everyday objects.)

A third song I have planned is “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” A fourth is a surprise.

How about some revision of “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” with all biblically-attested animals? More advanced would be a revision of, “Hush, Little Baby (the Mockingbird song).”

What other simple children’s songs can you think of that might be put into biblical Hebrew? The song should be fairly short and simple. Ideally, they should EITHER 1) feature vocabulary that is biblically well-attested, OR 2) feature vocabulary that has high pay-off in terms of everyday nouns and concepts like body parts, colors, numerals, and so on.

[The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock (Biblical Hebrew) was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/07/05. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

The Writing Process: An Interview with a Fourth Grader

Writing is thinking.

Writers know this by hard experience. Writing is not simply reporting on thinking that has already taken place: the thinking that goes on happens by writing, or it doesn’t happen at all. It is this knowledge that brings a writer, again and again, back to a writing process.

In recent years, I have seen—anecdotally—a sharp decrease in understanding about a writing process. Otherwise excellent students can be heard to say, in the last week of the term (out loud, where people can hear), “Yes, I plan to write that 8000 words paper for Prof A  today, tomorrow, and the next day, and then I’ll write that 3000 words for Prof B in the two days after that.” It’s not laziness: you heard me say “otherwise excellent students.” It’s not simply a function of being overwhelmed: compared to earlier years, the students are not taking heavier loads or working longer hours. Rather, my sense is that, on average, fewer students have received, in their secondary and undergraduate education, a grounding in a writing process.

My current syllabus attempts to force a writing process on the students by requiring stages toward a final thesis paper, with students reviewing one another’s work at each stage:

  1. Research report, written to rubrics and submitted for review to three peers;
  2. Thesis statement with plan for defense, written to rubrics and submitted for peer review;
  3. Complete draft, written to rubrics and submitted for peer review;
  4. Final draft.

Early results have been underwhelming, with a sizable percentage of students simply failing to accomplish the research report. Again, this suggests a lack of familiarity with the benefits of a writing process: anyone who has benefitted from a writing process in the past will be eager to embrace it later when given the opportunity. At the same time, students who accomplished the research report have been eager to get to the peer review.

So now you understand why it is that, when my fourth grader, lying in bed and chatting before lights-out, began to talk about “the writing process” as they learn it in elementary school, I leapt for the laptop and began to record. Take ten minutes, and learn how it’s done.

[The Writing Process: An Interview with a Fourth Grader was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/22. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“When God Began to Create…”: Nouns Bound to Verbs

In order to post on this, I have to break an informal but firm rule I have kept for myself: not to blog on Genesis 1–3. I have no wish to attract any debate or controversy about the truth/historicity/inerrancy of the story/myth/history/polemic/whatever of Gen 1. That said, my Hebrew students are at a point now where they can make sense of the Bible’s very first phrase, so let me have this, please.

As for my Hebrew students: sit up and pay attention. You won’t know the Akkadian, but you can still follow the argument: just give the Hebrew special attention. I am throwing in the Akkadian for my enjoyment, and because I am up to my neck in some texts at the moment.

The text in view is Genesis 1:1:

בראשית ברא אלהים

Traditionally, “In the beginning, God created…” But, more recently, “In the beginning, when God created…” Or even, “When God began to create…” Students naturally want to see a definite article in the first form: BA-rēšīt (“in THE beginning”). They are told (if they are told anything) that the form is in construct, and therefore unable to take a definite article. The obvious question is, “To what is it in construct? It precedes, not a noun, but a perfect verb.”

In Hebrew relative clauses, one permissible construction is a construct noun followed by a finite verb: קרית חנה דוד “The-district-of David encamped,” that is “The district where David encamped” (Isa 29:1). Similarly, for Akkadian relative clauses, one permissible construction is a bound (“construct”) form followed by a finite verb (with -u of subordination): bīt ēpušu “the house-of I-built,” that is “the house (which) I built.” (Note that, in both Hebrew and Akkadian, we will more often see the relative particle in such a clause: Hebrew אשר, Akkadian ša.)

This construction is often used with verbs of time. So in Hebrew: ביום הציל יהוה “In-the-day-of YHWH delivered,” or “In the day when YHWH delivered” (2 Sam 22:1). That the noun of time is in construct is more clearly shown in examples with distinct bound forms: בליל שדד ער “in-the-night-of Ar was devastated,” or “in the night when Ar was devastated” (Isa 15:1). In Akkadian: UD-um É.GAL KUG.BABBAR i-r-i-[šu], or Ūm ekallum kaspam irrišu: “The-day-of the-palace receives silver,” or “The day when the palace receives silver.” (CT 8 36a, cited in Huehnergard exercise 19.G.2.)

An excellent parallel to our text is found in Hosea 1:2: תחלת דבר יהוה “The-beginning-of YHWH spoke,” that is “When YHWH first spoke” or even “When YHWH began to speak.”

By now, it is clear that these constructions are parallel to that of Genesis 1:1. Looking at it again, we can translate:

“In-the-beginning-of God created,” that is, “In the beginning, when God created,” or even “When God began to create.” In other words, the Bible begins with a subordinate clause, preceding the main clause. Where, then, would you say that the first main clause in the Bible begins?

Discourse Approach to BH Verbs (Balshanut)

Pete Bekins (בלשנות Balshanut) has provisionally completed—in only about one month’s time—an eight-part teaching and learning series on “A Discourse Approach to the BH Verbal System.”

The series does not have its own unique tag, though a WordPress search for Pete’s tag “Semitic Verbal System” gets you the series and lots of other Balshanut posts in that larger vein. So, I link here each of the posts, for anybody who missed some or who would like to start from the beginning.

Take your time and have fun. I’ll be making sure that my intermediate Hebrew students are aware of the series.

Accordance: Finding the Weak Roots

This post at the Accordance Bible blog was a revelation for me. (Yes, it is now a revelation that is over five weeks old. So I percolate.) It shows that I can use Accordance to search for particular kinds of weak Hebrew roots, like geminates, middle-weaks, even III-liquids and the like.

Long ago, I had done far worse than give it a whirl and give up. I had glanced the problem over and decided it couldn’t be done.

Serves me right, then, that I’ve spent long stretches of minutes looking at indiscriminate search lists of, say, Qal infinitive constructs, picking the weak roots I wanted from the crowd until my eyes bled.

The big insight here is that you can describe a root as “???” then define any of the three radicals in parentheses: ??(w, y)? for roots middle wāw/yōd, for example. Why would I want to find these sorts of results? Two reasons:

  1. In my research or when reading the Hebrew Bible, I will pop up with a question or provisional hypothesis of the “what would it look like” variety. “Hey, I see that the nūn doesn’t assimilate in לִנְפּוֹל, perhaps because the initial lin- derives from lĕnĕ– (“rule of shewa”). Let’s have a look at the rest of the I-nūn Qal infinitive constructs with preposition –לְ, and see if the nūn is typically preserved, as we suspect.” This sort of thing happens all the time when I’m reading, including when I’m reading other semitic languages. The search term in this instance looks like this:accordance search shot
  2. For my students, I like to create worksheets, exams, or presentation slides that a) demonstrate a phenomenon in weak roots, like the assimilation of nūn or the loss of III- before a suffix, and b) demonstrate it with nominal or verbal forms that they already know, like Piel perfect or participle when they have not yet learned the Piel imperfect. This helps me find relevant biblical examples, eliminating the risk that I’ll create on my own an unattested or incorrect form.

So, a big ol’ fist-bump to David Lang. I’m not even bitter about all the time I have wasted in the last 8–10 years doing this the hard way with overly-broad search terms. Really. Just a lesson well learned about asking for help on this sort of thing, and looking forward to at least 8–10 years of doing exactly the searches I want on weak roots.