Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 3 (2000-2001) - Review

Frederick E. Greenspahn, An Introduction to Aramaic (Society of Biblical Literature Resources for Biblical Study, 38; Atlanta, GA.: Scholars Press, 1999), xi, 230 pp. ISBN 0-7885-0463-0.


This textbook adopts an inductive pedagogical strategy for teaching biblical Aramaic. It also assumes that students who use it will have some knowledge of Hebrew, especially biblical Hebrew, and so its assignments and vocabulary aim to move one speedily through chapters by referencing Hebrew features that might make acquiring Aramaic counterparts a bit easier.

Since its approach is inductive, it avoids using overly technical language and fleshes out the unattested parts of verbal paradigms with reconstructed forms. This facilitates a holistic grasp of Aramaic's verbal patterns. Greenspahn similarly opts for the terms G, D, and H-stem instead of pe`al, pa`el, and haf`el. The end of every chapter presents students with a simplified passage from the biblical Aramaic text, altered usually only slightly to keep the onus of acquiring new vocabulary to a minimum. Chapters are organized around grammatical features such as verbal conjugations, pronouns, prepositions, syntax, and the like.

The book's final five chapters complement the study of biblical Aramaic by offering students a brief look at various Aramaic inscriptions (Bar Rakhib, Uzziah, Ein Gedi Synagogue), letters (Elephantine and Bar Kokhba), fragments from Qumran (Genesis Apocrypha), Midrashic texts (a portion of Genesis Rabbah), and the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan.

As a Professor of Semitic languages, I can only laud the author for creating such a user-friendly textbook. In fact, I have tested the textbook's pedagogical value and inductive approach in my own biblical Aramaic course; a course comprised of an apposite sampling of students, all of whom have had at least two years of biblical Hebrew, and some of whom, considerably more Semitic (including Arabic, Akkadian, and Ugaritic). Not only was the book well-received by the students, but its inductive approach permitted them to acquire the fundamentals of the language quickly, thus, increasing their appreciation for the Aramaic language and the biblical texts composed in it.

In all, this is a very successful and long overdue book, one which I hope will undergo many future editions. In hopeful anticipation of them, I post below a list of Corrigenda and suggestions, for which I gratefully acknowledge the input of my students.

Scott B. Noegel
University of Washington


General Remarks
Throughout the book one would like to see the gender of the nouns posted alongside the vocabulary items. In addition, the division of vocabulary items into the categories "To Be Learned" and "Reference" is unclear to students-especially when vocabulary is repeated there from "To Be Learned" and "Reference" sections in previous chapters. The publisher also should consider printing the exercises on completely separate pages so that students can tear them out to be graded without losing part of the next chapter in the process. In a similar vein, students appreciate those chapters that leave a greater amount of white space between the lines of the select reading. This enables them to mark their notes between the lines more readily.

Specific items
p. 14) The discussion of the phoneme (dotted t) is confusing. Telling students that it is sometimes represented by a dotted d or dotted z only confuses them once they make their way to the bottom of the page where the chart also lists dotted d as a separate phoneme. It would be clearer simply to write the phoneme as dotted t or dotted z.

p. 14 ) In the chart on the bottom reflecting the Aramaic reflection of the phoneme dotted d, the chart also should list 'arqa' (i.e., "land" spelled with a qof). This would clarify visually what is said in the preceding paragraph.

p. 15) Again, the possible Proto-Semitic phonemes underlying the Aramaic letter teth should be either dotted /t/ or dotted /z/, not dotted /d/.

p. 16) The vocabulary item lehewe` "he will be" requires a footnote explaining for students its peculiar form with a lamed in the imperfect. Whether one explains briefly its relationship to the Akkadian precative form or just notes that it indeed is an imperfect form matters little, since the immediate reaction of students who come upon this initially is to think of it as a typographical error. The explanation for the form does appear in the book, but not until chapter 15 (p. 79).

p. 16) Inconsistent abbreviation for the word "participle," here as "ptcl." Elsewhere (e.g., p. 21 it is both "participle" and "ptcpl." Other variations also occur. Abbreviations for all grammatical forms should be made more consistent, since the inconsistencies tend to confuse students. An abbreviation chart at the beginning of the book might also aid students.

p. 16) The Hebrew root lḥ in the vocabulary is misspelled as lh. The form given also appears incorrectly as a 3mpl perfect, though it is a 1c plural form.

p. 26) The Hebrew word "women" is incorrectly spelled with a final nun instead of a mem.

p. 27) In the vocabulary list, the plural 2pm pronoun attached to the preposition le- should be marked as masculine plural.

p. 27) The select reading from Ezra 5:1-5 contains two typographical errors. Both the lamed in lehom and in w(yn lack shewa.

p. 29) The exercise at the top of the page is lacking the Hebrew masculine plural construct form of the word "prophets."

p. 33) The paradigm chart of verbal conjugations defies the author's aim to simplify according to G, D. and H-stems. It would be wholly useful to place the forms in Semitic characters, and not in transliterated English characters.

p. 34) Students found the exercise at the bottom of the page confusing. especially unclear, is how it wants one to classify the t-infix forms, since the exercise asks students to supply only G, D, or H for the selected verbs.

p. 34) The passage from Ezra 5:6-10 contains a typographical error. The verb sam in v. 9 is written with a shin instead of a sin.

p. 38) The passage from Ezra 5:11-15 cites the word kasdayah, but not according to its kethib or qere forms.

p. 38) The first vowel in the name of the Judaean Sheshbasar at the bottom of the page should be a seghol not a tsere.

p. 52) The first vocabulary item in the exercise should read `ebed not `abar.

p. 54) The 3m pl independent pronoun should be written with a hireq not a shewa.

p. 54) The alternative 2ms independent pronoun given should bear a footnote alerting students that it is not attested in biblical Aramaic, but does appear in the later papyri (like the Elephantine Passover Papyrus).

p. 56) In the reading from Ezra 6:13-18 the Aramaic name Shethat-bozenai is lacking a pathah as its second vowel.

p. 58) The verb sam in exercise 8 is written with a shin instead of a sin.

p 58) The verb selaqu in exercise 11 is written incorrectly as seliqu.

p. 63) One needs to footnote why an extra nun appears in imperfect verbal forms with suffixes. The vocabulary item "he will ask you" (yi$'alenkon) makes students think it is an error.

p. 64) The form `alaik in v. 18 of the reading (Ezra 7:12-26) is pointed neither according to the kethib nor the qere.

p. 67) This chapter could use a separate chart detailing the various ways that prepositions can appear with bound pronominal suffixes, especially with plural forms.

p. 67) The chart on this page of plural nouns contains a typographical error on the 1st person plural pronoun attached to the plural masculine noun. The hireq is out of place.

p. 70) The reading from Daniel 2:4-13 contains an unnecessary period at the beginning of v. 5.

p. 75) The select reading should be marked as Daniel 2:16-24, not Daniel 2:14-24.

p. 75) The third word of the select reading (be`ah) is lacking a dagesh in the first letter.

p. 78) The non-assimilated 3pm imperfect form of the verb netan "give" is explained at the bottom of the page in a note, but such an explanation would be more useful (at least in a note) in chapter 4 when students first come upon a non-assimilated form of this verb.

p. 89) The word it in the first paragraph should be written with a tsere and not a hireq.

p. 90) Ditto.

p. 91) The translation "kind" for the word zan is ambiguous to students, who when first introduced to the word, might be inclined to think of it as "kind," i.e., as in "friendly." Similar is the translation "palm" for pason p. 125, which some students confuse for "palm tree."

p. 115) The Dt-stem of tsaba` "be wet" is missing its final vowel.

p. 119) The nasalized form of the H-stem of geminate verbs is explained a the bottom of the page, but this explanation would be more useful (at least in a footnote) on p. 108 when students first experience such a form.

p. 217) Four incorrect forms of the verb sim "place, put" appear in the paradigm, each with a final nun instead of a final mem. They are all in the first person singular (imperfect, active and passive participles, and imperative).