Book Notice: Basics of Hebrew Discourse: A Guide to Working with Hebrew Prose and Poetry

Matthew H. Patton and Frederic Clarke Putnam (authors); Miles V. Van Pelt (ed.). Basics of Hebrew Discourse: A Guide to Working with Hebrew Prose and Poetry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2019. 288 Pages. $29.99 (paperback).

The discipline of discourse analysis is applied to Biblical Hebrew in Zondervan’s recent syntax, Basics of Hebrew Discourse. For those unfamiliar with the term, discourse analysis is portrayed in the book as painstaking observation of a given text at every level from the smallest unit (parsing single words) to the largest (studying a text’s place in the canon of Scripture). Just as a car is composed of all its constituent parts, a discourse is composed of all its words and clauses. Further, a discourse communicates its intended meaning based on how those words and clauses are organized, how they progress, and their cumulative effect. Each of the book’s two major sections is written by one of its two authors. Matthew H. Patton, a Presbyterian pastor with a Ph.D. in Biblical Theology and Old Testament from Wheaton College, addresses the topic of Hebrew prose, while Frederick Clarke Putnam, associate professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA, addresses Hebrew poetry.

Focusing on the formal element of each textual style, Patton and Putnam provide a stellar introduction to the complex grammatical field of discourse analysis. One of the greatest strengths of this book is that it provides examples that helpfully illustrate the grammatical concepts being discussed. In particular, there is a section by Patton that walks the reader through the whole process of discourse analysis using a few selected texts. Further, since this book is entitled “basics,” it serves as a great first start for a second-year Hebrew student who is unfamiliar with discourse analysis and might want to further develop their Hebrew skills in this area. To that end, the footnotes in this book are a goldmine.

While Hebrew Discourse is a great resource on the whole, it also has some weaknesses. The most notable issue is that the book is peppered with minor editorial errors. In some of the Hebrew texts listed there are missing letters (consonants and vowels). There are missing terms in some of the English explanations, clauses grammatically untied to their contexts, and mistakes in some of the formal elements of the book. For example, the chapters follow an outline format, and in a few chapters some of the outline symbols are repeated instead of progressing to the next figure. While these may seem like minor points on which to focus, Hebrew Discourse is a grammar, and one would therefore expect it to be grammatically accurate.

Despite these minor deficiencies, however, Hebrew Discourse could well become a widely used intermediate Hebrew grammar. Although the book focuses on only the basics of Hebrew discourse, it accomplishes its task of orienting its intended audience to the practice of discourse analysis with reference to the Hebrew Bible.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Lucas Whitson, a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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