Use of את and the תמונות exercises

This post addresses the third of three questions about the textbook one reader sent us recently. The first post is here; the second post is here.


The captions in the boxes in which to draw pictures confuse me.  Just one example of several: On page r-37, the middle box reads, יצחק נשא עיני אברהם. Does this mean to say, “Isaac lifted the (where is the את here and often?) eyes of Abraham.” But this is not the biblical idiom. No one ever “lifts up” someone else’s eyes.



On the presence and absence of את for complements: the pattern for the use of את is far from clear in BH. And since we do not try to mimic modern Hebrew in our examples, we often leave את out, just as the biblical writers do. For the latest (and best) work on the BH use of את, we refer you to the 2012 Hebrew Union College phd thesis by Peter Bekins. It shows how את behaves in somewhat expected patterns within the context of “differential direct object marking”.

On the nonsense phrase יצחק נשׂא עיני אברהם: the תמונות exercises are intended to request absurd pictures in order to test comprehension and add a laugh in class. They are often the most enjoyable exercises for my students, since they are indeed nonsense and bring some levity to the hard task of learning language. We make this explicit in the free instructor’s manual (IM) that Baker provides for instructors teaching with the textbook (the picture below shows the first time the תמונות exercise is used and our IM comment.


Verbal Sequences

This is the second of three questions about the textbook one reader sent us recently. The first post is here; the third post will come tomorrow.


On page  r-34, bottom sentence, what appear to be so-called waw-consecutive perfect [Note that we do not use this term in BBH], e.g., ולקח יצחק ובקע, are seemingly treated as past tense since they are sequential upon חבש. You then ask students to transform into imperfects. From a traditional verbal system perspective, isn’t this confusing? The sentence as currently written is fine in modern Hebrew, but does not work as standard biblical Hebrew.



On the waw+perfect used in past temporal contexts (p. r-34): similarly, this is acceptable in Biblical Hebrew even if not very frequent. Our decision to employ waw-prefixed perfect forms that are not irreal mood (traditional “waw-conversive” forms) has both theoretical and pedagogical motivations. Such examples are problematic from the “traditional verbal system perspective” because that perspective is inaccurate. Rather, we refer readers to the theoretical basis of our treatment of the verb now published in John Cook’s authoritative (ahem) volume Time and the Biblical Hebrew Verb (Eisenbrauns, 2012).

The linguistically grounded arguments in Cook’s volume are why we eschew labels such as “waw-conversive,” etc. — our research has not found them to be linguistically defensible. For a challenging example of qatal – qatal – qatal (which, without a larger discourse context is not necessarily different than qatal – w-qatal – w-qatal, since the latter simply lacks the overt subject), see Gen 4.18.

Pedagogically, our decision to utilize a minority sequence at this point in the textbook serves our interest to provide a carefully chosen “graded” sequence towards the complete grammar picture rather than become bogged down in advanced grammar discussions in a first-year textbook.

אחרי + Verb

We recently fielded three questions on grammatical descriptions in our textbook along with one concerning a type of exercise in the Reader.  In this and the next two posts we summarize the question and follow with our answers.


On page r-55, bottom line, the sentence begins as follows:  אחרי אכלו האנשים….  But while English can say, “After the men ate…” can biblical Hebrew use אחרי followed by a verb? (This applies also to the first  fill-in-the-blank exercise on page r-39:   אחרי___ בניתי.)



On אחרי + finite verb: Lev 25.48, 1 Sam 5.9. And with אחר (not אחרי) + finite verb: about a dozen more examples (where אחר is not “afterwards” but “after verb-ing”). The explanation is that אחר functions like a preposition and so takes a nominal complement; in these cases, the following finite verbal clause has been nominalized and so functions as the complement (and clitic host) of אחר/אחרי. This is why the construction can also have an אשׁר (or in post-biblical Hebrew, שׁ) between אחר and the finite verbal clause. Waltke and O’Connor (IBHS 1990) mention this in §38.7. 

We recognize that the Hebrew Bible has only 2 examples of אחרי + bare nominalized clause and about a dozen examples with אחר. But syntactically, this is equivalent to אחרי + אשׁר + nominalized clause, for which there are many more examples. Just like relative clauses, the אשׁר or שׁ is not always there to signal the nominalized clause.  

We thought very carefully about the pedagogy of teaching rarer constructions and often drew the following conclusions. First, students want to be able to express “after I verb-ed, I verb-ed”. And so, we gave them a legitimate BH construction for this. Second, we are embedding in introductory students the basic patterns what will serve them as they read texts and progress to the intermediate and advanced levels. In this case, we are subtly teaching them that not all nominalized clauses need an אשׁר or even כי to function in the place of nouns. So what they learn here goes for למען, מפני, עד, יען and a few other items that may stand before an אשׁר marked nominalized clause or a bare nominalized clause. Thus, we advocate inculcating the students with a vision for the whole forest rather than getting hung up on the individual trees.  

So our pedagogy is built on embedding the deeper patterns of Hebrew grammar rather than focusing solely on numerically dominant constructions. Of course, the vast majority of what we teach is also numerically dominant, but especially in the writing exercises of the Illustrated Reader, we occasionally teach a less frequent but very useful structure like אחרי + nominalized verbal clause.

Course Design using BBH

A question we have fielded more than once is how we use the textbook in class—from scheduling to assessing work to integrating the Readings with the Grammar Lessons.

Since we see any textbook as simply one tool to use in the effective language classroom, we have no doubts that there are a dozen fun and effective ways to answer these questions (and we hope instructors will use this blog to tell us how they do it, whether in the comments or in an occasional guest post). However, we fully recognize that using this textbook the first time will require some re-thinking of classroom plans, since it differs significantly from other BH textbooks. So, below we briefly summarize our use.


(1) Scheduling


How fast do you work through the textbook?


The real answer to this will change depending on how many weeks in the semester/term you have and how many days/hours per week you meet. At Toronto, for example, there are 12-week semesters and the course meets 3 days/week for a total of 4 hrs (a double season on Fridays). Although the pace is adjusted every year to fit the group of students and their collective learning pace, the course always finishes up the textbook somewhere between Weeks 3 and 5 of the second term. At that point there is a second exam and after which the class moves on to the Jonah Reader that we are developing (see here). This schedule has weekly quizzes (5-10 min max) and 3 term exams (1 in the first term and 2 in the second term). Memorization passages are also assigned—texts that aren’t covered in class (students often choose a short Psalm to memorize and read to me during office hours in the last week of each term).

To illustrate how we carry out each class meeting, we are drafting sample lesson plans. The task of turning our partially typed/partially handwritten chicken scratches into materials we could unashamedly distribute has proven more time-consuming that anticipated, though. At this point (early Fall 2013) we have only made it through week 3. Those are available through Baker as Professor eSources (go here and click through to the Baker textbook site; once there, click on the Professor tab at the top right). Eventually we will finish the plan out to a full 15-16 weeks.


(2) Integrating Grammar Lessons and Illustrated Readings


How have you most successfully “zippered” the grammar with the illustrated reader?


The textbook is designed so that the lessons in the Grammar component can be worked through briefly and the majority of class time is spent working through the Readings exercises. During the first week or two, there may be a slightly higher percentage of time in the lessons since it will take a bit of time before the Reading will make sense. But the exercises in the first section of lessons are highly interactive and fun anyway.

The essential point we want to make, though, is that the textbook is flexible enough that it can be used in a variety of ways. We prefer to go very light on the grammar lessons (sometimes we spend less than 3 minutes talking about a whole lesson, or even assign it to be read as homework) and use the classroom time for highly dynamic, engaging, and language-active exercises. We want our students to “spit out” as much Hebrew as possible.

We describe our approach in more length in the Preface to the Instructor’s Manual, which we provide here.


(3) Accessing and assessing student work


What has been your most successful strategy for being able to access and assess the interactive work students are expected to do within the textbook—e.g., fill-in-the-blank (Cloze exercises), circle correct answers, draw lines to, draw pictures of?


We have adopted the “wandering professor” approach while group discussions or board work is done. We take mental notes, make a few suggestions, ask a few questions, and don’t grade anything concretely. Very occasionally we ask them to turn in a copy of something to look over outside of class. But for the most part, we rely on the weekly quizzes and term exams to establish the objective grade. The rest is subjective (i.e., whether they bring us coffee on a regular basis—ha ha).

On Word Stress

An eagle-eyed instructor asked us recently about our use of stress-marking (the ‘oleh  א֫) we use for unexpected word stress, such as a non-final syllable (i.e., the penultima) in nouns or a final syllable (i.e., the ultima) in the Irreal Perfect (weqataltí). He noted what he thought was an incorrect marking of the Irreal Perfect forms on p. 67 and r-20, 23. In other words, he rightly understand that we intended the forms as Irreal Perfects, but since we had not marked the stress on the ultima, it would naturally be read as a Real Perfect. 


My response is that the lack of ultima stress-marking on weqatalti forms is intentional. E. J. Revell (Professor emeritus, NMC, University of Toronto), published a number of studies in the mid-80s on this issue. He concluded that the position of the stress on the so-called waw-consecutive form was not tied to the semantics of the form, but to phrasal prosody. We find his argument compelling. Thus, in our textbook we chose not to perpetuate what we think to be a ghost phenomenon.

The non-paradigmatic stress-marking in the textbook follows this principle: when copying an exact biblical text, we add stress-marking on any non-paradigmatic syllable (e.g., the ultima in weqataltí) IF it is so placed in the Masoretic Text. Otherwise, we maintain the paradigm marking (weqatálti) throughout, regardless of verbal semantics. 

We recommend the following scholarship on this issue:

Revell, E.J. 

1984. Stress and the Waw “Consecutive” in Biblical Hebrew. Journal of the American Oriental Society 104 (3): 437-44.

1985. The Conditioning of Stress Position in Waw Consecutive Perfect Forms in Biblical Hebrew. Hebrew Annual Review 9 277-300.

1987. Stress Position in Hebrew Verb Forms with Vocalic Affix. Journal of Semitic Studies 32 (2): 249-71.


Welcome to the official blog for our textbook, Beginning Biblical Hebrew (Baker Academic, 2013).

In subsequent posts, we will address questions that instructors send us either by email or using the BBH Forum.

A brief note on comments: given the focus of this blog and the entire site, we will only publish comments that are relevant to using our textbook.