Swanson: Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at sil.org
Wed Apr 18 05:03:57 EDT 2001

Dear Clay and others,

A further follow-up on this one. I can now reveal (having received his
permission) that the scholar I mention below is Dr Reinier de Blois of the
United Bible Societies. Here is a brief (one paragraph) description of his

The Semantic Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew (henceforth SDBH) project is
carried out under the auspices of the United Bible Societies. It was started
in the year 2000 and is expected to take approximately five years. Its aim
is to build a new dictionary of biblical Hebrew that is based on semantic
domains, comparable to Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament, which was first published in 1989. Preliminary research for this
project was carried out by Reinier de Blois which resulted in a
dissertation, titled Towards a New Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew Based on
Semantic Domains, from which much of the contents of this document has been
derived (de Blois 2000).

I have an electronic copy of a paper entitled "Towards a New Dictionary of
Biblical Hebrew Based on Semantic Domains" (Word 6 document, 15 pages, 83
KB). I don't think this can be Reinier's full dissertation. This is the
paper I referred to earlier, and below, which includes the assessment of
Swanson's dictionary and several others. If you, or anyone else, would like
a copy, I can send it.

Peter Kirk

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Kirk [mailto:Peter_Kirk at sil.org]
Sent: 12 April 2001 09:24
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: RE: Swanson: Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic
Domains: Hebrew

I have also seen similar serious concerns, which I share, from a linguist
and Hebrew scholar who is working on a similar project but based more
closely on the semantic structure of Hebrew itself. Nevertheless he
considers that it "certainly is a useful tool. But..." He also made the
point that Louw and Nida itself should be based more on Hebrew semantic
structures because of the extent to which NT Greek has been influenced by

I note that in Swanson (according to the website, my emphasis) "MOST
definitions are also categorized by semantic domain according to the
numbering system set forth in the Louw-Nida Lexicon". I would surmise that
the entries which are not categorised are the ones which would require
extensions to the Louw and Nida taxonomy. In such a way the SCOPE could be
extended as required, but the needed changes to the STRUCTURE which Clay
points out would not be made. I also have the following quotes from
Swanson's preface: "the purpose was not to suggest that Hebrew/Aramaic and
Greek thought structures are of the same. There is no suggestion that a
lexeme in the OT language mathematically equals (univocal) the Greek lexemes
in meaning. There is also no suggestion that a Greek language domain
structure should be imposed on a Hebrew culture domain structure... there is
at least an analogical connection between the domains of meaning in the
Greek New Testament and Hebrew/Aramaic culture. Many of these domains could
relate to nearly any culture of the world... certain domains in the Hebrew
have to be more carefully studied and debated as to their cultural mindset".

The scholar I mentioned above also concluded that the STRUCTURE of Louw and
Nida's taxonomy needed amendment. But part of his argument was that even for
NT Greek the Louw and Nida approach is lacking, because its taxonomy
confuses two independent factors, the lexical and the contextual. I can't go
into this in detail, but I may try to get permission to distribute a paper
about this, from one of SIL's partner organisations.

Peter Kirk

-----Original Message-----
From: c stirling bartholomew [mailto:cc.constantine at worldnet.att.net]
Sent: 11 April 2001 18:58
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Re: Swanson: Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic
Domains: Hebrew


A question for the Semitic Philologists,

Does the procedure described above cause anyone else to raise their eyebrows
just a little?

There are some hidden assumptions here which should be dragged out into the
light of day and subjected to scrutiny. The first hidden assumption is that
the semantic taxonomy in Louw & Nida is a context free language independent
semantic network which can be used with both Classical Hebrew and NT Greek.
I find this assumption a little hard to accept. I have read the book*
describing the theory behind Louw & Nida several times but I don't remember
what they had to say on this subject. It may be true that  Louw & Nida
attempted to construct a more or less language universal semantic taxonomy
but the SCOPE of the taxonomy was only required to cover the vocabulary of
NT Greek. That being the case the SCOPE of the taxonomy would not match the
requirements for a Classical Hebrew lexicon.

I also think there are more serious problems with the approach describe
above than just matching of the SCOPE. It seems that the STRUCTURE of the
semantic network would need to be language specific. This will raise the
issue of linguistic universals from all the anthropologist/linguist types
and I am not going to get into an argument about that. Not now anyway.

Just wanted to see if anyone else has some little nagging doubts about:

> [from Swanson, James, A Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic
> Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament), (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems,
> Inc.) 1997.]

Clay Bartholomew

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

* J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Lexical Semantics of New Testament Greek,
Scholars Press, 1992.

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