[b-hebrew] lexicography

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Sun Nov 16 04:12:46 EST 2003


I started with a copy of Gesenius with regular access to BDB. Of the lexemes I looked up, it was very rare that the definitions differed substantially in those two dictionaries. In fact, I don’t remember any. My copy of Gesenius fell apart from much use. I also had Davidson’s Analytical Lexicon, which also fell apart. I had to have it rebound, but the last “lexicon” I used was Lisowsky’s Konkordanz zum Hebräischen Alten Testiment.

Davidson’s listed all the lexemes under their roots. Using that dictionary until it fell apart helped me learn to recognize the different inflections and derivitives.

Like Peter Kirk, my native tongue is English, however I have lived in non-English speaking environments forcing me to learn other languages. From those experiences I learned how to learn foreign languages, not as a second language, but as much as possible as a native speaker. I have tried to take the lessons learned to apply them to learning Biblical Hebrew.

The first lesson I learned is that lexemes have one core meaning (unless where there are two lexemes with the same pronunciation that have merged, like “to” and “two” in English). I found it easiest to learn to use the lexemes correctly if I could learn that core definition to recognize how it is used, even if it didn’t make sense in English. As far as I can tell, this is what Rolf Furuli means with his psycho-linguistics in word definitions.

Another of the lessons I applied was to compare synonyms, sometimes contrasting antonyms, to find out what lexemes mean. For example, there are over a dozen synonyms for R)H [ra‘ah] “to look, see” in Tanakh. Some synonyms have a broad meaning, such as “to put” in English, others much more restricted, such as “to set up”.

One concept specific to Biblical Hebrew, look to see how lexemes are actually used in Hebrew, not how we think (for theological or other reasons) they should mean. Ah, theologians love to spin airy castles of theological meaning, often based on definitions I couldn’t find when I looked at the original text. (Maybe I’m not imaginative enough.)

Already before my copy of Gesenius fell apart, I started filling the margins with pointers to synonyms and to try to recognize what is the one core meaning to each lexeme. As the Gesenius dictionary fell apart, I transfered the notes to the Lisowsky’s concordance. I noticed that Lisowsky had far fewer speculative meanings than Gesenius/BDB. He was also far more willing to admit that he was not sure of a definition. The last I heard, his concordance is out of print. Most of the time (95% of the time or more), my notes indicate that I agree with the definition as given, or a close synonym that I judge to be a slightly more accurate rendition into English.

About the same time my copy of Gesenius’ fell apart, I started reading Tanakh with a card covering the vowel points, which in the case of the Qoren edition left a text that was almost totally unpointed. When I switched to reading on my computer instead, I chose the Online Bible unpointed text (they also have a pointed text) because I don’t always agree with the points. As far as I know, theirs is the only unpointed text available.

I have since entered and expanded my notes into my computer (Macintosh format, Macwrite Pro document) keyed to Online Bible’s unpointed text. That is now my main dictionary. It is a work in progress: because I wrote it, I am willing upon reading a term in a context to say, “That doesn’t make sense” and proceed to reevaluate. Sometimes I push the envelop and speculate, but I like to do that here online and not in my notes, so I can be shot down if I’m wrong, which I often am. Even when I’m shot down, that helps me understand the text.

Sorry I couldn’t give you a reference to a published dictionary, but you asked what I use. I figured that it is best to tell not only what, but why.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Julie Devall" <krena_li_mara at hotmail.com>

> Hello All,
> I am currently working on an independent study in lexicography, and have 
> benefitted much from the previous posts.  I also do not want to step into 
> the middle of Peter v. Karl.  But in a related thread, I know there are 
> other lexica than BDB, but wondered if Karl would tell us about the lexicon 
> he uses and why it is philosophically superior.  After all, I have problems 
> with some of BDB, but have always regarded it as my default.
> All other guidance on how to correctly do lexicography is welcome and 
> appreciated.
> many thanks,
> Julie :)
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