Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
November 1997

Reference Works for Biblical Studies

The current Library exhibit is in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Hebrew Theological College. The exhibit includes books and articles by and about faculty and staff and memorabilia from early faculty and supporters of HTC. One interesting item is the etrog box given to Rabbi Chaim David Regensberg when he retired in 1971. This exhibit continues until the end of December. In January the Library will have an exhibit in honor of the 50th anniversary of Israel.

This month I would like to discuss a specialized Hebrew dictionary used when studying, Tanach, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Francis Brown with the cooperation of S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs. (It is referred to by the initials of its authors BDB.) The first edition was published in 1907 by Oxford University Press and reprinted with minor corrections at least seven times. This lexicon is based on the lexicon of William Gesenius which first appeared in German in 1833 and last revised in 1854.

BDB is important because each contains the English translation, an etymology, and quotes or examples from the Bible text. The etymology uses the Semitic languages that the authors knew, Arabic, Aramaic, Assyrian, Ethiopic, Phoenician, Syrian, and others. Absent is Ugaritic, which is very close to Hebrew, because Ugaritic was rediscovered after the book was originally published. Ugaritic was a language, written on clay tablets in cuneiform script, used in Northern Syria in the second millennium B.C.E. Some of the Ugaritic prose and poetry is parallel to biblical texts. BDB includes explanations of all the words in the Bible including proper names. The Aramaic words in the Bible are in a special section in the back of the book. This is a valuable reference book, but it is somewhat dated in its style of entry and because it is missing over 90 years of Biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies.

For example the entry for Daniel illustrates some of the strengths and weaknesses of BDB.

If you look up Dnyl you will referred to the root dnyl . The first abbreviation means this is a male proper name. The meaning explained, with a reference to H. Ewald's Hebrew Grammar, is El is my judge. It is connected to the Zend (an ancient Persian language) word D^anu, wise or wisdom. The body of the definition explains the Biblical characters named Daniel and gives the Greek form of the name. The name, Daniel, appears in the Ugaritic text, The Tale of Aqhat. James Pritchard in The Ancient Near East says that Daniel in Ugarit means God judges.

Before the days of computer data bases of Jewish sources concordances were the only way to find all occurrences of words in the Talmud. Otsar Lashon ha-Talmud [Thesaurus Talmudis, confecit Chaim Josua Kasowski] lists all the words in the Talmud with a Hebrew definition. This first volume of this reference work was published by the Israel Ministry of Education in 1954. Volume 41 was published in 1982 after the death of the Rabbi Kasowski.

This work is very easy to use. The main entry is root word such as av or tkn After each root word is a definition, then each form of the word is listed with every place in the Talmud where the word appears. When required for clarification the words are vocalized. The listing includes a phrase or sentence to put the word into context. This work is a gold mine of information that is not used very often. Sometimes using this concordance can be faster than using the computer to search a CD-ROM data base. It is amazing that it does not get more use.

The Encyclopedia Talmudica is the English version of the Encyclopedia Talmudit It is a digest of halakhic literature and literature form the Tannaic period to the present time. The English volumes are translations of the Hebrew volumes, that means the title of the entry is in Hebrew. The first volume covers the first part of the letter Aleph. The project, which was started in 1947 by Rabbi Meyer Berlin and Rabbi Shlomo Josef Zevin, is still not complete. The Hebrew version is on volume 22.

The English volume has a table of contents in English and Hebrew in the order of the Hebrew topics. A second listing is in English alphabetic order.

This is an encyclopedia of Halacha. For example the first article on the letter Aleph contains information about the use of the Aleph in a name for a get. The article Elan [Tree] gives the halakhic definition of tree. A tree is distinguished from a herb, bush, or grass

This encyclopedia is a gold mine, but limited because it is not complete and bibliographic references are limited to a few sources in the Tanach, Midrash, and Talmud.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:


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Last revised
August 16, 2011