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Book Review: Illustrated Genesis in Hebrew

This review was kindly provided by Josiah Peeler, a PhD/DPhil student at the University of Edinburgh in Hebrew and Hebrew Bible working under the supervision of Timothy Lim. The review was originally published here. If you would like to review a GlossaHouse book, please see this page for instructions.


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The author of this book is Timothy McNinch, who is a PhD student at Emory. 


This book is part of the GlossaHouse Illustrated Biblical Texts Series. The volumes that are complete in the Hebrew Bible are 1) Genesis 2) Exodus 3) Joshua 4) Ruth, Esther, and Jonah and 5) Daniel (there is a Hebrew/Aramaic volume and a Greek volume of Daniel). 

 

This book is reminiscent of the comic book Genesis readings in Cook and Holmstedt’s Beginning Hebrew Grammar (2013) and the forthcoming readings from Kings in their Intermediate Hebrew Grammar (2020). The pedagogical goal of this book is to get the student reading and thinking through the Hebrew text with minimal English interference. Thus, the students spends time learning Hebrew as a child learns a language by associating Hebrew lexemes with pictures, emotions, situations, etc.



The Westminster Leningrad Codex is transcribed with the niqqudot (vowel dots and dashes) but without te’amim (cantillation and punctuation marks). This Genesis reader always follows the Qere reading instead of the Kethiv (see p. xi where the various Qere/Kethiv readings in Genesis are noted). An English translation is provided at the bottom of each page in a substantially smaller font.



Strengths of Book


The format allows the student to stay focused on the act of reading, speaking, and thinking in Hebrew. The reader does not get bogged down in grammatical or linguistic questions. The ideal setting for this book would be the classroom. In that way, the professor could address any such questions that arise on the part of the student (e.g., why is the third feminine singular pronoun spelled הִוא instead of the expected הִיא, which is especially confusing in such passages as Gen 20:5 and 38:25 where both forms appear together? etc.). 


The format keeps the student reading the text. The graphics and pictures allow the student to work out what would presumably be unknown lexemes (e.g., גָּבִיעַ “cup, bowl, pitcher” in Gen 44:2, 12, 16, 17;  אַמְתַּחַת “sack” in Gen 42:27, 28; 43:12, 18, 21 [2x], 22, 23; 44:1 [2x], 2, 8, 11 [2x], 12; בַּר III “grain” in Gen 41:35, 49; 42:3, 25; 45:23; שׁבר II “to buy grain” in Gen 41:56, 57; 42:2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10; 43:2, 4, 20, 22; 44:25; 47:14; etc.) so that the student does not have to stop and look up the lexeme in BDB, HALOT, or DCH. The student is reading and learning the Hebrew lexis all by simply working with the Hebrew text.


This reader causes the student to organically realise things transpiring in the Hebrew text. For example, the student realises the subtle difference in Gen 42:1 where Jacob saw (ראה) that there was grain in Egypt, perhaps from residents of Canaan around him who are returning with grain from Egypt, and in Gen 42:2 where Jacob heard (שׁמע) about the grain in Egypt, which could come from a traveler passing through Canaan or a source closer to Jacob’s home.


Additionally, when the student is simply reading through the text and listening to it, sound repetitions appear – such as the consonants כ-ר in various lexemes in Gen 42:7-9 (נכר “to recognise, disguise” in Gen 42:7 [2x], 8 [2x], זכר “to remember” in Gen 42:9). Sound connections as between יָחִיד “only” in Gen 22:2, 12, 16 and יַחְדָּו “together” in Gen 22:6, 8, 19 become evident. Also, the numerous puns upon names that appear in Genesis come to mind. If someone is reading through this Illustrated Genesis Reader alone, then I would recommend that they listen in Hebrew to the excellent dramatised Hebrew reading from the Bible Society in Israel as they follow along. 


The format portrays the tension present within the story such as the brevity and disdain in Pharaoh’s words to Abram at the end of Gen 12:19 (“Now, look, your wife, take and go!” וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה אִשְׁתְּךָ קַח וָלֵֽךְ) or the reality of Sarah’s frustration at her own childlessness which is played out in her oppression of the newly pregnant Hagar in Gen 16:6 (“Sarai oppressed her and she fled from before her” וַתְּעַנֶּהָ שָׂרַי וַתִּבְרַח מִפָּנֶיהָ) or the apprehension of Jacob as he enter’s Isaac’s tent in the guise of Esau while Isaac is unnerved trying to discover this imposter’s true identity in Gen 27:17-29.


Weaknesses of Book


There are a few grammatical issues with the English translation provided (e.g., adversative כי is missed at Gen 18:15; 45:5 but translated at Gen 45:8 – see Ronald J. Williams, Williams’ Hebrew Syntax, Revised and Expanded by John C. Beckman, Third Edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 157.). It should be noted, however, that the English translation in the book is not meant to perfectly reflect the Hebrew text. It is merely meant to provide assistance to the student if they become confused by a certain lexeme or phrase (p. ix). The English translation will accomplish this goal.


The English translation does not take into account some studies done on specific verses. For example, the first phrase בְּרֵאשִׁית of Gen 1:1 being an asyndetic, restrictive relative construct phrase — see Robert D. Holmstedt, “The Restrictive Syntax of Genesis i 1,” VT 58 (2008): 56-67. Or Gen 3:8 being theophanic language — see Jeffrey Niehaus, “In the Wind of the Storm: Another Look at Genesis III 8,” VT 44 (1994): 263-267.


[**NOTE: I did not read the English translation, I only occasionally checked it during the course of reading the Hebrew text.**]


The English translation, seems to me, to be contrary to what the series seeks to do. The student is encouraged to understand the Hebrew text without recourse to outside sources. The student is supposed to simply be looking at the pictures and lexemes in order to determine the meaning by accessing the situation and emotion of the characters as portrayed in the drawings within the book. The English translation of the entire text seems to get in the way of this goal. It would be better to gloss only words occurring 100 times or less (or perhaps another denomination such as 75 or 50 times or less) as a reader’s Hebrew Bible does (e.g., the one by Zondervan or Hendrickson). This way there is almost nothing to distract the student from reading and thinking in Hebrew, which is the ultimate goal of this series. 


This Illustrated Reader does not mention different readings within the Masoretic tradition or other witnesses, such as the Greek or Syriac text of Genesis. For example, there is no mention of the possible Tiqqunê soferim in Gen 18:22. Neither is there a mention of the Greek reading “sixth day” in Gen 2:2 “God completed his work which he made on the sixth day” instead of the “seventh day” as appears in the Hebrew text. The Westminster Leningrad Codex is followed throughout this Illustrated Reader without comment regarding the readings in the other witnesses.


A few larger portions of texts are lumped together. These are usually genealogies (e.g., Gen 4:17-22; 5:1-32; 10:1-32; 11:10-32; 25:12-20; 36:1-43; 46:5-27) but sometimes it is more challenging material such as the battle scene in Gen 14:1-12 (other examples include most of the flood account in Gen 6-9; Abraham’s wife Qeturah and her children in 25:1-11; Jacob’s actions resulting in his increased flocks in 30:35-43; Jacob planning to flee from Laban with his wives in 31:4-16; Judah’s entreaty to Joseph for Benjamin in 44:18-34; and Jacob blessing his sons in 49:1-33). This does not allow the reader to contextually understand difficult lexemes (e.g., חבר II “to join together” in Gen 14:3; חֵמָר “mortar, tar, pitch, bitumen” in Gen 14:10 elsewhere only in Gen 11:3 and Exod 2:3; the first appearance of בְּאֵר I “well” in Gen 14:10, which will become prominent in Genesis – see Gen 16:14; 21:19, 25, 30; 24:11, 20; 26:15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25; 26:32; 29:2 [3x], 3 [2x], 8, 10).



All of the issues mentioned above will be insignificant if this text is being used in the classroom and is supplemented by a professor’s notes and comments.


Conclusion


This is an exciting resource for the classroom. What it lacks in textual notes or grammatical explanations can be provided by the professor in a classroom setting. It will also prove profitable to the beginning student working alone. The drawings will allow students to understand lexemes contextually. A student can begin thinking and reading more fluently in Hebrew by reading through the Hebrew text of Genesis. GlossaHouse has provided a wonderful resource in this book and this series as a whole. Though there are things that could arguably have been done differently, the fact remains that this is the entire Hebrew text of Genesis Illustrated in a format that is appealing and that helps the student step deeply into the world of the text in a way previously unimagined.


This could conceivably be a great textbook to use in a Hebrew reading class. It makes reading through all of Genesis or Exodus, for example, in one semester seem much more manageable. The format and drawings encourage active engagement with the Hebrew text. The professor could provide handouts of grammatical and linguistic issues as the need arises. The comic book style should allow the class to move through the text at a quicker pace then would normally be true of working through the BHS text, for example. The class would be reading the Hebrew text, actively learning new lexemes, not just translating them, and naturally internalising aspects of Hebrew phraseology and grammaticality.

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