Just about a month ago Hendrickson Publishers released a new series of volumes produced by Jonathan Kline entitled Keep Up Your Biblical Languages in Two Minutes a Day. You are probably familiar with this publisher even if it’s not a name you immediately recognize. They are perhaps best known for their primary texts, which they produce in cooperation with Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. For example, they recently produced two high-quality reader’s editions for the OT and NT. They’ve also just printed a very nicely-bound The Complete Hebrew-Greek Bible, which pairs Leningrad with Westcott-Hort for OT and NT texts.
But now, for the books of interest for this post.
What Kind of Book is This?
These books are meant to remove your excuses. Occasionally, someone asks me what “the secret” is to really learning the biblical languages well. The answer is simple, but not easy: work hard at it all the time.
Now, I am enough of a realist to know that not everyone needs or wants to truly master Greek and Hebrew (or Aramaic, Latin, Syriac etc. etc.). That is why some seminary degrees don’t require the languages. Fine.
But, I do hope it goes without saying that everyone in pastoral ministry needs to have some facility in the biblical languages. You should at least be able to interact intelligently with lexicons and commentaries. Better still is to actually prepare sermons from the Greek and Hebrew (or Aramaic). Keeping your languages fit keeps you thinking in terms of grammar and meaning when it comes to exegesis, which in itself can create useful safeguards.
These Keep Up Your Biblical Languages books provide a good framework for retaining that fitness. Broken into volumes of 365 intallments – one for every day of the year – each page works you through one verse. At the top of each page is the verse in English with two key vocab words in the original language given in parentheses. Below that are two vocab review words, followed by the same verse in the original language with those same two vocab words highlighted. At the bottom of the page is a dual-column comparison of the English and original language versions, paired up clause-by-clause. You can see this layout in the image below.
How Useful is it Really?
Pretty useful. There are limitations. I’ll focus on the benefits first. First, there is a beauty in the simplicity of these volumes. No grammar jargon, no linguistic terms. Just texts and vocab. What this does is keep you focused on the languages themselves. This, plus the selection of short texts helps to give you more constant exposure – if you are consistent – to the languages. There are also two book ribbons, and each page is dated for the entire year, so you have no excuse!
Another nice feature of these books is the cumulative design of the vocab review. Each day you move along, two new vocab words are provided that are of decreasing frequency in the corpus. So basically you’re brushing up your vocab over time automatically.
I must admit I was surprised to see there that is no parsing provided. Despite my initial concern about this from a user’s perspective, I actually think this is okay. Parsing is the hardest skill to keep sharp, and it is tempting to rely on helps, much like a child relies on a bike training wheels. Being rid of them forces you to work it out yourself, and in that way gives you a reliable metric for where your parsing skills are at the moment.
Are these Worth the Price?
I have been using these books ever since I got back from the conferences at the end of November. I keep them on my nightstand, and I’ve been reading from each one before I put on my stocking cap and blow out the candle every night. It’s a very easy ritual to develop, and I must say, getting through one page really does take only two minutes.
Aside from the practical aspects of keeping the biblical languages in front of my face regularly, another feature of these books I’ve come to appreciate greatly is the printing quality. These are bound in something called Hard Flexisoft, which basically means they’re hardback with a sort of squishy, leatherish cover that feels nice to hold, and allows a firm grip so you can use them while skydiving, etc. The spine is also sewn, which I’m a huge fan of since it will hold up a lot better over the long haul.
Considering all these factors, I would say “yes” they’re worth the price.
No, you won’t master the languages using these volumes alone, but along with other consistent study they will help you keep in shape. To continue the fitness analogy, you can think of these books as a daily set of 50 pushups. You’re not going to the Olympics with just that, but it’ll keep you aware of your limitations.
I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second volumes. I’ll probably be using these books personally, as well as for teaching purposes, in the years to come. Rumor has it other languages and texts are already being considered!