Review: A New Hebrew Reader for the Psalms

It’s been a while since I did a book review, but I want to make sure to highlight a great new resource that is likely to interest my readers. Hendrickson Publishers has just produced A Hebrew Reader for the Psalms: 40 Beloved Texts, compiled and edited by Pete Myers and Jonathan G. Kline.

As of right now, Amazon still is not carrying the book, but you can get it on at a discount for about $26, which is a great price point.

There are a number of reasons I’m excited about this new book. First of all, I happen to love reader’s editions since (in my opinion) they are the single best way to retain and improve competency in the biblical languages — assuming you’re using them regularly of course. We’ve seen a handful of excellent primary source texts of this kind appear in over the last five years in particular. (For example, here, here, here, and of course the Septuagint reader’s edition that I produced with Greg Lanier.)

Secondly, and for full disclosure, I know both the editors well. Pete is a friend of mine from Cambridge, where we both completed our doctoral work seated next to each other at Tyndale House research library. Jonathan is a friend by virtue of all the work that went into the Septuagint reader, for which he was our editor. It’s worth saying too that Greg and I chose Hendrickson for their excellent quality and high level of scholarship when it comes to original language sources. Things are no different with this new book.

Getting into the Book

I have been excited to get my hands on this book for a while now and it does not disappoint. By way of initial comment, I have to say that I was surprised by the size of the volume. For some reason I envisioned the book much larger than it is. In reality, it’s actually about the size of my Kindle, but oriented horizontally. (See image with Post-It notes for scale.)

As for the actual text itself, this volume packs a lot in, and for good reason. As the editors point out in the introduction, “the Hebrew psalms present us with many challenges, a situation that can be frustrating since — perhaps more than for any other part of the Bible — we long to experience in a profound and immediate way the literary beauty and spiritual power of these texts” (xvii).

The psalms are presented in an innovative way. I admit that at first I was a little disoriented as to what I was looking at. But with a little reading in the introduction and practice with the text itself, I found myself adjusting rather easily to the tools provided. The image below is not the best quality, but it helps get a sense for what’s there. At the right you have the Hebrew text (newly transcribed from the Aleppo Codex and presented with accents) and at the left you have a custom-made apparatus that provides glosses and lexical forms for the corresponding lines on the same page. This includes glosses for all verbs and most non-verbs, regardless of their overall frequency in the Hebrew Bible:

Where things get a bit more complicated is in the second, “post-Psalm” apparatus. Again, the image below gives you an idea of what you get — this is one of the simpler examples. At the top you see the Hebrew letter ק for Psalm 100, plus the phrase הערות והסברים or ‘notes and explanations.’ Here we get a mixture of text-critical notes and morphological analysis.

There are up to four sections here:

  • קרי/כתיב — This includes all qere/ketiv readings in Aleppo, provided with a Hebrew letter corresponding to the proper line in the text on the other page. In the image, וְלוֹ ‘his/to him’ is the qere.
  • טעמים — This section discusses pointing, listing any differences between Aleppo and Leningradensis (the base text for most editions of the MT). These two texts were compared with characteristic exhaustiveness by Pete Myers, as described in Appendix 1.
  • חלופי גרסאות — This presents ‘alternate versions,’ including orthographical differences between the A and L codices. (This section is not present in the image above.)
  • מורפולוגיה — Yes that is a transcription of the word ‘morphology’ and that is exactly what you get in this final section. This is where you get all verbal parsing along with morphological analysis of various words into their constituent parts, marking affixes, construct forms, energic/paragogic letters, nonstandard spellings, and so on, positioned next to their lexical forms. It’s a wealth of information that is surprisingly intuitive to interact with.

One possible drawback of this second apparatus is that it is not always shown on the facing page of the Hebrew text. Sometimes it is, which is ideal for using the resources there easily. But in most cases, because the second apparatus follows the full Hebrew text of the psalm, you have to flip over a page or more to see the more morphology etc. provided there. In some ways this is a drawback. However, the majority of information you really need to read the text is present on the same page as the actual text itself. If you want more detailed information, it’s waiting for you nearby.

The forty psalms that are included in the volume were selected  to represent the major genres found in the Psalter. The genres are batched into the following categories, some of which occur more than once in the book:

  1. Hymnic/Faith Psaslms
  2. Lament/Supplication Psalms
  3. Liturgy Psalms
  4. Wisdom/Torah Psalms
  5. Thanksgiving Psalms

As you progress through the books, the editors have presented psalms that gradually increase in difficulty in their judgment, based on criteria like vocabulary, morphology, and syntax. Finally but not at all insignificantly, there is Appendix 2, which provides a ~twenty-page discussion of Masoretic accents and cantillation marks, which is an excellent addition.

Overall, I think this resource is excellent The level of precision, thoughtfulness, and quality that has gone into the book is outstanding. It was made with both the student and the scholar in mind. I know I will certainly be using it personally and recommending it to my own students for years to come.


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