Brent Niedergall

A FEATHER IN YOUR THEOLOGICAL CAP

Welcome to the series where I pit biblical language lexicon against biblical language lexicon. Accordance Bible Software has kindly sponsored three matches between HALOT and DCH. These are the acronyms for the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) and the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH). And they’re the heavyweight competitors in the relatively-recently-published Hebrew lexicon category. 

Here’s how it’s going down. Each match consists of three rounds following the same format as BDB vs. HALOT: Battle of the Hebrew Lexicons and BDAG vs. Thayer: Battle of the Greek Lexicons. In this second installment, we’ll consider three words from a text in the book of Psalms. For each round, I’ll provide the Hebrew lemma, the verse where it’s from (English and Hebrew), a screenshot comparison of lexicon entries, breakdown, and analysis. Let’s begin.

Round 1: נָקִי

Psalm 24:4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.

נְקִ֥י כַפַּ֗יִם וּֽבַר־לֵ֫בָ֥ב אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ לֹא־נָשָׂ֣א לַשָּׁ֣וְא נַפְשִׁ֑י וְלֹ֖א נִשְׁבַּ֣ע לְמִרְמָֽה׃

HALOT

All screenshots taken from Accordance Bible Software.

Having clean hands is a must whether we’re thinking in light of a pandemic or the Bible. But how can HALOT equip us to better understand what David means in this verse? We begin with the different forms of this word and cognates. It’s kind of neat that Sennacherib’s Aramean had a name related to this word.  And there’s a helpful reference to “THAT,” known in English as the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, which we would do well to check. And then there’s our Psalm 24:4 reference under the fourth sense by its lonesome with the translation “one with clean hands.” The little cross (†) means every biblical reference is accounted for in this entry. Although HALOT doesn’t quite connect the dots for us, it would seem that this fourth sense is closely related to the second sense of blameless. Metaphorically speaking, clean hands would be akin to blameless hands (i.e. a blameless person). 

DCH

Due to the length of this entry, I’ve omitted the top portion, but DCH glosses this word as clean. And you can see that Psalm 24:4 is peppered throughout this article under the third sense: innocent, blameless, guiltess. First, it’s part of the subject (<SUBJ>)—the one who does not lift up his soul to what is false. DCH gives us the sense “clean one, innocent one, blameless one. Grammatically, our reference also falls under construct (<CSTR>) and collective (<COLL>). We’re also given a list of synonyms and a referral to the related verb נקה (“to be clean”).

Evaluation: Wow, DCH, I feel like you really outdid yourself in this first round. Your three glosses give us a better feel for this word than the single one from HALOT. And you gave Psalm 24:4 plenty of attention. You get the win for round one. Can you maintain the momentum into the second round?

Round 2: בַּר

Psalm 24:4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.

נְקִ֥י כַפַּ֗יִם וּֽבַר־לֵ֫בָ֥ב אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ לֹא־נָשָׂ֣א לַשָּׁ֣וְא נַפְשִׁ֑י וְלֹ֖א נִשְׁבַּ֣ע לְמִרְמָֽה׃

HALOT:

There are some more Semitic cognates. And speaking of cognates, a commenter on social media took issue with a statement about cognates I made in the previous HALOT vs. DCH comparison. Here’s what I said that caused disagreement:

Unlike HALOT, DCH does not include Semitic cognates. According to the introduction, while these may be a traditional fixture in lexicons, their inclusion is problematic and largely irrelevant. 

While it was DCH that said cognates are irrelevant, others have questioned the value of cognates in lexicology. Nevertheless, comparative philology may have value particularly when it comes to rare words (148). So, just for fun, let’s take a peek at some Semitic cognates. There are no translations for the Ugaritic br and the Old South Arabian brr. But there are for the Arabic barr and Syriac bᵉrı̄rā: “pious, reverent” and “clean” respectively. Does this help us? I suppose we could allow it to bolster our confidence in the legitimacy of HALOT’s glosses. Moving on, our Psalm 24:4 reference appears under the first sense: pure describing “heart.” This is a short entry.

DCH:

The gloss for this word, classified as an adjective, is pure. We learn it always occurs as a predicate adjective or noun. Because בַּר is in the construct state in Psalm 24:4, it has the construct classification (<CSTR>) with the accompanying translation “one pure of heart.” That’s about it, but while we’re here, let’s use this as an opportunity to check the Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew.

The Concise Dictionary gives us some morphological data and the two ways this word is used: adjectivally and substantively. We have the glosses. We have some references. It gives us the gist of what we could hope to glean from DCH

Evaluation: This one’s close, but DCH does give us some extra syntactical information that can inform our exegesis. It’s water under the bridge, but I wish at least one of these lexicons would have gone to the trouble of hammering out definitions instead of glosses. All we’ve got to go on here is pure. Without definitions, our grasp of each word’s semantic range and nuance will be handicapped (150). How does בַּר differ from other words that are glossed as pure like נְקֵא or זַךְ? Not much we can do about it, but we should be aware of this admitted weakness. 

Round 3: שָׁוְא

Psalm 24:4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.

נְקִ֥י כַפַּ֗יִם וּֽבַר־לֵ֫בָ֥ב אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ לֹא־נָשָׂ֣א לַשָּׁ֣וְא נַפְשִׁ֑י וְלֹ֖א נִשְׁבַּ֣ע לְמִרְמָֽה׃

HALOT

This time we practically get a journal article discussing the different ways folks have defined this word. The division is over whether the essential elements of this word include “injustice and deception, triviality and lying” or “something bad, evil, worthless.” There are sources the reader can investigate on their own, including TLOT (THAT). Psalm 24:4 appears under the second sense: worthless, unrestrained, but is further classified as “deceit.” The exegete has the convenience of potentially related usages listed for further inquiry. HALOT also wanted to let us know that שָׁוְא occurs with נשׂא (translated in Psalm 24:4 with the sense “to lift”). 

DCH

And DCH counters with a strong article of its own. We have three general glosses before DCH goes into the separate senses of this word. And our Psalm 24:4 occurrence could be one of two possibilities. Either it’s the first sense of falsehood or its the third, an idol or an image— a false deity. It’s recorded with its preposition under both senses and it’s included under the syntactical classification of collective (<COLL>). 

Since this is a particularly lengthy entry, let’s check the Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew again to see how it condenses and presents the data. 

Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew

Well, there’s a broad array of glosses for you, and the references are sparser. There’s no mention of Psalm 24:4, which might lead to a pick and choose mentality if we’re relying solely upon this lexicon. How are we supposed to know which gloss to choose? We do have our options, though. 

Assessment: We get a very different picture of this word from our two lexicons under consideration. Both raise some good questions about the meaning of this word. But HALOT is the clear winner by virtue of its in-depth discussion of this word’s meaning. As one evaluator of DCH noted: “The content and format of entries leave the task of defining the word up to the user based on the contexts of usage. Overall, this makes the DCH more like a concordance than a lexicon” (152). It’s still useful, as you can see from this comparison with HALOT. It just has its limitations. 

Conclusion

The overall win for this rematch goes to the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. Since both lexicons only provide glosses, the quality of their respective glosses is an important point of comparison. And I like some of the syntactical data we get from DCH. With two matches down, things stand at a tie between the two contenders. We have one final match for HALOT and DCH to duke it out and see which is worthy of the title for best biblical Hebrew lexicon. Tune in next time for the final battle to settle the score. 

Match three coming soon!

“BURY YOURSELF IN A LEXICON AND ARISE IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.” 

—Attributed to Edward Hoskyns (Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 26). 

Recommended Reading for Further Study: 

Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis (Lexham Methods Series)

Thanks to Accordance Bible Software for providing me with a free digital copy of DCH. (I recently purchased HALOT on my own!) This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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