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An Interview with A. Philip Brown II, part 1 — Author of "A Reader's Hebrew Bible" with Bryan W. Smith

Categories Old Testament

When did you first develop a passion for reading Hebrew? What about your passion for Greek?

I don't view myself as a Greek scholar first and foremost. However, I have had more opportunity to teach NT Greek than to teach Hebrew. I paid my way through graduate school by teaching first and second year Greek at Bob Jones University.

Hebrew bible I have wanted to read Hebrew for as long as I can remember. My father has an Old Testament Ph.D. and taught biblical Hebrew at Bob Jones University and then at Hobe Sound Bible College where I completed my undergraduate degree. In the seventh and ninth grades I studied modern Hebrew under, now, Dr. Lavonne Stiffler, along with my father.

My passion for reading Hebrew increased during my graduate studies. I remember observing that many of my classmates in the first year of Hebrew, quickly abandoned their Hebrew and made no effort to retain a working knowledge of the language. The primary reason appeared to be because it was so difficult. I thought surely there's some way to help people retain their Hebrew and not lose the skills in which they have invested so much time and labor.

I took eight semesters of graduate Hebrew as part of my OT PhD. However, Hebrew was not the focus of my degree. OT Interpretation was.

Can you describe the process of glossing and editing that you and Dr. Smith went through with the Hebrew text?

Michael Bushell of BibleWorks helped me tremendously by providing a text file with all the lemmas in the Hebrew OT identified by book, chapter, verse, word position, and lemma position. I developed a flat-file database with his text file. From an Access database I would generate an Excel spreadsheet that listed every word occurring under a hundred times in a given book.

I would work through that spreadsheet in BibleWorks verse by verse looking up each word in BDB and HALOT. I wrote a number of macros that allowed me to write the same gloss to the database anytime HALOT offered only one gloss for every occurrence of a lemma. I would then copy and paste the glosses from Excel back into the database and spellcheck the glosses to avoid as many typos as possible. During the summers I was working on this project, I made it my goal to gloss between 500 to 1000 words a week.

Once a book was glossed, I would typeset it in MS Word, print it off, and start reading the text checking each word that was glossed as I encountered it. This gave the glosses a reality check – do BDB/HALOT’s glosses make sense in the context? Frankly, I was surprised at the infelicity of HALOT’s glosses on multiple occassions, which is why I noted in the Introduction that long-time users of Holladay and BDB should expect to be surprised by HALOT’s glosses at times.

What role did English translations play in your work?

English translations played very little role in my work. I do not remember taking any of the glosses from an English translation. The only thing that I used English translations for was as an external guide regarding which passages to treat as poetry and which passages to treat as prose. When there was disagreement between BHS and English versions, I went with a majority vote. I checked the NIV, TNIV, ESV, NASB, NLT, and CSB at times.

In the introduction you mention that Jonah was the first book you worked on, is there significance to Jonah?

Jonah is one of the first books of Hebrew I translated in graduate school. It is relatively short and contains both prose and poetry. So it gave me a good feel for what I was trying to do.

Which passages were the most difficult to prepare and edit? Why?

The Aramaic passages in Daniel were the most difficult. Their difficulty in terms of glossing, derived from the fact that there are over 400 words per chapter that occurred less than 25 times. The average number of words per chapter occurring less than 100 times in the OT is around 80. They were also the most difficult from the typesetting standpoint, because if I allowed the footnote numbers to run into three digits, the number of words that occurred on a page would change and that made it very difficult to predict with which word a page would end and with which word the next page would begin. That is why I decided to restart the footnotes on each page --- so that I could avoid triple digit footnotes running into the 400s.

A. Philip Brown II (PhD, Bob Jones University) is associate professor of Bible and Theology at God’s Bible School and College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the coeditor for the 3rd edition of Handbook of New Testament Greek, a publication for Bob Jones University and co-edited A Reader's Hebrew Bible from Zondervan with Bryan W. Smith. We'll have more of our interview with Dr. Brown in tomorrow's post.  -- Andrew

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