Arabic and Hebrew grammar

In the introduction to this site I mentioned that I will be using traditional grammatical categories for describing Hebrew grammar: accusative of specification, intensive Pi”el, absolute object, etc.  These are categories you’ll usually find in grammars like Gesenius-Kautzsch, Joüon-Muraoka, and even to some degree Waltke-O’Connor.

In comparison, newer grammars—like van der Merwe-Naudé-Kroeze, Andersen-Forbes, Rocine’s beginning grammar, and even Waltke-O’Connor (to some degree)—use terminology and categories based on various linguistic models.

I’m working from the premise that Arabic grammatical categories are the best lens through which to analyze Hebrew grammar—the same premise found in grammars like Gesenius-Kautzsch, Joüon-Muraoka, König, etc.  Because they are so closely related, Arabic and biblical Hebrew share many features (clause structures, verbal forms, case functions, etc), and Arabic preserves other features (case endings, certain verbal forms, etc.) that shed light on various features of biblical Hebrew.

More importantly,  from the inception of biblical Hebrew grammatical studies, Jewish grammarians employed Arabic grammar as their model.  Saadiah Gaon, Ibn Janāh, Samuel ha-Nagid, Ibn Barūn, and the Karaite Jews all used Arabic categories and labels in their description of biblical Hebrew grammar.  This practice continued as Christian Hebraists began to write Hebrew grammars, beginning with Albert Schultens.  Many of the great traditional grammarians known to us—Gesenius, Ewald, König, Joüon—all acknowledged the importance of Arabic for biblical Hebrew grammar.

Arabic has a long history of native grammarians who studied and analyzed their language.  Their descriptions, therefore, provide a more sure foundation for Hebrew grammar.  Furthermore, because we have a long history of Jewish grammarians utilizing Arabic grammar in Hebrew grammatical studies, we would be remiss not to follow their lead.

The method I am proposing is the classical philological approach, whereby grammarians would compare one language with other related languages.  Native grammarians would be consulted to determine how speakers of that language understood their own grammar and syntax.  Think of the study of Greek and the Indo-European languages.

As we progress through the Hebrew Old Testament, I will highlight (in my videos and posts) how Arabic grammar informs Hebrew grammar.

Resources (I try to limit these to sources that are easily accessible to you.  For more resources, please contact me at; I’d be happy to point you in the right direction for more details):

  1.  See the introductions to Gesenius-Kautzsch, and Joüon-Muraoka.
  2.  See S. R. Driver’s A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew, pp. 219-45.
  3.  See the introduction to Waltke-O’Connor An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax – primarily pages 34-43.

(Please note: I do not necessarily agree with every viewpoint expressed in the resources I list.)


Published by Richard C. McDonald

I am married to Nancy McDonald and we have two boys, Noah and Stephen. I am a high school history teacher at Whitefield Academy in Louisville, KY. I am also an adjunct instructor of Old Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College. I am a fan of LSU, and college football in general. My family and I are members at Sojourn Church-JTown in Louisville, KY.

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