Cases in Biblical Hebrew?

In my videos you will often here me use the terms ‘accusative,’ ‘genitive,’ and ‘nominative.’  You will also see these terms in your more traditional grammars, like Gesenius-Kautzsch and Joüon-Muraoka and even more linguistically informed grammars like Waltke-O’Connor.  But are these acceptable terms to use in describing Hebrew grammar?

Unlike Greek-which has easily discernible case endings to distinguish between accusatives and genitives, etc.-biblical Hebrew lacks case endings.  Recently, Jan Kroeze wrote two articles seeking better terms to replace ‘nominative’ and ‘accusative.’ He argues that the terms ‘accusative,’ etc. are only beneficial if one can actually see the case ending.  Furthermore, one will find in other recent works various terms replacing the more familiar ‘accusative’ ‘nominative’ and ‘genitive’ (see the intro to Robert Holmstedt’s commentary on Ruth, and the grammar by van der Merwe-Naudé-Kroeze).  In several articles, van der Merwe contends that terms ‘accusative,’ etc. are borrowed from Latin grammar and hoisted on Hebrew grammar, and, therefore, are insufficient terms for Hebrew.

Although the case endings have dropped from biblical Hebrew, the case functions are still around.  When Hebrew clauses are compared with identical clauses in Arabic (which still retains the case endings), it is evident that case functions are still alive and well in biblical Hebrew.  Furthermore, the terms ‘accusative,’ ‘nominative,’ etc are still credible terms because they accurately describe Hebrew syntax.  The terms have their equivalents in Semitic grammar – even if the use of a case may vary.  Categories like the ‘accusative of situation’ and ‘genitive of specification’ are legitimate categories in Semitic grammar.

New grammatical terms are not needed, in fact I think they may cause more confusion.  In my videos and posts I intend to offer clear descriptions on how to discern the various grammatical categories and how they are used in biblical Hebrew.

For further reading:

  1.  Gesenius-Kautzsch §89, 90.
    • Their descriptions of the accusative (§§117-119) often agree with Semitic grammar.
  2. Joüon-Muraoka §93.
    • Their descriptions of the accusative and genitive (§§125-130) also often agree with Semitic grammar.
  3. Waltke-O’Connor, pp. 125-186.
    •  Some of their descriptions agree with Semitic grammar.
  4. Jan H. Kroeze, “Alternatives for the Accusative in Biblical Hebrew.” In Studien zur hebräischen Grammatik, edited by Andreas Wagner, 11-25.  Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997.
  5. Jan H. Kroeze, “Alternatives for the Nominative in Biblical Hebrew.” Journal of Semitic Studies, 46, no. 1 (2001): 33-50.

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.

2 thoughts on “Cases in Biblical Hebrew?

  1. This makes sense to me on the basis that there used to be case endings, which later dropped out.

    I would have found it much harder to believe that these grammatical categories really exist in the language, if they had never been signified.

    (Just my initial thought.)


  2. That’s one of the big debates in Hebrew grammar. I believe the question boils down to: Does the case system depend on function or the endings themselves? I believe the functions can exist without the endings. We see this in English. Others argue that since the endings dropped off, the functions (accusative, genitive, etc) no longer exist. That’s why many recent Hebrew grammarians – Joosten, Bandstra, Holmstedt, etc. – will turn to modern linguistic methods to determine grammatical categories for Hebrew grammar. It’s a fun debate!

    Liked by 1 person

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