Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB)

The Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB) is one of the most important resources available for biblical scholars today. In fact, there are many scholars who claim that other than BHS (the standard critical edition of the Hebrew Bible), BDB is the most important tool for studying the Hebrew Bible.

What is BDB and where did it come from?

BDB began as the lexical portion of Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. Gesenius is widely considered the father of modern Biblical Hebrew lexicography. Gesenius’ lexicon was later redone by Brown, Driver, and Briggs, hence its abbreviation “BDB.” A series of corrections were added to BDB in the 1950’s, raising the quality of the scholarship contained within it even more.

BDB uses two main methods to determine the meaning of a word. First, BDB will give information on the cognates of each word/root (from other Semitic languages). Second, BDB examines at how a word is used in context to determine its meaning.

BDB was by far the best lexicon available for biblical studies in the first half and mid-20th century. It has a level of comprehensiveness well beyond that of its predecessors. However, like all tools for biblical studies, BDB has its strengths and weaknesses.

BDB’s strengths:

  • It has an enormous amount of information in a relatively small size (etymology, morphology, scriptural references, etc.)
  • It can often be used as a concordance.
  • BDB’s entries are arranged by root (this is both an advantage and a disadvantage).
  • Its entries on prepositions are simply fantastic.
  • BDB is very inexpensive (if only for this reason, most students use this lexicon when beginning).

Although BDB has traditionally been the best lexicon available for Hebrew Bible, in recent years many scholars have come to see HALOT as rivaling, if not exceeding BDB. Clines’ Dictionary of Classical Hebrew has also come to rival BDB. This is due to some of BDB’s limitations.

BDB’s weaknesses:

  • It has no information from the Dead Sea Scrolls or other extra-biblical literature written in Hebrew.
  • BDB has no information about Ugaritic (a cognate language).
  • Its approach to Akkadian (another cognate language) can be somewhat dated.

Although these limitations can often be quite serious, BDB is still an absolutely essential tool for any biblical scholar. In fact, if you are trying to quickly determine the meaning of a word in the Bible, you should likely start with BDB and then supplement BDB with any additional information from HALOT.

Tips for using BDB:

It can sometimes be difficult for beginning students to learn how to use BDB. This is because BDB’s entries are organized by root, rather than alphabetically. Therefore, in order to find any given word, you must first determine its root. If determining a root proves difficult, remember that there is an index to BDB that will give you this information.

BDB is widely available in many different formats. There are several kinds of  free electronic versions of BDB (including a searchable PDF). Electronic copies of BDB are also usually included with most bible software programs (though these versions occasionally have errors).

Although there are free electronic versions of BDB available, if you are using BDB with any kind of regularity, having a physical copy of the dictionary is preferable. Hard copies of BDB are still quite cheap.

Remember that most of the cheaper copies of BDB are based on the 1906 edition without the later corrections. If you’re simply doing a quick reading of a text, this will be fine for your use. If you’re looking to do serious research using BDB, you will want the longer, corrected version. This longer version can sometimes be difficult to find – you may need to use a library copy.

Final Verdict:

BDB is a classic. It is an indispensable tool for all biblical scholars and it is relatively cheap. If you are serious about studying the Hebrew Bible, there is simply no reason not to own one.

Information about purchasing BDB can be found by clicking on the image below. Or learn about other biblical hebrew dictionaries.

Please note: some of the above links are affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Please know that I recommend these products because I think they are helpful for biblical studies. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel they will help you achieve your learning goals.