Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH)

Clines’ Dictionary of Classical Hebrew is widely considered one of the most important Biblical Hebrew dictionaries available today.

What is DCH and where did it come from?

The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH) was an ambitious project headed up by David Clines in the latter part of the 20th century (the first volume came out in 1993).

Unlike BDB, which was based upon Gesenius’s dictionary, and HALOT, which was translated/based upon Koehler/Baumgartner, DCH is a fully original dictionary, not based upon any predecessors. DCH’s entries are organized by spelling.

DCH has three unusual features for a Biblical Hebrew dictionary:

(1) DCH is a dictionary for all of Classical Hebrew, not just the Bible

One of the most useful features of DCH is that it has entries on all Classical Hebrew words that have been found. This includes not just biblical texts, but extra-biblical texts as well. The corpus it covers includes the Hebrew Bible, Ben Sira, Qumran texts, and inscriptions and other occasional texts. It does not include any Hebrew from the Mishnah or later.

Choosing to include these non-biblical texts was an excellent move, because it recognizes that the Hebrew of the Bible is but one part of a larger language and that the texts we have today are merely remnants of this ancient language.

Other dictionaries may reference some of these extra-biblical texts, but they will not have actual entries for words which occur only outside of the Bible.

(2) DCH has no information on cognate languages

Unlike BDB and HALOT, DCH offers no information on cognate languages. While this may seem like a weakness, this omission actually makes a great deal of sense. The full volume set is already massive as it is – it is scary to think how gigantic the dictionary would have been if information on cognates were included. In fact, because of BDB and HALOT, there is no real need for this information in DCH.

The authors of DCH also questioned the presence and importance of cognates for determining the meaning of words in Biblical Hebrew. There are many different approaches for understanding unknown words in biblical texts (and non-biblical texts) and the use of cognates is merely one approach.

Because BDB and HALOT both have information on cognates, perhaps new scholars can be forgiven for thinking that cognates are more important than they are. DCH helps to balance out the picture by choosing to focus on other features of Biblical/Classical Hebrew besides cognates.

(3) DCH presents concise information related to modern linguistics

DCH provides very detailed information about each word because it focuses on determining the meaning of words through context. In this sense DCH is something of a hybrid between a dictionary and a concordance.

In any given entry, DCH will give extended examples of the word being used, and often provide multiple, nuanced sub-definitions. DCH will usually show you which words frequently occur next to or near the word being treated. DCH will even give you synonyms and antonyms for many words. All of this information is very helpful and you would be hard-pressed to find it anywhere else (you could also use Even-Shoshan’s concordance).

Disadvantages of DCH

There are four main disadvantages of DCH:

(1) The dictionary treats Classical Hebrew as one big language

In reality, it would be almost impossible to create a dictionary that could accurately distinguish the vocabulary of all of the different phases of Biblical Hebrew. Most of the same vocabulary seems to be used across different periods and the dating of many texts within the Bible is still under debate.

Nevertheless, presenting Classical Hebrew as one big phase of the Hebrew language just feels wrong. How can some of the archaic poems, the Deuteronomistic History, various Prophets, Esther, Ben Sira, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (just to name a few of the texts involved) be thought of as comprising one big language? Some of these texts could easily have been composed 700+ years apart. They are from entirely different genres as well.

Of course, the creators of DCH know that there are differences in Classical Hebrew throughout time. Clines will even tell you that you can often infer information about the language’s historical development from certain entries within DCH. However, you, the user of the dictionary, must infer this information because it will not be given to you.

(2) The dictionary doesn’t give that much new information

DCH’s inclusion of entries on extra-biblical Hebrew texts is fantastic. And the lists of synonyms and antonyms within entries can be particularly helpful. However, other than this, DCH does not provide the user with much substantial new information. Rather, DCH provides short analyses of information already found in other sources.

Again, although DCH’s explanations of how words are used is very helpful (and can save a lot of time for beginning scholars), there is little in its extended entries that couldn’t be obtained through a careful use of BDB/HALOT, a concordance, and reading the Bible closely.

3) DCH is expensive (though there is a concise version available)

DCH is a great source to use at the library. It is probably not realistic to buy a complete set of the volumes unless you are a professional scholar. Of course, if you are a professional scholar, you probably aren’t making very much money, so it probably still isn’t realistic for you to buy a complete set!

There is also a concise version of DCH which is much more affordable. It doesn’t have nearly the amount of information of DCH (there’s a reason it’s called “concise”), but it’s great for doing rough translations.

4) DCH is only slowly becoming available in electronic form to use with bible software programs

Many people use software programs such as Accordance, Bibleworks, and Logos to do textual study. DCH is still mostly unavailable on these platforms (you can buy an electronic copy on Accordance which is almost as much as the paper copy). Generally speaking, if you want to use DCH, you’ll have to use the physical volumes themselves.

Final Verdict

Clines’ Dictionary of Classical Hebrew is a great resource. Unfortunately, it is usually too expensive for most students to buy. Try using a library copy for your DCH needs. If you still want some of the resources of DCH to use at home, take a look at the less impressive, but more realistically priced Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew.

Information about purchasing the Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew can be found by clicking on the image below. Or learn about other dictionaries for Biblical Hebrew.

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.