Dictionaries are one of the most important tools for reading the Hebrew Bible. No matter how many hours you spend studying vocabulary, you will always come across unknown words when reading a text. Below you will find a list of the most important Biblical Hebrew dictionaries.
How can Biblical Hebrew dictionaries help you?
Dictionaries provide important information about unknown words. This information can be simple or complex. However, it is important to remember that dictionaries of ancient languages are not like our modern dictionaries.
Biblical Hebrew dictionaries can provide you with many different types of information including
- information on a word’s root and its etymology
- related words from cognate languages
- different morphological forms of the word (i.e., if a verb, its appropriate binyanim and examples of conjugations; if a noun, singular and plural, etc.; as well as variant spellings of the word).
- references to other places where the word is used in Scripture. Because of this last feature, many dictionaries can be used as a concordance.
For more information on how to use Biblical Hebrew dictionaries, click here.
The Best Biblical Hebrew Dictionaries:
Below is a list of the most important Hebrew Bible Dictionaries available today:
This is perhaps the most important Hebrew Bible lexicon and certainly the most influential over the past 100 years. BDB always has great information although it can be difficult for beginners to learn how to search for words by their root. While BDB can occasionally be out of date, the information it provides is almost always solid. It is hard to go wrong with BDB. Click here for more information on BDB.
HALOT has come to rival BDB in recent years due to its more up-to-date entries which take into account the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ugaritic, and advances in the study of Akkadian. HALOT is easier for beginners to use because it is organized alphabetically, rather than by root. It is also hard to go wrong with HALOT. Click here for more information on HALOT.
2a. Holladay (Concise HALOT)
This is a concise version based upon the German original from which HALOT was translated. Good for rough translation work. See HALOT for more information.
3. DCH (Clines)
This dictionary is a different kind of Hebrew lexicon. It includes entries on Hebrew texts from the Bible and from extra-biblical texts such as Ben Sira, Qumran, and inscriptions. The dictionary ignores the information from cognate languages and focuses instead on describing how words are used in Classical Hebrew in more modern linguistic terms. It can be a powerful tool in the right circumstances. Click here for more information on DCH.
3a. Concise DCH (Clines)
This is a concise version of DCH. This is also good for rough translation work. See DCH for more information.
Jastrow’s dictionary is technically not a dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, but rather of Hebrew and Aramaic from the Rabbinic period. However, sometimes you can find information on words/roots you would be unable to find elsewhere. Jastrow’s dictionary usually won’t be too helpful in biblical studies, but for certain words, Jastrow may the only dictionary that can help you. Click here for more information on Jastrow.
How to choose a Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
When choosing a dictionary, it is important to remember that different Biblical Hebrew dictionaries have different strengths.
- Some dictionaries are particularly strong in dealing with cognate languages (such as HALOT, for example).
- Other dictionaries are particularly good for describing the context in which words are used (such as DCH, for example).
- Still other dictionaries are good for looking up quick definitions and/or glosses of words without giving you excessive information (such as Holladay and Concise DCH).
The truth is that all of these dictionaries, especially BDB and HALOT, are essential for biblical studies. Although it can take some time and effort to become comfortable using with these tools, ultimately it will be worth it when you can better understand any biblical text you are reading.