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The study of Hebrew

The beginnings of the study of Hebrew are found in the Talmud and Midrash, which have some grammatical notes. The Masoretes continued the study as they fixed the text and vocalization of the Bible. Under the influence of the Arab grammarians, Rabbi Saadia Gaon (tenth century) made the Jewish study of Hebrew grammar almost scientific. Later Jewish grammarians include David Qimhi (Radaq), Abraham ibn Ezra, and Hayyuj.

The first major non-Jewish grammarian was John Reuchlin (16th century), but it was not until the early 19th century that Hebrew linguistics was studied on a secular, scientific level. The pioneer of this movement was Wilhelm Gesenius, who published thirteen editions of his Hebräische Grammatik. After Gesenius' death in 1842, the 14th through 21st editions were published by E. Rödiger, and the 22nd through 28th editions were published by Emil Kautzsch. Many of these editions were translated into English; the 28th edition was done in 1910 by A. E. Cowley and is known today simply as Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar. This has become the standard Hebrew reference grammar in English even though it is obsolete.

The largest compendium of Hebrew grammatical material is E. König's Historisch-Kritisches Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache (1881-97).

Paul Joüon's Grammaire de l'hébreu biblique (1923) was recently edited and translated into English by T. Muraoka as A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (1991). Muraoka made this into the most complete and up-to-date reference grammar. Also quite modern is Rudolf Meyer's Hebräische Grammatik (1966-72), but it is not quite as thorough as Joüon-Muraoka. Of note as well is Mayer Lambert's Traité de grammaire hébraïque (1931).

The most thorough, well-organized, and analytically incisive Hebrew grammar is the 29th edition of Gesenius' grammar by Gotthelf Bergsträsser. However, the author only managed to complete the sections on Phonology (1918) and the Verb (1929) before his untimely death. Although other grammars are more current, Bergsträsser's is unsurpassed due to its depth and insight. Another excellent grammar is Hans Bauer and Pontus Leander's Historische Grammatik der Hebräischen Sprache des Alten Testaments (1917-22) although it, too, lacks syntax. Neither grammar has been translated into English, although Bergsträsser's has been translated into Hebrew (Jerusalem, 1972).

Finally, one must note the contributions, in recent years, of Israeli scholars to the field of Hebrew linguistics, most notably Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai, Chaim Rabin, E. Y. Kutscher, Shelomo Morag and Joshua Blau.