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Thoughts on a New BDB

July 9, 2009

Over the last few days there has been some chatter about the likelihood of a new Brown Driver Briggs lexicon (BDB) and the usefulness of the old one (see here, here, here and here). The two, of course, are intertwined. But the real issue is the different folk for whom the volume is useful and their differing needs in a lexicon.

The BDB is useful for introductory students to Hebrew. The cheap Hendricks version of the BDB is more than sufficient for any novice and easily fits within their price range. Additionally, the gravitas that the venerated volume exerts has insured that many program chairs, professors and presbyters insist that students purchase this publication.

This became all too clear to me when I attempted to bring down the overall book cost (and weight) for an introductory course by requiring the little Langenscheidt pocket dictionary instead. I was informed that it was not “scholarly” enough and that many of my Presbyterian students were required by their denomination to purchase the other volume.

However, as far as scholarly usefulness is concerned, the BDB is a dinosaur. It was compiled and edited while Assyriological lexicography was in its infancy and before the great discoveries of Ugarit, Emar, Ebla, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the like. While many of these discoveries merely confirmed the definitions and classifications already in use, the lack of resources makes the BDB less than helpful for contemporary scholars.

It occurred to me that over the entire project of my dissertation I have not used the BDB in the way it was intended. I have never needed a definition or a sematic range of a word and gone to the BDB for help. I have always used the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) for that purpose. The only times I have used BDB were when I wanted to know what scholars thought “back in the day;” that is to say when I wanted to hunt down outdated lexicographical alternatives.

For this reason a new BDB would help the scholarly community immensely. While HALOT is robust and the best that we currently have, even it was completed before the entirety of the full publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, the Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language. Having the husband and wife team of John Huehnergard and Jo Ann Hackett working on the project would insure that the work would be a skillful piece of scholarship that would undoubtedly become the new standard for the scholarly community.

But, it will also cost at least as much as HALOT did when it hit the market. Most of us in the guild will pick the volume up on the first Eisenbrauns’ sale or in the book room of the SBL national conference; but our students won’t be able to afford it. (They can’t even afford the current price of HALOT!) Further, the aura around the old BDB is such that it will still be required despite its increasingly more apparent short comings. Thus the old standard BDB will remain.

  1. July 9, 2009 1:10 pm

    I definitely think there will be two BDBs in publication once the revision is completed: the outdated Hendrickson reprint (w/ Strongs etc.) and the revised (OUP?) edition. But I don’t know that the revised version will be nearly as expensive as HALOT since that was published as a multi-volume lexicon by Brill(!).

    I wrote another blog post on the revision if your interested:

  2. July 9, 2009 3:58 pm


    I suspect you are correct—if and when it appears 🙂 I wish they would write a few more grammars, though, instead of redoing BDB.


  3. Dr. Jim permalink
    July 10, 2009 4:33 pm

    I’ve used a few Bible software programs, mostly to cut and paste text and concordance work. I use paper editions of lexicons and the like even though some such tools are usually included (albeit in a less than completely useful form).

    Is there a complete version of HALOT available with network licenses available for libraries without a lot of other stuff included that no one really needs?

    I know it is always better to have the print version, but an E-HALOT with a good interface and open access to registered students (whether at home or on campus) may be the best compromise, if such a thing is available to complement a cheap pocket lexicon for last minute, homework on the bus.

    Jim Linville

  4. July 10, 2009 4:42 pm

    Yes, Brill offers multiple options (I’m sure not cheap!), depending on the size of your network:

    About halfway down the page.


  5. Dr. Jim permalink
    July 10, 2009 8:50 pm

    Cool, thanks.


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