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Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/From the German Preface


The present (twenty-eighth) edition of this Grammar,[1] like the former ones, takes account as far as possible of all important new publications on the subject, especially J. Barth's Sprachwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Semitischen, pt. i, Lpz. 1907; the important works of C. Brockelmann (for the titles see the heading of §1; vol. i of the Grundriss was finished in 1908); P. Kahle's Der masoretische Text des A Ts nach der Überlieferung der babylonischen Juden, Lpz. 1902 (giving on p. 51 ff. an outline of Hebrew accidence from a Babylonian MS. at Berlin); R. Kittel's Biblia Hebraica, Lpz. 1905 f., 2 vols. (discriminating between certain, probable, and proposed emendations; see §3g, end); Th. Nöldeke's Beiträge zur semit. Sprachwissenschaft, Strassburg, 1904; Ed. Sievers' Metrische Studien (for the titles of these striking works see §2r). The important work of J. W. Rothstein, Grundzüge des hebr. Rhythmus, &c. (see also §2r), unfortunately appeared too late to be used. The two large commentaries edited by Nowack and Marti have been recently completed; and in P. Haupt's Polychrome Bible (SBOT.), part ix (Kings) by Stade and Schwally was published in 1904.

For full reviews of the twenty-seventh edition, which of course have been considered as carefully as possible, I have to thank Max Margolis (in Hebraica, 1902, p. 159 ff.), Mayer Lambert (REJ. 1902, p. 307 ff.), and H. Oort (Theol. Tijdschrift, 1902, p. 373 ff.). For particular remarks and corrections I must thank Prof. J. Barth (Berlin), Dr. Gasser, pastor in Buchberg, Schaffhausen, B. Kirschner, of Charlottenburg, (contributions to the index of passages), Pastor Köhler, of Augst, Dr. Liebmann, of Kuczkow, Posen, Prof. Th. Nöldeke, of Strassburg, Pastor S. Preiswerk junior, of Bâle, Dr. Schwarz, of Leipzig, and Prof. B. Stade, of Giessen (died in 1906). Special mention must be made of the abundant help received from three old friends of this book, Prof. P. Haupt, of Baltimore, Prof. Knudtzon, of Kristiania, and Prof. H. Strack, of Berlin, and also, in connexion with the present edition, Prof. H. Hyvernat, of the University of Washington, who has rendered great service especially in the correction and enlargement of the indexes. I take this opportunity of thanking them all again sincerely. And I am no less grateful also to my dear colleague Prof. C. Steuernagel for the unwearying care with which he has helped me from beginning to end in correcting the proof-sheets.

Among material changes introduced into this edition may be mentioned the abolition of the term Šewâ medium (§10d). In this I have adopted, not without hesitation, the views of Sievers. I find it, however, quite impossible to follow him in rejecting all distinctions of quantity in the vowels. It is no doubt possible that such matters may in the spoken language have worn a very different appearance, and especially that in the period of nearly a thousand years, over which the Old Testament writings extend, very great variations may have taken place. Our duty, however, is to represent the language in the form in which it has been handed down to us by the Masoretes; and that this form involves a distinction between unchangeable, tone-long, and short vowels, admits in my opinion of no doubt. The discussion of any earlier stage of development belongs not to Hebrew grammar but to comparative Semitic philology.

The same answer may be made to Beer's desire (ThLZ. 1904, col. 314 f.) for an 'historical Hebrew grammar describing the actual growth of the language on a basis of comparative philology, as it may still be traced within the narrow limits of the Old Testament'. Such material as is available for the purpose ought indeed to be honestly set forth in the new editions of Gesenius; but Beer seems to me to appraise such material much too highly when he refers to it as necessitating an 'historical grammar'. In my opinion these historical differences have for the most part been obliterated by the harmonizing activity of the Masoretes.


July, 1909.

  1. The first edition appeared at Halle in 1813 (202 pp. small 8vo); twelve more editions were published by W. Gesenius himself, the fourteenth to the twenty first (1845-1872) by E. Rödiger, the twenty-second to the twenty-eighth (1878-1910) by E. Kautzsch. The first abridged edition appeared in 1896, the second at the same time as the present (twenty-eighth) large edition. The first edition of the 'Übungsbuch' (Exercises) to Gesenius-Kautzsch's Hebrew Grammar appeared in 1881, the sixth in 1908.