on September 7, 1999
This lexicon is probably the most commonly used tool for Hebrew students. While dated, being based on an original work from the middle of the last century, it provides in one relatively cheap volume a handy reference guide for beginning Hebrew students. One of the highlights for beginning stucents was the added index at the back of the 1979 edition which alphabetically listed Hebrew words and provided their corresponding Strong's number and the BDB page where they are discussed. For some reason the most recent edition has removed this useful feature, leaving only the Strong's numbers, which are of little practical value for a novice student trying to find a word for the first time. Serious students should be aware of D.J.A. Clines, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (Sheffield, 6 volumes), and beginners could find K. Feyerabend's Langenscheidt's Pocket Hebrew Dictionary more portable and easier to use, though much less thorough.
If you pulled up this title you probably have some interest in studying Bibilical Hebrew. If you plan on buying only one reference tool for those studies, this should be it. The contextual references and translations (although somewhat dated) are extensive and detailed. The The lexicography is the standard used or referenced by all of the other works in the field. The historical information is extremely useful if you plan on doing comparative work or focused eymologies.
This is the single masterwork reference for Biblical Hebrew; and, if you are a seminary student, you will probably have to buy it anyway.
on August 30, 2005
As other reviewers have commented, this is an essential book for study of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the English-speaking world. However, I'd add that it's also perhaps overlooked as a useful tool for anyone seriously engaged with later/modern Hebrew, simply because (unlike the majority of other dictionaries) words are listed by shoresh (root) rather than purely in alphabetical order, and in each case the full range of biblical usages is listed. I live in Israel, and it's unbelievable the number of times that my BDB has been fetched mid-conversation to check the meaning of the root of a word. Geeky, maybe, but nonetheless extremely worthwhile.
on March 23, 2004
Without a doubt Brown Driver and Briggs (BDB) is a phenomonally useful lexicon, and once one works how to work round the root-order, is more useful than alphabetically-ordered books. The price of this edition too is unbeatable. BUT BDB is a hundred years old, and scholarship has moved on. The current standard reference in English is the 3rd ed. of Koehler and Baumgartner's 'Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament' (HALOT). I would recommend students to start with BDB but to check contentious words with Koehler and Baumgartner, and get a copy when they can afford to (it does cost $150-$180 in the 'economical' 2-volume study edition). Clines 'Dictionary of Classical Hebrew' at over $700 so far, with 3 or 4 volumes to be published, is for libraries only.
I have to say that I use the Oxford edition more than the Hendrickson edition (which seems a straight reprint of the Oxford with Strong's numbers added), but recently I ordered the latter from Amazon for use in Italy where I was living (due to its amazing price, it was cheaper to order it from America than to get my own copy out of store in England), and was very pleased with the quality. Though it has Strong's reference numbers in the margins which are of no interest to me, those margins are slightly larger than the OUP edition, and so one has a little more space to scribble (both editions could do with more margin, tho').
On djdjdjdjdjdj9's allusion to the hishtaph'el interpretation of hishtaHawe, I must point out that by no means the whole of scholarly opinion holds with it. I do, as it happens, but there's not a concensus.
on July 1, 2004
The Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) Hebrew and English Lexicon is a very special dictionary for Biblical Hebrew (and there's a little section at the end for Biblical Aramaic). This is how it works, or at least how I use it. When there is a (Hebrew) word in the Tanakh you don't know or you're not clear about, you page through to it in the BDB. The BDB tells you what type of word it is, whether it's a proper name, noun, verb, etc; it may give you the root in cognate languages such as Akkadian, Arabic, Ethiopic, etc.; and it gives you the various meanings of the word in some of the contexts it is used (with sources and biblical references; it often gives you all the references for the word so that you can use it as a sort-of concordance).
The book was first published in 1906 so it is a classic. It seems that there are more modern lexicons available. If I'm not mistaken (and I stand to be corrected), one modern version I considered seemed very expensive. But the BDB is great value for money. It has about 1200 pages, (mine) is hard-cover (and the cover is nice-looking). It is detailed and clear, and I find it very easy to use. It is also coded with Strong's Concordance Numbers (which I don't use).
It's a pity that the great scholars that gave us this Lexicon devoted so much of their keen minds to the unfortunate documentary hypothesis of higher criticism, whose J's, E's, D's, and P's show their ugly faces in this book, albeit rarely; fortunately, they also gave us BDB, and it is no surprise that it has come to be an essential book for the study of the Tanakh for so many.
on October 10, 2013
The Brown-Driver-Briggs is much more than a dictionary.
Although I agree with the reviewers who regret that this edition doesn't have the Hebrew-English index in the back, I never even thought to look for this in all my years of owning this dictionary until I read a review saying it was missing.
Here is a brief summary of what you get in the BDB, as it is most commonly abbreviated, and some things you need to know.
Learning to use the BDB is often included in many Hebrew coursebooks, since it is almost like learning a language in itself.
First of all, the words are NOT listed in alphabetical order. They are listed in alphabetical order under the HEADING OF THE ROOT. So, every word which is formed from the root "KTV" (such as Miktav, Ktav, and Ktovah) will be listed in alphabetical order starting with the root itself (prefixed by the "root" symbol borrowed from math), "√כתב," in the "Kaf" section. So knowing how to identify the root consonants of a word is a must before you can use this dictionary.
However, this is an essential skill for understanding any Semitic language anyway, since Hebrew, Arabic, or Aramaic word meanings are just vowel shapes and helper prefixes, with a consonant-based meaning.
Secondly, you will need a reference grammar like Gesenius handy in order to understand what Brown Driver Briggs is telling you about the word. The grammatical information given is very specific and often includes unusual forms such as Hithpa'al and Hothpalel.
Thirdly, when you first look up a root, you will see it compared with its Semitic equivalents in Arabic, Aramaic, Akkadian, Syriac, and Ge'ez (ancient Ethiopian), as well as the occasional Ancient Egyptian or Coptic word. So knowing the Arabic alphabet is a good introduction to being able to use the Comparative Semitics tools the dictionary offers.
Right now I am learning the Ethiopian alphabet (called the Ge'ez Fidel) and the Syriac script (the BDB lists Syriac words in the Serto (western Syriac) script, as opposed to Estrangelo (eastern Syriac)). Akkadian and Egyptian words are not listed in cuneiform/heiroglyph form, but instead are written in English-letter transcription.
Fourthly, there are many, many abbreviations used in the dictionary. Almost all of these abbreviations are explained in the front of the book, right after the Preface. It might be handy to put a sticky marker there, or a bookmark, for easy flipping back and forth to look up an abbreviation.
Fifthly, Greek is used throughout the dictionary. The most common example is the letter "ψ" used to abbreviate "Psalms." However, words or phrases in Greek are not uncommon. Less common are Latin and German insertions or titles of books.
Sixthly, the dictionary is rife with Scriptural references illustrating the various forms and usages of the word.
Seventh, manuscript names are also included. This information can be ignored by the beginner (I do.) These are the funny looking symbols such as old Fraktur-style German letters in a big font sometimes followed by a Greek word.
Eighth, the definitions of the words are usually written in italics, interspersed among all the complicated symbols and Scriptural references found under each listing.
Because the BDB is so complicated, it is extremely useful. It is also just one volume, as opposed to 6-volume sets like some dictionaries, meaning it is accessible to the beginner.
Some people are overwhelmed by the complicated information presented in the BDB. They know the Hebrew alphabet, but don't know how to identify the root of a word. Or they don't speak any other Semitic or scholarly language other than Hebrew, so all the comparative Semitics data is useless to them. For such students, a pocket dictionary might be more useful and much easier to use.
I want a deep understanding of the Hebrew Bible. With all the raging controversies surrounding its origins and meaning, I find it extremely useful to have so much information accessible about the etymologies of words and the comparison with other Semitic languages. I feel like if I can learn to read these other languages, I will be able to understand the hidden story behind Scripture which has been so hotly pursued ever since the birth of High Criticism in Germany in the late 1800s. So the BDB feels like an invitation to me, showing me in an attractive visual format the various important elements of Comparative Semitics and textual criticism with which I must become familiar if I want to have a deep understanding of the Hebrew Text and form an opinion about its origins.
on June 4, 2008
BDB is recommended at the end of a Hebrew primer for adults that I often consult. I agree with other reviewers that BDB requires a fundamental knowledge of Hebrew. If you already have a familiarity with Hebrew, and if you enjoy deep reading of the Tanakh, BDB is an essential resource.
As an example, I used BDB to research the etymology of the root "bet-kuf-resh". BDB led me on a fascinating journey that led me eventually to Psalms and the Shulchan Oruch! At the end of it I had a fair amount of good material for a devar torah.
I have one reservation on BDB. As with many of the older lexicons, BDB was written before the discovery of Ugaritic (i.e., prior to 1930). Study of Ugaritic etymologies has added enormously to our knowledge of obscure Hebrew words. I anxiously await the arrival of a single-volume biblical lexicon that incorporates Ugaritic!