Theoretical Framework


This dictionary differs from existing Hebrew dictionaries in that it is a semantic dictionary. This may appear to be a redundant qualification. Should not each dictionary be considered semantic? The answer to this question is yes. In spite of this it must be said that so far, semantic considerations have played only a limited role in biblical Hebrew lexicography.

Over the past centuries the grammar of biblical Hebrew has been thoroughly analyzed. A structural semantic analysis of the corpus that we have of this language, however, has until recently been sadly lacking. This is a careful study of the way different concepts in the world behind a language are perceived by the speakers of that language and how these concepts are transferred into semantic forms. The human mind perceives all kinds of relationships between different concepts and classes of concepts, which are often reflected in the language. Though some of these relations may be incidental, more often than not a careful semantic analysis of a particular language results in the discovery of different kinds of patterns in the semantic relations between (classes of) concepts. In this way can we also identify which concepts are perceived as belonging to the same semantic field or domain and which concepts are considered semantically different.

The meaning of a particular concept can only then be fully understood if we study it in combination with other concepts that belong to the same semantic field or domain. Only in this way we can discover the different semantic features of a lexical unit that need to be distinguished in order to be able to describe its meaning adequately.

In his dissertation, Reinier de Blois (2000) describes the results of his semantic analysis of biblical Hebrew. From a semantic point of view a distinction is made between three classes of lexical units in Biblical Hebrew: Objects, Events, and Relationals. Every Hebrew word belongs to one of these three semantic classes. In SDBH the semantic class to which a particular word belongs is considered more important than its grammatical classification.

In SDBH the grammatical classification of lexical units will not be entirely ignored, but will receive considerably less prominence than so far has been the case in Hebrew lexicography.

Another important difference between SDBH and existing dictionaries of biblical Hebrew is the following: Lexical units belong to the semantic classes of Objects and Events have both a lexical and a contextual meaning. The former focuses on the meaning of a lexical unit within its minimal context, with only those semantic arguments that it requires in order to be able to identify its basic meaning, whereas the latter takes all relevant aspects of the context of a particular instance of this entry into consideration.

In order to adequately study both the lexical and the contextual meaning(s) of a given lexical unit a further distinction is made between lexical and contextual semantic domains. This implies that in SDBH most lexical entries have to be classified twice and receive both lexical and contextual labels. In other words, every (sub)entry may have one or more lexical meanings and will therefore be assigned to one or more lexical semantic domains. For each lexical meaning, in turn, we may find one or more different contexts, each providing its own relevant information that will need to be covered by one or more contextual semantic domains.

The verb חבא, for instance, together with its derivatives מַחֲבֵא and מַחֲבוֹא, has six lexical meanings, which will be listed below, in the form of definitions:

  1. to go to a location where one will not be readily seen by others and/or be safe from danger
  2. location where one will be safe from danger
  3. causative of [a]: to cause someone else to go to a location where that person will not be readily seen by others and/or be safe from danger
  4. to leave in a such a way that other people do not notice
  5. as [c], but without indication of a specific location: to keep someone from (physical or non-physical) harm
  6. as [a], but extended to events: to come to a stop

Each of these six lexical meanings, however, is found in different contexts, each of which provides information that can be relevant to the text, and that needs to be covered by one or more contextual domains. If this contextual information is incorporated in the form of glosses, into the little scheme above, it produces the following result:

  1. to go to a location where one will not be readily seen by others and/or be safe from danger
  2. location where one will be safe from danger
  3. causative of [a]: to cause someone else to go to a location where that person will not be readily seen by others and/or be safe from danger
  4. to leave in a such a way that other people do not notice
  5. as [c], but without indication of a specific location: to keep someone from (physical or non-physical) harm
  6. as [a], but extended to events: to come to a stop

The following figure shows what an entry in SDBH looks like: