Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Reader's Hebrew Bible: A Review by its Typesetter

It is unusual for the typesetter of a volume to review it. It is perhaps even more unusual for a volume’s typesetter to also be one of its principal editors. Both are true in my case. Although I obviously have a vested interest in A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, as the review below will demonstrate, I believe I am uniquely positioned to review the volume in a way that time constraints would forbid to most users.

Binding, Gilding, Thickness, and Paper
On Dec. 20, 2007, I excitedly opened the overnighted package containing the advanced author’s copy of A Reader’s Hebrew Bible (RHB). I was quite pleased with the Italian Duo-tone cover. The look and feel were pleasing, even elegant. The silver edging of the pages gives it a Biblesque look.

I had been unsure about how thick the volume would be, especially since I would eventually like to see it combined with A Reader’s Greek New Testament (RGNT). I was pleased that the volume was only 1 5/8 inches thick. When I placed my RGNT on top of it, the combined thickness wasn’t any greater than the NASB Inductive Study Bible that I regularly carry, so the potential for a combined edition still exists.

When I opened the volume, the first thing I noticed was the paper on which it was printed. It appeared to be the same as the RGNT. The whiteness allowed more bleed through than I would have preferred, but in good lighting the text is easily readable, and the bleed through quickly ceased to be distracting as I put the volume to use. (I’m in dialogue with Zondervan about the possibility of using the same paper type used in Biblia Sacra: Utriusque Testamenti or BHS. However, the first lot of books has already been printed, so any changes will come in subsequent printings.)

Suspended Letters, Inverted Nun’s, and other Masoretic Esoteria
After looking at the craftsmanship of the volume, I had a short list of items that I wanted to check on: suspended letters, inverted nun’s, the large letters in the Shema‘, and the small print in Joshua 21:36-37—the Leningrad Codex does not contain these two verses that most other Masoretic manuscripts contain. I had included them because they are included in Westminster’s electronic version of L, and they are included in BHS.

All the suspended letters came through nicely (Jdg. 18:30; Job 38:13, 15; Ps. 80:14), but I was distressed to see the masoretic accent telisha parvum in the two texts where inverted nun’s occur (Num. 10:35-36, and Psalm 107:21-26, 40 [RHB pages 1220-21]).

I checked the PageMaker files, and the inverted nun’s were present. I checked the PDFs I sent to Zondervan, and sure enough the inverted nun’s were missing! Further checking revealed that PDF generator I used will not embed any character of any font located in the position I had assigned to that character! Item one for my errata list.

The large letters in Deut. 6:4 came through nicely, as did the other large and small letters (Lev. 11:42; Num. 27:5; Prov. 16:28; Isa. 44:14; Jer. 39:13). When I checked the small print of Joshua 21:36-37, it occurred to me that I had not included an explanation of the brackets used there in the introduction. The brackets indicate that these two verses do not appear in the Leningrad Codex. Item two for the errata list.

An Unfortunate Set of Spelling Errors in Genesis
Earlier this month, as I was reading Genesis 1:20, the unusual spelling of nephesh caught my attention. I looked up the verse in BibleWorks, and confirmed that the word was indeed mispelled in RHB. Upon investigating, I found that an error in the typesetting code (i.e., the VBA program I wrote to handle the layout and typesetting) had, unbeknowns to me, corrupted the spelling of 322 words in Genesis, before it was caught and corrected. Fortunately, this error affects only Genesis. Most unfortunately, it affects Genesis!

The precise nature of the error is as follows: four instances of segol + a sub-linear accent were replaced with tsere + a different sub-linear accent. Specifically, the segol + accent combinations shown in the upper row of the chart below were replaced by the tsere + accent combinations below them.

The first column’s error will be the most noticeable since all first year Hebrew students learn that the silluq is the accent that normally occurs on the last word in a Hebrew verse. The segol + silluq combination was replaced with a tsere + tebir combination in 84 instances, thus there will be 84 instances of a tebir at the end of a verse that should be a silluq. The errors represented by last three columns occur respectively 111 times, 108 times, and 19 times. A complete list of this these spelling mistakes in Genesis is available here. Items 3–324 for the errata list.

HALOT as a Gloss Source
I have reservations about the accuracy of HALOT’s glosses. Having glossed over 48,000 of the 60,650 instances of Hebrew/Aramaic words found in RHB, I found myself surprised on more than a few occasions by the infelicity of the glosses supplied in HALOT. At times, some of these were the result of a poor or mistaken translation from the German HALAT into English. Other times, it appeared that whoever had written the particular entry I was working with had not given adequate consideration to the context when they listed a given verse under a particular sense.

Nonetheless, HALOT is considered the foremost Hebrew lexicon in English, and therefore, deserves to be represented, if for no other reason than to bring its glosses into closer scrutiny by Hebrew scholars. For this reason alone, I would encourage those Hebrew scholars whose knowledge of Hebrew vocabulary allows them to read unhindered in any part of the Hebrew Bible to make use of the volume nonetheless. HALOT deserves more scrutiny than it has received to the present.

Screening of Proper Nouns in Gray
There a number of places where prefixed prepositions were improperly screened in gray (Gen 2:8; 13:5; 1Kgs 21:23; 2Kgs 2:15; Jer. 32:8; Est 9:15; 2Ch 1:13; 14:12). In all of these cases, it should be contextually clear to the reader that the initial character is not part of the name but is a preposition. More items for the errata list.

Typesetting of Vowels & Accents
Proficiency in reading and exegeting Hebrew has little bearing on a comprehensive understanding of the appropriate placement of Hebrew vowel-points and accents. I discovered the complexity of the issue and the inadequacy of a single TrueType font to handle all the potential combinations about half-way through the project.

Despite all the progress made in unicode fonts, I was not comfortable typesetting Hebrew with unicode in MS Word 2003, the word processing program I used to layout the project, and PageMaker 7.0 does not handle unicode fonts at all. (I know about InDesign, but decided to stick with what I knew.) More importantly, I specifically wanted the font face to make shifting back and forth from BHS relatively easy. As a consequence, I developed eight additional TrueType font sets, based on the BibleWorks Hebrew font, to accommodate the varieties of vowel-point + accent positioning. It was also necessary to write code to find these combinations in the text and properly position the vowel-points and accents.

The most noticeable placement error I have found in RHB is the placement of hireq + yetib. It is wrongly placed to the right side of the letter under which it occurs, rather than centered underneath it. See, for example, the preposition ‘im in 1 Kgs 1:7, 9 or the preposition ki in Eccl. 4:15. Once this is fixed in the typesetting code, it will no longer be an issue.

Another accent placement issue involves the occurrence of a meteg or silluq on a patach furtive. My code did not account for this combination and, therefore, the accent was not appropriately shifted to the right along with the patach furtive. See, for example, Psalm 132:15.

Those who are highly attuned to the masoretic accentuation system will note with frequency an accent anomaly caused by a coding mistake. All instances of a tsere + munah appear as tsere + mereka. See, for example, metey in Isa. 5:13, which should have a munah rather than a mereka.

A niggling issue that has bothered me enough to note it is that the size of the holem is inconsistent. With the holem vav, the size is fine, but the holem by itself strikes me as too small. I will enlarge it for better readability.

Line Breaks in Poetry
For the most part, I have been satisfied with the poetic line breaks of RHB. I have encountered a few places so far where a more felicitous line break is possible. For example, in Isaiah 2:2, the first line would break better at the zaqef qaton, rather than its current break. I welcome user feedback to identify such places.

WLC-BHS Differences
The Westminister Leningrad Codex (WLC) morphology notes around 500 instances where the WLC differs from the 1983 edition of BHS. When compared the 1997 edition of BHS, there was a much greater uniformity between the two texts. My comparison identified only 27 instances were WLC disagrees with BHS. However, when making this comparison I did not factor in instances in which BHS suggests a Qere reading that is not offered in the Leningrad Codex. See, for example, haksheyr in Eccl. 10:10 where neither WLC or L offer a Qere reading, but BHS does. The Westminster morphology (4.8) identifies 58 instances concerning which they say, “We have abandoned or added a ketiv/qere relative to BHS. In doing this we agree with L against BHS.” These instances have not yet been completely verified.

Even though I had 4 years of Hebrew in grad school and teach Hebrew on the undergraduate level, I still find my knowledge of Hebrew vocabulary sufficiently limited to make reading through Proverbs or Isaiah vocabulary-vexing.

The foremost reason motivating my desire to create RHB was that I wanted to be able to read Hebrew Wisdom Literature devotionally without constantly having to resort to a lexicon, and I didn’t want to have to be bound to my computer so that I could mouse over unknown vocabulary for a gloss. This purpose is more than adequately accomplished in RHB.

Having ranged through a healthy sampling of the Hebrew Bible in the month since I have received my copy, I recognize it is not a perfect volume. It will, however, enable its users to accomplish the objectives for which it was produced: develop skill in reading Hebrew through regular exposure to large portions of the Hebrew Bible.

I recommend that professors of Hebrew who have their classes read through portions of Genesis as well as users whose Hebrew skills are not sufficient to identify immediately the instances in Genesis where a tsere wrongly occurs instead of a segol print off a copy of the errata sheet soon to be provided and carry it with them. For those for whom this does not constitute a challenge, I believe you will find the volume a valuable means to achieving and maintaining a reading fluency in Hebrew.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your hard work. As a pastor who likes to keep reading the Scriptures in the original languages, i find this invaluable. Do you know of any reading plan to work through the Hebrew Bible reasonable in a few years?

Philip Brown said...

You're welcome and thank you for supporting the project. I don't have any bible reading plans myself, but you could check out

erik said...

Could you post the other dimensions of the book? At Amazon/Zondervan's site the dimensions are given as 7.2 wide x 9.9 high x 2.1 deep in, which seems large to me (I am looking at it as an alternative when i don't feel like carrying BDB + BHS:)

Philip Brown said...

I don't have a ruler handy, but Zondervan's dimensions should be accurate. RHB is the same height and width as the Reader's Greek NT, if that helps. There is comparison between toting BDB and BHS around as versus carrying 1 book that has both HALOT and BDB, IMO.

Philip Brown said...

Happily, RHB appears to be being well received. The first 1600 copies of the book have already sold and a second printing was ordered this week.

Even more happily, I was permitted to submit corrections for most of the errata listed in this post, so that with the second printing the Genesis segol-tsere issue, the missing sigla in Genesis, the missing inverted nuns, some of the gray screening issues, and several other errata will be fixed. That means students required to have this volume for the Fall will most likely have a copy from the second printing where these errata have been corrected.

Anonymous said...

Do you expect further corrections in the Third printing? If so, I may hold off buying until then. Zondervan's edition of William Mounce's BASICS OF BIBLICAL GREEK had to await its Fifth printing before its errors were corrected (I learned NT Greek with the First edition, and had to make many, many penciled corrections).

Philip Brown said...

So far, I have not found any other issues that would require the submission of extensive corrections in the third printing.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brown,

Thanks for all your work on this! I look forward to purchasing it ASAP.

Could you tell me whether I would receive the 2nd printing (or later) if I ordered it from now? If not, where could I make sure I have the 2nd edition with your corrections?


Philip Brown said...

The only piece of information I have that might help is that it normally takes 4 months from the time that a printing is ordered until its arrival in the US. I submitted corrections in March. That suggests 2nd printing copies will not be available until the end of July.

Richard Walker said...

I've got a second printing.

In the main, this is a very impressive achievement. I have some experience typesetting Biblical Hebrew and know how fiddly it can be to get it "just right".

In the second printing, some things have indeed been fixed and some haven't. For example, the inverted nuns in Ps 107 are now there, but `im in 1 Ki 1:7 is still wrong.

As for paper, that used for Biblia Sacra Utriusque Testamenti is higher quality but doesn't seem to be any less translucent! Comparing RHB and BS:UT side-by-side they both have a big problem with bleeding.

I really don't like the duo-tone cover. It has the curious property of attracting a vast quantity of dust when left for a day or so.

The thing that sticks out for me most, though, is the page headings. If the English book titles are to be set in caps and small caps, please please please invest in the proper Palatino small caps font. Typesetting caps and small caps using just the normal font at different sizes looks awful. The proper small caps font should also be used for the verb forms (QAL, etc.) in the glosses.

And why are the chapter/verse and page numbers in the headings set in Times Roman? Very unfortunate.

But as I said, overall it's really very impressive.

Philip Brown said...

Hi, Richard,

Thanks for the overall positive rating.

I'm a bit perplexed by your comments about small caps and Times New Roman.
1. The chapter and verse number are all in Palatino Linotype not in Times New Roman.
2. I put the page numbers in Times because my editor and I both thought it looked better.
3. The book names and stem names (Qal) are in the standard Palatino Linotype small cap font. They are not, as you apparently thought, combinations of the normal font at different sizes.

Regarding the problem with misplaced hireqs with the yetib accent, my editor didn't want to spent the money to correct those money vowel placement errors at this point. A second edition that updates the base text from WTM 4.4 to whatever is current may be possible with adequate sales. In that case, we would correct those issues.

For a current list of errata, see


Tony Garland said...

Hello Dr. Brown,

Have you considered making Appendix A available as a separate PDF download?

For those of us who occasionally stumble over identifying a more frequent term, it would be handy to have the glossary printed separately so we don't have to flip to the back as often (and also makes for less wear on the volume).

It could also prove handy to have on hand with BHS and BHL.

Thanks so much for developing the RHB. After purchasing the RGNT several years ago, I had hoped that a Hebrew equivalent might one day appear--although I have to admit I didn't hold out much hope since Hebrew OT is so much less popular than the Greek NT. I'm both surprised and very pleased that Zondervan produced this volume!

Philip Brown said...

Hi, Tony,

Zondervan has approved me making the appendix available, so you can download it from


Richard Walker said...

I wasn't planning on saying anything further on this, but I've only just (January 2010) noticed that Zondervan have announced the publication of a combined Hebrew and Greek Reader's Bible, which would include RHB. (Congratulations!) I have an interest in buying a copy, so I hope it's not too late to sort out the use of Palatino and Times. (But I fear it's already gone to the printers.)

I preface my comments by saying again how impressed I was with the production of RHB. I'm offering what I have written below because I want to help (if I can) to make it even better, because there's room for improvement in the typesetting of the headings, glosses, and Appendix A. Please read my comments as those of someone not trying to be "right" but trying to help.

Now to come back to your comments on my original post:

"1. The chapter and verse number are all in Palatino Linotype not in Times New Roman.''

Let's be clear: in the main body, the large boxed chapter numbers and the superscript verse numbers are in Palatino. In the page headings, the book name (in the centre of even-numbered pages) is in Palatino, but both the page number (on the inside margin) and the chapter/verse numbers (on the outside margin) are in Times.

Other places I have found Times instead of Palatino: (a) page xxvii, the abbreviations BHS and BHQ (e.g., compare the Q in "BHQ" with the Q in "Quinta"), (b) page 1, the book heading "GENESIS", and all the other book headings.

"2. I put the page numbers in Times because my editor and I both thought it looked better."

Yes, this is a matter of aesthetics, but the experts on typography disagree with you. Here's an example from one of the top authorities, Robert Bringhurst, in "The Elements of Typographic Style", second edition, pp. 96-98: "Using what there is to best advantage almost always means using less than what is available. Baskerville, Helvetica, Palatino and Times Roman for example -- which are four of the most widely available typefaces -- are four faces with nothing to offer one another except public disagreement. None makes a good companion face for any of the others, because each of them is rooted in a different concept of what constitutes a letterform. If the available palette is limited to these faces, the first thing to do is choose one for the task at hand and ignore the other three."

"3. The book names and stem names (Qal) are in the standard Palatino Linotype small cap font. They are not, as you apparently thought, combinations of the normal font at different sizes."

No, I am right. I've put together a document comparing samples from the printed RHB with the genuine Linotype Palatino (for which I own a licence) using some "fake" small caps and using the authentic small caps. You can get it here:

Once again, congratulations and best wishes,


Philip Brown said...

Hi, Richard,
Unfortunately, this is a mute issue. The proofs have been at the printer's for a month, and I've already had the publisher turn down an erratum correction I wanted to make.

Clearly your Palatino and mine are different. I'm pretty sure I purchased mine, but I wouldn't have purchased the most expensive version I could find.

If you'd like to interact with me on this more, please email me.


Dartme said...

Could you please tell me where I can find BDB in digital form? A database or some flat file would be fine. I know it must exist! Projects like RHB depend on it, but I can't seem to find one. Thanks!

Philip Brown said...

Dartme: BibleWorks, Logos, and Accordance all have electronic versions of BDB in them. If you're looking for free access, I can't help you there -- I don't know of one.