Fuller and Choi’s Invitation to Biblical Hebrew

Russell T. Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi, Invitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar, Invitation to Theological Studies. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006. 364 pp. $49.00.

Warning: the use of this grammar could revolutionize the study of Hebrew. Follow all instructions. Use only if the desire is to learn the language. Mix with diligence to achieve desired result: ability to read Hebrew.

Kregel is to be congratulated, and Russell Fuller is to be praised for this pioneering approach to the study of Hebrew. Kregel has published not only the text of Invitation to Biblical Hebrew produced by Fuller and Choi, but also a set of six DVDs containing two semesters’ worth of lectures through the grammar. What ignites the use of the grammar and the DVDs, however, is undoubtedly the workbook. The grammar gives the student the raw data. The DVDs present Fuller lecturing through the grammar. And the workbook—if used—will drill students on the material until the fundamentals of the language are instinctive for them. Grammar, DVDs, workbook: an explosive combination.

Fuller and Choi honed this material through years of classroom use. This reviewer studied under Fuller and Choi as they were perfecting the material, and the method they use is the method that I now use to take my own students through the first year of Hebrew. The procedure looks like this: before coming to class, students are to read the chapter on their own. Having read the chapter, they then watch Fuller lecture on the material on the DVD. At that point, the student is ready to review the chapter. At the end of each chapter is a series of carefully crafted questions. In order to answer these questions, the student must not only regurgitate but be able to use the information presented in the chapter. Questions like these are priceless. They put information into action. Once the student can answer the questions, there is a set of drills waiting at the end of the chapter in the text of the grammar. These drills strategically review material from previous chapters, while pounding home the material from the present chapter. The student comes to class with a working knowledge of the material, hears the professor lecture on the material again, and then moves to the workbook. In the workbook is another set of drills designed to reinforce the material.

Working through the material this way takes the student again and again through the material. Basketball players who do their dribble drills over and over find that the basketball becomes an extension of their hand. Students of Hebrew who faithfully work through this material find that the fundamentals of the Hebrew language become part of the furniture of their minds.

The process may seem extensive and demanding, but the process gives students a real shot at learning a very foreign, very difficult language. Moreover, this process, however intense, is much less painful than the stress produced by other methods which do not drill the material enough for the student to actually learn what is necessary to be able to read.

Theoretically, this method could be used by those not enrolled in a Hebrew course at an institution. Everything necessary to learn the language on one’s own is provided. Thanks to Fuller and Choi, anyone with the time and discipline to consistently go after the material can learn to read Hebrew.

There are all manner of debates among Hebrew grammarians as to the best approach to learning the language: should students proceed inductively or be forced to memorize a bevy of paradigms, does modern linguistics provide a magic potion or is the older approach that compares Hebrew to Arabic and other ancient languages more reliable, and on and on. Fuller and Choi dedicate their work to Isaac Jerusalmi of Hebrew Union College, which will alert those aware of these things to the school of thought to which they belong. The student who comes to this grammar will neither be daunted by a bevy of paradigms nor thrown over the cliff of sheer induction. Rather, by combining the fundamentals of the language with a core of memorization, the student comes to understand how the vowel system works in both nouns and verbs. Whatever one’s perspective on the various debates among Hebrew grammarians, for the student, the method of this grammar, with its brilliant drills, make it the best approach to learning Hebrew. These drills were produced by a beautiful mind and reflect the greatness of a teacher who cares enough for his students to push them to understand the material. Thus, the drills, as with the questions at the end of the chapters, challenge students not only to reproduce the material but master it.

Great teachers, like great coaches, emphasize the fundamentals. Russell Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi understand the fundamentals of the Hebrew language, and their grammar presents these fundamentals in systematic detail. With the systematic detail come an array of pithy mnemonic devices that make the learning of a difficult language fun. One is tempted to call Russell Fuller the John Wooden of Hebrew teachers.

14 Responses to Fuller and Choi’s Invitation to Biblical Hebrew

  1. Christopher September 12, 2007 at 1:43 pm #

    I agree with everything written here except this, “Theoretically, this method could be used by those not enrolled in a Hebrew course at an institution. Everything necessary to learn the language on one’s own is provided.”

    As a student of several dead languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), I’ve found that there is nothing more essential than a good teacher to interact with. In a real sense, the material is all one needs to gain the fundamentals, but there are always those questions that remain unanswered which if answered could make it all fit together.

    When I worked through Mounce and Wallace, I also purchased several other grammars in order to see how others approached the subjects. Often I found that those pieces missing from one were supplied by another. A good teacher often has all the grammars and has consulted them often. He will be able to help his students approach each subject from a multitude of angles in the hope that one of the approaches will stick.

    Looks like it’s time to discard my old Fuller binders and get the real deal.

    Warmly,

    CT

  2. Jim Weaver September 12, 2007 at 3:08 pm #

    Jim,

    Thanks for the nice words. It’s great to hear affirming comments like yours.

    Jim Weaver

  3. Bryan L September 12, 2007 at 9:25 pm #

    Thanks for this review. I was not aware of this grammar but it sounds great and I’ll definitely have to look into it.
    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  4. Abraham September 13, 2007 at 5:58 pm #

    I wonder if anything comparable is available for Greek?

  5. celucien joseph September 14, 2007 at 4:48 pm #

    I took all my hebrew courses (2 years) with Dr. Fuller at southern seminary using his Invitation to Biblical Hebrew. The drils are very very good. The book, of course, is superb. I highly recommend it.

    Blessings,
    Lou

  6. tlangejr February 26, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    I found out that the seminary that I attend has the DVD set in the library. I have checked it out and will be going through this. I am in second semester Hebrew and we are using Weingreen, but I plan to supplement my classroom studies with this DVD set and hopefully this will increase my competency in the Biblical Hebrew.

  7. Bill Trip April 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Thanks to great resources such as this and Itunes University. Seminary is no longer needed unless you need the diploma on the wall.

  8. Ryan April 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Dr. Hamilton,

    What is you recommendation for working on Hebrew vocab? Do you recommend the Hebrew Readers Bible? Thanks.

    • JMH April 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      That’s a great resource, but you want to resist the temptation to check every footnote – even for the words you already know!

  9. Anthony Forsyth June 23, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Jim,

    In the UK, Amazon is selling a 2006 edition. Is that the latest one? The cover looks very different.

    • JMH June 23, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      Yep – only the cover is different.

  10. Jim August 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    As a student, I have to strongly disagree with the comments here. This is not a self-paced student kind of course. The books and the DVD that accompanies this book have the lowest production value and didn’t consider the needs of the student. For example, this is a large book, but the font size chosen is so small, most of the book itself is whitespace. Many times it takes a magnifying glass to determine if there is a dot on a bet or an ending is elongated. On the DVD, the demonstration of the alphabet is downright dreadful. The author uses a whiteboard that is placed flat on a desk. The entire first lesson is almost a shot at an angle of the Dr. Fuller sitting at a desk writing the Hebrew alphabet on a small whiteboard lying flat on the desk away from the eye of the viewer. Occasionally, we are given a view from above the whiteboard. Every time he is supposedly doing a demonstration for the student by writing a letter for the first time, the camera either switches to the letter after he has written it, or switches away from it while he is writing it. He has no metered lines on his board so all his letters are free form. When he does use lines which he free- draws himself to show a letters relation to it, he violates the form of the letter by not drawing it correctly within the lines he has or too small in in correct proportions to a letter he already drew, and then tells the audience, “you’ll just have to get used to the way I write.” He spends no time in the construction of letters. He draws three sameks in a row and they all look different, in size and construction. Are you kidding me! Seriously, if you can’t even get the alphabet right, why should anyone at all pay attention to any other things you have to say. This was a major disappointment to me. I recommend either Pratico and Van Pelt “Basics of Biblical Hebrew” or Fulato “Beginning Biblical Hebrew” as well established and proven, professionally done works.

  11. PJ Tibayan May 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Using this now for a Hebrew refresher course. I’m on chapter 15 and loving it so far. This current chapter is the most frustrating thus far as some answers don’t seem consistent or there isn’t enough explanation to know why I’m not able to get the right answers for the drills. A teacher in these cases is indispensable and I’m feeling the lack now.

    On another note, I’ve done first year Hebrew with the Page Kelly grammar in college and Duane Garrett’s in seminary. I liked Garrett’s better. I like this Fuller one better (could it be because this is my 3rd time taking it?) and enjoy the drills and understanding why the changes are occurring more than ever before. Formulating rather than merely recognizing mutations makes all the difference but it also takes a lot more time to grasp on this end. I’m hoping it will help me enjoy an ability to regularly read the Hebrew Bible to know God better and deeper.

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