Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar 2.0: Q&A with Prof Christo van der Merwe

Editor’s note: this article was originally published on the blog Old School Script. We have taken over its archives and are slowly republishing pieces that have continuing importance and value. This article was originally published in 2017. We continue to appreciate Kris Lyle’s willingness to share his writing with our readers here at

If you study Biblical Hebrew with any zeal and are interested in translation or linguistics, then you’re probably familiar with the work of Christo van der Merwe. He’s no doubt a leader in demonstrating tangible ways these fields can significantly enhance our understanding of Biblical Hebrew.

One of the projects he (and his co-authors) are most known for is a Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (1999). This project was the result of an acknowledgment early on in his academic career that traditional BH grammars had some catching up to do, both pedagogically and theoretically.

Eighteen years later, Christo and Naudé are back with a substantially augmented second edition. This is no minor update. It’s a new version. Skipping from 1.0 to 3.0 might be too ambitious, but it’s safe to call this BHRG 2.0.

This has been long in the making and many who know Christo have anxiously been awaiting its arrival. With the official release of the grammar, I asked Christo if he’d answer a few questions about the contents within, the journey of authoring it, and future plans. He obliged.

Note: the following Q&A is only the opinion of Christo and not his co-author, and further is only pertinenet to the sections he was primarily responsible for: semantics of the verbal system, the particles (minus negation and question words), and word order.


There’s lots of new content in the second edition of BHRG. What additions or expansions are you most proud of, or feel addresses an important gap in modern BH scholarship/grammars?

I think I have learned a lot in recent years from a) insights from cognitive linguistics about how meaning “works” and b) the application of those insights by my colleague, Alex Andrason, myself and many of our master and PhD students.

I feel good about the section on the semantics of the Hebrew verbal system (which was nearly a complete revision), as well as most of the prepositions and discourse particles — many of which I completely reworked and expand. I also tried to provide readers with as much statistical information as possible with the hopes that they can get an idea of the patterns of use as well as their distribution.

What section of BHRG 2.0 was the most difficult to write? How come?

I think the section on the functions of finite verbs (qatal/yiqtol/wayyiqtol/weqatal) posed the greatest challenge because there has been so much research done in this area (and are many different opinions). Relatedly, this grammar tries to provide its users with solutions — and not only all the problems of interpreting constructions.

You are known for not being shy about acknowledging your limitations. What limitations should readers be aware of in consulting the second edition?

Although the chapter on word order has also been thoroughly revised and expanded, I would have preferred if we had more hard empirical data on word order patterns (and their functions) in poetry. Also, I am also still not 100% certain about the function of the word order in hyh clauses.

Now that the BHRG 2.0 is published, what areas of study are you most excited about giving your full-attention to?

I hope to focus the next few years more on the interpretation of word order (with Geoffrey Khan), the use of “active zone” body parts (and their grammaticalization) as well as the application of statistical models in determining the behavioral profile of linguistic constructions (with the help of PhD students!).

Well that’s a wrap. I hope you enjoyed hearing directly from Christo and that this grammar makes its way into the classroom and onto the researcher’s desk. There’s so much good stuff in here, it will take a long time to exploit its full potential.