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The New Brown-Driver-Briggs
Hebrew Aramaic and English Lexicon

Publisher's Preface to the New Edition

A trio of eminent Old Testament scholars-Francis Brown, R. Driver, and Charles Briggs-spent over twenty years researching, writing, and preparing The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Since it first appeared in the early part of the twentieth century, BDB has been considered the finest and most comprehensive Hebrew lexicon available to the English-speaking student. Based upon the classic work of Wilhelm Gesenius, the "father of modern Hebrew lexicography," BDB gives not only dictionary definitions for each word, but relates each word to its Old Testament usage and categorizes its nuances of meaning. BDB's exhaustive coverage of Old Testament Hebrew words, as well as its unparalleled usage of cognate languages and the wealth of background sources consulted and quoted, render BDB an invaluable resource for all students of the Bible.

In order to make evident the etymology of each word, BDB organizes the Hebrew words according to their roots, rather than alphabetically. This organization by stem allows the student learning Hebrew vocabulary to see clearly the relationships among different words from the same root. This method of arrangement is also profitable for the student who wishes to study all the derivatives of a given root. However, a weakness of arrangement by root is that words can be difficult to locate. For more on this and the advantages of the Strong's numbering system, see below. BDB groups Aramaic words together in a section at the back of the volume for easy reference. Another section at the back contains Addenda and Corrienda to the original edition.

The present volume is a reprinting of the 1906 American edition, with the addition of the numbering system form Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and correction of the numerous errors and misprintings found in the original text. This new edition, which gives the Strong's number for each Hebrew word, opens the invaluable store of word-study material found in BDB to the novice Hebrew student and even those who do not know Hebrew at all.

For those who are not familiar with Hebrew, a study on the different uses of the word "spirit" in the Old Testament, for instance, would begin in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. Strong's assigns each biblical Hebrew word a number. In Strong's one finds a listing of all of the Old Testament occurrences of the word "spirit." To the right of each citation are the "Strong's" numbers corresponding to the four different Hebrew words translated as "spirit," namely 7307, 7308, 178, and 5397. With these numbers in hand, the search continues in the BDB index. The index is arranged in order of the "Strong's" numbers. Number 7307, the index indicates, is found on page 924, quadrant c. In the margin at the upper right hand side of page 924 in BDB is the "Strong's" number 7307. This entry for the word "rûwach" lists the common meanings for the word (breath, wind, spirit), and then discusses the various nuances of meanings as found in different passages, quoting material from other sources and scholars where relevant. The root word is listed preceding this entry; and entries discussing related words follow. According to the index, "Strong's" number 7307 is also found on page 1122d, as is number 7308. On page 1112, in the Aramaic section, 7307 is next to the root word, and the Aramaic occurrences of the word for "spirit" are listed next to 7308. The rest of this search on "spirit," with "Strong's" numbers 178 and 5397, would proceed in a similar fashion. It is important to check all of the page references listed in the index, as well a all of the cross references found within the entries, for complete information on a given word. Because of BDB's arrangement according to Hebrew stems, it is the index that allows the user to exhaustively search BDB for a given word. Additionally, hard-to-trace words are listed a second time in their alphabetical place with a cross reference to ease any inconvenience for the beginning student of Hebrew. At the end of such a word search, the user will have seen all of the possible shades of meaning of the Hebrew words translated into English in the KJV as "spirit," as well as the particular nuance emphasized in the biblical passages where the word occurs. This kind of study sheds invaluable light upon the biblical meaning and would not otherwise be possible without years of Hebrew study.



The need of a new Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament has been so long felt that no elaborate explanation of the appearance of the present work seems called for. Wilhelm Gesenius, the father of modern Hebrew Lexicography, died in 1842. His Lexicon Manuale Hebraicum et Chaldaicum in V.T. Libros, representing a much riper stage of his lexicongraphical work than his earlier Hebrew dictionaries, was published in 1833, and the corresponding issue of his Hebräisches und Chaldäisches Handwörterbűch űber das Alte Testament, upon which the later German editions more or less directly depend, appeared in 1834. The Thesaurus philologicus Criticus Linguae Hebracae et Chaldaeae Veteris Testmenti, begun by Gesenius some years earlier, and not completed at his death, was substantially finished by Roediger in 1853, although the concluding part, containing Indices, Additions, and Corrections, was not published until1858. The results of Gesenius's most advanced work were promptly put before English-speaking students. In 1824 appeared Gibb's translation of the Neues Hebräischdeutsches Handwörterbuch, issued by Gesenius in 1815, and in 1836 Edward Robinson published his translation of the Latin work of 1833. This broad-minded, sound, and faithful scholar added to the successive editions of the book in its English form the newest materials and conclusions in the field of Hebrew word-study, receiving large and valuable contributions in manuscript from Gesenius himself, and, after the latter's death, carefully incorporating into his translation the substance of the Thesaurus, as its fasciculi appeared.

But the last revision of Robinson's Gesenius was made in 1854, and Robinson died in 1863. The last English edition of Gesenius, prepared by Tregelles, and likewise including additions from the Thesaurus, dates as far back as 1859. In the meantime Semitic studies have been pursued on all hands with energy and success. The language and text of the Old Testament have been subjected to a minute and searching inquiry before unknown. The languages cognate with Hebrew have claimed the attention of specialists in nearly all civilized countries. Wide fields of research have been opened, the very existence of which was a surprise, and have invited explorers. Arabic, ancient and modern, Ethiopic, with its allied dialects, Aramaic, in its various literatures and localities, have all yielded new treasures; while the discovery and decipherment of inscriptions from Babylonia and Assyria, Phoenicia, Northern Africa, Southern Arabia, and other old abodes of Semitic peoples, have contributed to a far more comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the Hebrew vocabulary in its sources and its usage than was possible forty or fifty years ago. In Germany an attempt has been made to keep pace with advancing knowledge by frequent editions of the Handwörterbuch, as well as by the brilliant and suggestive, though unequal, Wörterbuch of Siegfried and Stade (in 1892-3), but in England and America, there has not been heretofore even so much as a serious attempt.

The present Editors consider themselves fortunate in thus having the opportunity afforded by an evident demand. Arrangements have been made whereby the rights connected with 'Robinson's Gesenius' are carried over to the present work, and exclusive authority to sue the most recent German editions has been secured. They have felt, however, that the task which they had undertaken could not be rightly discharged by merely adding new knowledge to the old, or by substituting more recent opinions for others grown obsolete, or by any other form of superficial revision. At an early stage of the work they reached the conviction that their first and perhaps chief duty was to make a fresh and, as far as possible, exhaustive study of the Old Testament materials, determine the actual uses of words by detailed examination of every passage, comparing, at the same time, their employment in the related languages, and thus fix their proper meaning in Hebrew.

In the matter of etymologies they have endeavoured to carry out the method of sound philology, making it their aim to exclude arbitrary and fanciful conjectures, and in cases of uncertainty to afford the student the means of judging of the materials on which a decision depends. They cold not have been satisfied to pursue the course chosen by Professors Siegfried and Stade in excluding the etymological feature almost entirely from their lexicon. This method deprives the student of all knowledge as to the extra-Biblical history and relationship of his words and of the stimulus to study the cognate languages, and lessens his opportunity of growing familiar with the modes of word-formation. It greatly simplifies, of course, the task of the lexicographer. The Editors acknowledge, at once, that their labours would have ended much sooner if they had not included the etymology of words, and they are sensible of the exposure to criticism at a thousand points which results from their undertaking to do so. They have cheerfully assumed this burden, and are ready to accept this criticism, from which they hope to learn much. Here, if anywhere, it is certain that results must, in many cases, long remain provisional. They have preferred to make what contribution they could to the final settlement of these difficult questions. For like reasons they have been unwilling to follow Buhl in excluding the explanation of the meaning of proper names, hazardous as such explanations often are.

That the Editors have made use of the Thesaurus of Gesenius on every page, with increasing admiration for the tireless diligence, philological insight, and strong good sense of this great Lexicographer, and recognition of Robinson's wisdom in allowing him to speak directly to English students by the admirable translation and editorship of the Lexicon Manuale, need not be emphasized. They have also made free reference to Gesenius's Hebrew Grammar, in the successive editions prepared by Professor Kautzsch, follower of Gesenius at Halle, and, since 1898, to the excellent English translation of this book made by Messrs. Collins and Cowley, which appeared in that year. The grammars of Ewald, Olshausen, Böttcher, Stade, August Mxller, and König, the Syntax of A. B. Davidson, and other grammatical works have been cited as occasion required.Nöldeke's contributions to Hebrew Lexicography and Grammar have been constantly used, with the works of Lagarde and Barth of the formation of nouns, of Gerber on denominative verbs, and many which cannot be catalogued here. All the critical commentaries, and a great number and variety of textual, topographical, and geographical works, with monographs and articles bearing on every possible aspect of Old Testament language, have been examined.

The published materials for the study of the languages cognate with Hebrew have reached such proportions as to tax even the most industrious in any extended comparison of kindred words. For the Arabic, constant use has been made of dictionaries of Lane, Freytag, Dozy, Wahrmund, the beirût fathers and others besides. The Editors have found themselves sharing with peculiar keenness in the unavailing regret of scholars that Mr. Lane's magnificent plan of complete Arabic lexicography was not destined to be realized. Fränkel's Äramäische Fremdwörter im Arabishen has been constantly used. For the vast and increasing storehouse of Assyrian-as yet most imperfectly explored-the dictionaries of Delitzsch, and, as far as the times of its appearance allowed, Muss-Arnolt have been employed, as well as Meissner's Supplement, and many special vocabularies. Paul Haupt, Bezold, Guyard, Strassmaier, Zimmern, Jensen, Winckler, Scheil, Sayce, King, Johns, R. F. Harper, and many writers in the Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, the Beiträge zur Assyriologie und Semitischen Sprachwissenschaft, and other publications, have been laid under contribution. A place of honour must here be given to Eberhard Schrader, the founder of Assyriology in Germany whose fruitful work has been prematurely cut short by impaired health, and the Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek begun by him is mentioned here many times. Winckler is of course recognized as the chief editor of the inscriptions from Tel il-Amarna. For Syriac, the Thesaurus of R. Payne Smith and the Lexicon of Brockelmann have been always at hand, with Castell accessible in case of need. Constant reference has been made to Nöldeke's Syrische Grammatik (now, fortunately, translated), as well as his older works, the Neu-Syrische Grammatik, and the priceless Mandäische Grammatik. Duval and Nestle also have been laid under contribution. The Aramaic of the Targums and other Jewish-Aramaic documents, as well as the post-Biblical Hebrew have been examined in the dictionaries of Buxtorf, J. Levy, Jastrow, and Dalman, the collections of Bacher, the grammars of Strack, Marti, and Dalman, the editions of Lagarde, Berliner, and Merx, as well as the older publications. The Christian Aramaic of Palestine has been studied in the treatment of Schwally and Schulthess. In the Aramaic Appendix frequent references have been made not only to the grammars of Kautzsch and Dalman, but also to Krauss's Griechische u. Lateinische Lehnwörter im Talmud, and especially to the independent and valuable pamphlets of Scheftelowitz; Arisches im Alten Testment I and II. The Hebrew text of Ecclesiasticus has been used in the primary editions of Schechter, of Neubauer and Cowley, of Schechter and Taylor, of E. N. Adler, G. Margoliouth, I. Lévi and Gaster, as well as in the more compact editions of Strack and Lévi, and the admirable facsimile issued by the Clarendon Press. Dillman has been the main authority for Ethiopic, with resort, from time to time, to Prätorius and Charles. North-Semitic inscriptions have yielded their material through the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, the Répertoire d'Épigraphie Sémitique, the collections of de Vogüé, Euting, and others, and especially in recent years by the aid of the Handbooks of Lidzbarski and G. A. Cooke, and the Glossary of S. A. Cook. The important Aramaic texts from Egypt, of the fifth century BC which have been just published by Cowley and Sayce, have also been utilized for the Aramaic Lexicon. The lexical matter of Southern Arabia has been gathered from the Corpus, from the inscriptions published by Osiander, M. Levy, Halévy, Mordtmann, D. H. Müller (including the discoveries of Langer), Glaser, and others. Egyptian parallels have been adduced mainly form Wiedemann, Bondi, Erman, Steindorff and Spiegelberg, with occasional reference to Lepsius, Brugsch and Ebers. In all these departments, where active work is going on, fugitive materials have of course been found in many places, often scattered and sometimes remote.

It has been the purpose to recognize good textual emendations, but not to swell the list by conjectures which appeared to lack a sound basis. There is still much to do in textual criticism, and much which has been done since the printing of this Lexicon began would receive recognition if extensive revision were now possible. Among the critical discussion of the Hebrew texts which have been frequently used are those of Geiger, Graetz, Wellhausen (Samuel, Minor Prophets), Perles, Oort, Cornill (Ezekiel, Jeremiah), Beer (Job), Driver (Samuel), Burney (Kings), the several Parts of the Polychrome Bible, the Notes by translators in Kautzsch's Altes Testament, as well as those found in the Commentaries (especially the two recently completed series published under the editorship of Nowack and Marti, respectively, and the Old Testament volumes of the International Critical Commentary, edited by Professors Briggs and Driver), and in many periodicals.

As to the arrangement of the work, the Editors decided at an early stage of their preparations to follow the Thesaurus, and the principal dictionaries of other Semitic languages, in classifying words according to their stems, and not to adopt the purely alphabetical order which has been common in Hebrew dictionaries. The relation of Semitic derivatives to the stems is such as to make this method of grouping them an obvious demand from the scientific point of view. It is true that practical objections to it may be offered, but these do not appear convincing. One is that it compels the Editor to seem to decide, by placing each word under a given stem, some questions of etymology which in his own mind are still open. The number of such cases, however, is comparatively small, and the uncertainty can always be expressed by a word of caution. And even if the objection were much more important it would be better to assume the burden of it, in order to give students of Hebrew, from the outset, the immense advantage of familiarity with the structure and formative laws of the Hebrew vocabulary in their daily work. Another objection incidental to this arrangement is thought to be the increased difficulty of reference. This difficulty will diminish rapidly as students advance in knowledge, and by the practice of setting words formed by prefix or affix-or otherwise hard for the beginner to trace-a second time in their alphabetical place, with cross-references, it is hoped to do away with the difficulty almost entirely.

The Aramaic of the Bible has been separated from the Hebrew, and placed by itself at the end of the book, as a separate and subordinate element of the language of the Old Testament. This is a change from that older practice which, since it was adopted here, has been made also by Siegfried and Stade, and by Buhl, and which the Editors believe will commend itself on grounds of evident propriety.

The question of adding an English-Hebrew Index has been carefully considered. With reluctance it has been decided, for practical reasons, not to do so. The original limits proposed for the Lexicon have already been far exceeded, and the additional time, space, and cost which an Index would require have presented a barrier which the Editors could not see their way to remove.

The work has consumed a much longer time than was anticipated at the outset. Twenty-three years have passed since it was undertaken, and nearly fifteen since the issue of the First Part, in June, 1891. Several causes have prevented an earlier completion of it. Not only have the Editors been engaged in the active duties of their professorships, to which they were obliged to subordinate even so important a work as this, but they have more than once encountered serious interruptions from unforeseen circumstances of a personal nature. But, above all, the task itself has proved a greater one than they supposed it to be. The field has been large, the questions have been many, and often difficult, the consideration of usage, involved, as it is, with that of textual changes and of fresh proposals in exegesis, has required an enormous amount of time; the study of etymologies is involved with masses of new material, rapidly increasing and as yet imperfectly published and digested; the critical discussion of the many related topics is of great extent and scattered through many books and periodicals. Even tentative conclusions can be reached often only through a careful weighing of facts yielded by prolong investigation. And so the process has gone on year after year. The Editors are quite aware that the patience of purchasers has been put to a severe test. They would be glad to think that they may find in the result a partial compensation.

They know, indeed that this result is far from perfect. Their most earnest care has not been able to exclude errors; the First Part, in particular, was printed under unfavourable conditions, and the years since the earlier Parts were issued have brought new knowledge at many points. It was not possible, nor would it have been just to owners of these Parts, to make considerable changes in the plates. Such changes have been limited, almost wholly, to obvious misprints, and occasional errors in citation. A selected, and restricted, list of some of the more important Addenda et Corrigenda is appended to the volume. The Editors venture to hope that in the future they may be able to utilize the additional material which is now in their hands.

A list of abbreviations was issued with Part I. This has been now revised and enlarged, and it is hoped that by its aid the abbreviations made necessary by the fullness of reference, on the one hand, and the requirements of space, on the other, will be quite intelligible.

Thanks are due to many scholars who have shown an interest in the work, and have contributed to its value by their suggestions. Prominent among these are Professor Hermann L. Strack, D.D., of Berlin; Professor George F. Moore, D.D., of Harvard University; and, for the Biblical Aramaic, Stanley A. Cook, Esq., of Cambridge, who has kindly read the proofs of the Aramaic Appendix, and made various additions and improvements. Dr. Eberhard Nestle, of Maulbronn, Professors Theodore Nöldeke, of Strassburg, Henry Preserved Smith, D.D., of Amherst, Mass., Thomas Kelly Cheyne, D.D., of Oxford, Richard J. H. Gottheil, Ph.D., of Columbia University, New York, A. F. Kirkpatrick, D.D., and William Emery Barnes, D.D., of Cambridge, T. W. Davies of the University College of North Wales, and Max Margolis, of the University of California, as well as Mr. H. W. Sheppard, of Bromley, Kent, and others, have laid the Editors under obligation by sending important comments, or lists of corrections. Any further communications which may advance the cause of Hebrew scholarship, and promote a more thorough comprehension of the Old Testament Scriptures by supplying material for a possible future edition of the Lexicon, will be cordially welcomed.

It is impossible to bring this Preface to a close without especial reference to the relations between the Editors and their Publishers, in America and in England. The new Hebrew Lexicon owes its origins to Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, of Boston, Mass., holders of the copyright of 'Robinson's Gesenius,' and long its publishers. The present editors were authorized by them to undertake the work as a revision of that book. The late Mr. Henry O. Houghton, senior member of the firm, gave the project his especial attention, devoting much time to personal conference with the American editors, and making a visit to Oxford for a discussion of the matter with Professor Driver, and with the Delegates of the Clarendon Press, whose co-operation he secured. It is a matter of deep regret that his life was not spared to see the completion of an enterprise in which he took so sympathetic an interest. We desire to record our appreciation of that interest, and of the considerable patience with which he-and the other members of this publishing house both before and since his death-have met the delays in finishing the work.

We are under similar obligations to the Delegates of the Clarendon Press. Since assuming a share in this enterprise they have shown unfailing regard for it as a serious contribution to Hebrew learning. The Editors have many courtesies to acknowledge from successive Secretaries of the Claredon Press, the Master of Pembroke, Professor Bartholomew Price, D.D., P. Lyttleton Gell, Esq., and C. Cannan, Esq.

We desire to express our thanks to the printers, to whose painstaking care in the composition-made complicated and difficult by the great variety of type, including half a dozen founts of foreign characters-in the correcting and in the press-work, the excellent appearance of the page is due; to Horace Hart, M.A., under whose direction they have worked; and not the least to J. C. Pembrey, M.A., chief Oriental proof-reader, whose sharp eye little escapes, and whose personal enthusiasm is always concentrated upon the book in hand.

The merits of the work-if it have them-are dependent to a large degree on the hearty cooperation of all these, whose service we gratefully acknowledge.

In thus sending out into the world a book to which have gone many years of life and much persistent effort, our most earnest wish is that it shall be of real use to students, as a key with which they may unlock for themselves the rich treasure-house of the Old Testament.


March 1906

Taken from "The New Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Aramaic and English Lexicon" by Frances Brown, R. Driver, and Charles Briggs. ©1999 by Hendrickson Publishers. Used by permission of Hendrickson Publishers, P.O. Box 3473, Peabody, Mass 01961-3473 (

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