Sheffield's dictionary triumph

What has been billed as the first Dictionary of Classical Hebrew has been completed by a team of scholars based at Sheffield University.

"The only dictionaries there have been are of biblical Hebrew," explained the editor of the eight-volume set, David Clines, emeritus professor of biblical studies at Sheffield. "They didn't include the Dead Sea Scrolls or other Hebrew inscriptions that we have now."

The new publication contains 12,628 words, by Professor Clines's calculation, over 4,200 more than previous biblical dictionaries.

Its distinctive feature is that it cites every instance of a word - with the exception of a few common words - used in more than half a million biblical and other texts, explaining the different usages.

There are meticulous minutiae of usage. The dictionary notes, for example, that though many English translations render the sixth commandment as "Thou shalt not kill," the Hebrew verb actually means "murder".

Or, Professor Clines said: "People often translate iyar as city, when it means village or town – in the times of the Bible, there were hardly any cities.

"The word midbar is often translated as wilderness, conjuring up a remote isolated place, when in fact it means grazing land or steppe. It is uncultivated land outside town, used for goats."

The full hardback set costs £1,200 – with 50 per cent off for scholars – although a paperback edition is available at £395. Students and laymen can get the basic material in the paperback, the Concise Dictionary, for £35.

It has taken 24 years of academic labour to produce the complete dictionary, at a cost of £2.5 million, but the work is not yet over. Since more than 1,000 new Hebrew words have come to light in the meantime, Professor Clines has already proposed a revision of the first volume.

    Last updated: 12:31pm, January 19 2012