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Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge

Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database (SAHD)

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Cambridge, through the Faculty of Divinity, is one of a group of universities in Britain, Europe, the USA and Australia that are cooperating on a major scholarly enterprise in the field of Old Testament Studies. The Chairman of the Project is Prof. K. Spronk of the Protestant Theological University of the Netherlands, and the Secretary is Prof. Hugh Williamson of the University of Oxford. For information on other Universities involved, see the Websites of Edinburgh and Florence.

The Context

Cambridge has for many years been a front-line centre of Old (and New) Testament study and it was host in 1995 to the Fifteenth Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament. In recent years research projects in the Faculty of Divinity have led to the publication of four reference works by Cambridge University Press: Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions by Prof. Davies (Supplement edition now published, 2004), and three volumes of Jewish Inscriptions from the Graeco-Roman period (Prof. William Horbury and Dr David Noy). Currently there is a growing interest in Cambridge in the relationship of Old and New Testament Theology to one another in the widest context of Christian theology as well as in Jewish biblical exegesis, and this can be expected to benefit from the work of the Hebrew Database Project and also lead to important publications in the future.


The aim is to store in a computerised form all the information that a scholar, translator, preacher or layperson could require about the meaning and interpretation of ancient Hebrew vocabulary. The data will be systematically arranged, evaluated by experts in the field, and encoded so as to make consultation and cross-referencing easy and maximally productive. Both the quantity of data included and the possibilities of comparison and cross-reference will go far beyond that which any standard Hebrew dictionary can offer; the contributions of modern linguistics and computer technology will be exploited to the full. Such information lies at the foundation of all good biblical scholarship, whether this takes the form of commentaries on the Bible, historical works or biblical theology.

The Faculty of Divinity is particularly interested in the study, in the context of this project, of theological terms like blessing, holiness and salvation, whose careful definition is essential if the meaning of the biblical writers is to be accurately represented. Given the fact that so much of the language and theology of the New Testament is modelled on those of the Old, a work of this kind will be of great benefit to New Testament interpretation as well.

Work Completed and in Progress

The Project has been directed in Cambridge by Professor Davies of the Faculty of Divinity, along with Professor Robert Gordon and Professor Geoffrey Khan of the Faculty of Oriental Studies (now Asian and Middle Eatern Studies). The current Director of the Cambrdge Centre is Dr James Aitken of the Faculty of Divinity. The initial work was on a series of entries for the database on the Hebrew words for weapons, road and path, blessing and cursing, salvation, and some of the Hebrew particles.


Some of the semantic principles employed in the Project were published as a volume: T. Muraoka (ed.), Studies in Ancient Hebrew Semantics (Abr-Nahrain Suppl. 4; Louvain: Peeters Press, 1995).

The following sample entries have been published in T. Muraoka (ed.), Semantics of Ancient Hebrew (Abr-Nahrain Suppl. 6; Louvain: Peeters Press, 1998):

A study of a complete semantic field was published in 2007 by Dr. J.K. Aitken: The Semantics of Blessing and Cursing in Ancient Hebrew (Leuven, Peeters).

Williams, Peter J., 'Difference between the roots mlt1 and plt1', Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 114/3 (2002), 438-442.


The project has been in preparation for several years. A grant from the European Science Foundation enabled leading scholars from several different countries to hold a series of meetings to discuss the study of Hebrew and to make specific plans for the database. Dr Graham Davies, then Reader in Old Testament Studies at Cambridge, was Secretary of the Co-ordinating Committee throughout this period and played a major part in establishing the ground rules for the project.

In 1995 Cambridge was awarded 65,000 by the Leverhulme Trust to pay for a research worker for the first three years of the project, and since then funding has also been received from the Jerusalem Trust and the British Academy/Humanities Research Board.

Some of the work has now been published online: Word list.

Cambridge Contact

Dr James Aitken, Faculty of Divinity, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9BS.

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©Cambridge University Divinity Faculty; last updated March 2019