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REVIEW: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament

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The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament is the standard reference work to which all Hebrew lexicons are compared. Just enough articles; just the right length; just the right slant; even the Hebrew is both accurate and accessible. As the standard Hebrew lexical work, it obviously rates our excellent “Best of Class” Award.

DDT Rating


“Best of Class” Award

No Hebrew Necessary

Hebrew Essential

Language Skills Needed




Entry Length

Leans Left


Leans Right

Theological Bias




Academic Target


Welcome to this detailed DDT Product Review of the Theological

Wordbook of the Old Testament by R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer,

and Bruce Waltke (henceforth in this article to be referred to simply as

"TWOT" - a universal academic abbreviation of this work). No matter

what “version” of this work that you are interested in, you’ll find out

what’s most important about it in this review: the content.


I want to give you enough information to make sure that you are

an informed buyer. I also want you to know right up front my

theological perspective so you’ll be able to understand what I write (I think that’s important, and I’m quite sure you’ll agree!).


Finally, I know that you’ve already looked at the DDT Rating, so you already know the conclusion: this is the best Hebrew lexicon/dictionary in existence. Now, let us commence with the review!


Introductory Comments


First, everyone should know that this has become the standard Hebrew lexical work that all others are judged by. That sentence should speak volumes. There are shorter works (like Vine's word studies) and longer works (like the massive Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament); but all works are compared/contrasted to TWOT. Now, get this: it is only 30 years old! To become "the standard" in much less than 30 years is amazing. (It actually became the standard fairly quickly.) It simply shows how good TWOT really is.


Second, the price of this work makes it accessible to just about anyone who wants it. Yes, a college student may have to go without soda for a month, but anyone who wants it can get one. (You can't say that about Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament - you may have to give up rent for a month. Ouch.)


So.... The standard work. Priced right. Easy to find. Stop reading the review now and go buy it.


For those of you still reading, let's look at some other items of interest. Let's start with a couple of questions:


What Does The Title Mean? Well, it refers only to Old Testament (and therefore Hebrew) language. It's a reference to the words of the Old Testament. And it covers words that are important to understanding the theology of the Old Testament. Note this quote from TWOT {review note: all TWOT quotes in this review come from the TWOT module in “theWord” Bible software...}:


Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament... approaches the matter [DDT - the study of words] from a practical and less exhaustive viewpoint than the major studies. The busy pastor or earnest Christian worker who has neither the time nor background for detailed technical study should yet have a tool for the study of the significant theological words of the Hebrew Bible [emphasis mine].


What is a lexicon? In linguistics, the lexicon of a language is its vocabulary, including its words and expressions. A lexicon is also a synonym of the word thesaurus. More formally, it is a language's inventory of lexemes (sorry to be cerebral - that means "words"). A lexicon, then, is a book about words. (Don't we call those "dictionaries," by the way?) In America, the word lexicon is typically reserved for works in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, but are not exclusive to those languages.


While the word lexicon (or any of it's derivatives) is not in the title, this work is basically a lexicon. Note this comment from Harris in his "Introduction",


The Wordbook is essentially a Hebrew lexicon and can be used like any other Hebrew lexicon.


TWOT has about 1,800 entries. About 400 of them are simply "dictionary definitions" like what can be found in "The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon" (which was the standard prior to TWOT's arrival...). The other 1,400 entries are encyclopedic.


Theological Bias


Everybody has a bias. It's not possible to not have one. I, your reviewer, have one. (The difference with me from most other reviewers is that I make it easy for you to know what mine is.) The question "What is it's theological bias?" should be asked when approaching any biblical work. It becomes absolutely essential when considering a theological work. I'm not saying I wouldn't use a work that I disagree with; I'm saying I want to know what an author believes before I read what he writes. Philosophy filtered through the Bible becomes truth or error. It's as simple as that.


So: what is the theological bias of TWOT? First, you should know that there were three major editors of TWOT: R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke. They are all well-known Neo-Evangelicals. Here is the stated view of their theological bias of the OT:


The editors and Moody Press are [under - sic] the conviction that essential to the right understanding of the theological terms of the Old Testament is a belief in the Bible’s truth. Spiritual things are “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).


It should be noted that each of these three men are reformed in their theology, and are personally less conservative than I would like for them to be. Knowing this going into the book makes for an excellent time of study.


There were 46 total men involved in the actual writing of the articles. While not as famous as the editors, these men broadly reflect a similar doctrinal position.


Academic Target


This is not a work intended for the young, nor those with little education. (That is not intended to be insulting nor snide.) Those students with no theological or Hebrew background may have difficulty with this resource. On the opposite side of that, though, is that those who have a desire to study and know truth, even without a Hebrew or theological background, will be able to successfully utilize this book. It may just take a little work!


The actual articles themselves are written on a professional (college) level. They will not be above most serious students of the Bible. It is the Hebrew references that may cause the non-Hebrew readers difficulty.


When Harris writes this - “...The busy pastor or earnest Christian worker who has neither the time nor background for detailed technical study should yet have a tool for the study of the significant theological words of the Hebrew Bible...” {emphasis mine} - that is key to understanding that this book is written on a professional level. This is a serious tool for serious study. If you’re looking for “Hebrew light” - stick with your Strong’s Concordance.


Language Skills Needed


While all of the articles are written in English, it is a Hebrew lexicon - and a detailed one at that. So while all of it can be read, it doesn’t mean all of it will be understood. Words like “Qal” and “Niphal” look funny; “Pual” even sounds funny! Here’s a real world example of what I mean:


The meaning “to uncover” occurs in the Qal, Niphal, Piel, Pual and Hithpael stems, and the meaning “to depart, to go into exile” occurs in the Qal, Hiphil and Hophal stems.


OK - you were able to read every word; now that your devotional time is over, you can sing about the blessedness of your time in the Word, right?!


To get the most out of this work, an Introductory Hebrew class would be helpful. However, this work is very worthwhile even for those with no background in the Hebrew language. Most of the value in this work can be gleaned without a Hebraist background. Just be prepared for a dictionary that is academic and not devotional (and keep a couple of Excedrin ready when you have to really use those brain muscles!).






The 1,400 encyclopedic articles average about 800 words each. (That is a completely unofficial number. I averaged a small random sampling of articles to arrive at that statistic.) While the articles are not exhaustive, they are typically plenty long enough to discuss the important nuances of each of these words.


Here’s a note on the theological words which were chosen as entries in TWOT:


All of the biblical Hebrew vocables [DDT - “words that have meaning”] are included in the Wordbook. Those judged for one reason or another to be of theological significance are given essay-type definitions. The rest, on which there is no special disagreement or theological question, are given one-line definitions, usually following BDB. Proper names of people or places are not included except in cases like Abraham, Jerusalem, Jordan, where there is special theological interest....




Here’s the reason why TWOT did not earn my top “Just Like I Would Have Done It!” award: TWOT attempts to reinvent the wheel. What do I mean?


James Strong published his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible back in 1890. The concordance all by itself was ground-breaking; but when you add in his Greek/Hebrew dictionaries in the back of the Concordance, this book became the second or third most important book ever published in the English language. (“Holy Bible” is obviously first; and Strong’s is either second or third, depending on where you rank “Pilgrim’s Progress.” I rank Strong’s #2.)


Strong numbered his Hebrew and Greek words with unique numbers. This numbering system was so well done that it became nearly universal in it’s use in the Christian world. If you wanted to know about a Hebrew or Greek word, the Strong’s number was used. The Strong’s universal numbering system made Hebrew and Greek works accessible to the non-Greek or -Hebrew reader.


And then TWOT was published. They decided to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, by implementing their own original numbering system. (Sigh.) So - if you know the Strong’s number of that Hebrew word you want to look up, it’s almost useless in TWOT. Almost. (A small smile appears on my face.)


The original two volume edition of TWOT includes an index in the back that converts Strong’s numbers to TWOT entry numbers. In my mind, they should have just gone with the original Strong numbers! But, there is now a “two step conversion” that can be done in order to find the Strong’s numbers. The index is better than no index, but still....


Digital versions handle this Strong’s/TWOT numbering system faultlessly. If you can purchase a digital version, you’ll find it much easier to use. (NOTE: The digital version does earn a “Top Award” from DDT....)




I’m including here TWOT’s entry for 115 ‘mm (“Mother”), which, by the way, is Strong’s #517, #520, & #523.


115 אמם (’mm). Assumed root of the following.


115a אֵם (’ēm) mother.

115b אַמָּה (’ammâ) I, mother city.

115c אַמָּה (’ammâ) II, cubit.

115d אַמָּה (’ammâ) III, only in Isa 6:4. Meaning doubtful.

115e אֻמָּה (’ūmmâ) tribe, people.


’ēm. Mother, point of departure (once). (ASV and RSV generally the same.)


The word always (except once) means “mother.” In most occurrences it refers literally to the female parent. It is used at times in a figurative sense.

’ēm refers to Eve, figuratively as mother of all living beings (though she was also the literal mother, Gen 3:20); to Deborah as a mother in Israel (Jud 5:7); to a city as mother to its inhabitants (Isa 50:1; Ezk 16:44; Hos 2:2 [H 4]); and even to a worm as mother of Job (Job 17:14). On some occasions the term is applied to nonhuman mothers: Ex 34:26; Deut 22:6.

In studying the contexts and senses in which the word is used we note several of particular interest, first, texts which relate to the duties of the mother. She is to be a source of comfort (Isa 66:13), a teacher (Prov 31:1), and a discipliner (Zech 13:3).

We note also what her children owe her. These obligations may be defined as positive duties and negative duties. On the positive side, her children owe her obedience (Gen 28:7), blessings (Prov 30:11), honor (Ex 20:12), fear (i.e. respect, Lev 19:3), and mourning when she has died (Ps 35:14). On the negative side, her children must not strike her (Ex 21:15), rob her (Prov 28:24), chase her away (Prov 19:26), bring her to shame (Prov 29:15; so Lev 18:7), set light by her (i.e. ridicule her, Deut 27:16), nor forsake her law (Prov 1:8). This shows clearly the high standing of motherhood in a redeemed society.

Yet, the mother’s role in her adult son’s life was clearly subordinate to that of his wife (Gen 2:24). His duties to his mother could not supplant or take precedence over his duties to his wife.

A pagan mother could indeed love her son, and presumably the pagan son could feel a sense of duty to his mother (Jud 5:28).

The sense of guilt expressed by Job and the Psalmist (Job 31:18; Ps 51:5 [H 7]) does not indicate any particular blemish on their mothers but expresses the doctrine we call original sin.

The occurrence of the word in Ezk 21:21 [H 26] is unique and evidently means “the parting (fork) of the road” in the sense of the origin (mother) of the road.

The cognate root is found in most Semitic languages with the same basic meaning as the Hebrew: Phoenician, Arabic, Ethiopic, Aramaic, and Ugaritic (UT 19: no. 155).


’ammâ. Cubit, a linear measurement. (The same in ASV and RSV except where used in a figurative sense, see Isa 6:4; Jer 51:13).


The term is basically used to describe a linear measurement used at least from the time of Noah. It is used throughout Scripture into the postexilic period.

The measurement is estimated to be approximately 17 1/2 inches or the average distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. This is somewhat confirmed by information in the Siloam Inscription stating that the tunnel (which measures 1749 feet) was 1200 cubits long. This would make the cubit then used (in Hezekiah’s day) approximately 17 1/2 inches.

The cubit was used in building the ark of Noah (Gen 6), the tabernacle and its furnishing (Ex 25ff.), the temple of Solomon (I Kgs 6:ff.), and the temple seen by Ezekiel (Ezk 40ff.). It also measured the distance between the ark of the covenant and the people as they went into the promised land (Josh 3:4).

Goliath was over six cubits tall (I Sam 17:4), and Haman’s gallows was fifty cubits high (Est 5:14). A portion of the wall of Jerusalem repaired in Nehemiah’s day was 1000 cubits long.

At times it is used figuratively as in Isa 6:4, where the measure stands for the foundation of the threshhold of the temple in Isaiah’s vision. Again in Jer 51:13, the term applies to the extent of covetousness or evil gain.

From its wide occurrence in other Semitic languages evidently this term was generally used as a standard measure throughout the ancient near east, but it varies somewhat from place to place and from time to time.


Bibliography: AI, pp. 196–99. Harrison, R. K., “The Matriarchate and the Hebrew Legal Succession,” EQ 29:29–34. Huey, F. B., “Weights and Measures,” in ZPEB.






If you are at all interested in pursuing depth in Hebrew language study, and Strong’s or Brown-Driver-Briggs is not enough for you, I’d recommend skipping all of the other Hebrew dictionaries and lexicons and go straight to TWOT.


There is a reason all other Hebrew dictionaries and lexicons are compared to it. Simply put: it is the best available Hebrew lexical dictionary. Period.


Other Reviews


Google Books currently (October, 2011) has 4 reviews of TWOT, and they can be read here. The average rating was 4.8/5 stars - not too bad at all!


Amazon currently has 16 reviews, and they can be read here. One was a 3 Star rating; one was a 4 Star rating; and the rest were 5 Star ratings.


Purchase TWOT Here


Click here to see TWOT formatted for theWord Bible software.

Click here to see TWOT’s One Volume hardcover ‘New’ from





This comprehensive review is by Dr. David S. Thomason. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.