Monday, May 18, 2015

Old Testament Hebrew Reading List

I have really been blessed by Dr. Dan Wallace's Greek New Testament Reading List. He was the one who introduced me to Biblical Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary.

The general idea for his reading list is that the Greek Bible (just like the English Bible!) doesn't start with the easiest book and work it's way into more complicated passages. For the new Greek student his organization was a Greek-saver. I could read passages such as John or Philemon and once I had my "sea legs" under me I could venture into more technical sections of Luke or Hebrews.

Strangely, I can't find a similar project anywhere for the Old Testament Hebrew! "Just start reading" I kept hearing, but surely I can do this in a way that's (at least slightly) less difficult! That being said, I present my Biblical Hebrew Reading List:

1 Deuteronomy
2 Exodus
3 1 Kings
4 2 Kings
5 Leviticus
6 Jeremiah
7 1 Samuel
8 2 Samuel
9 Zechariah
10 Haggai
11 Judges
12 Numbers
13 Jonah
14 Ruth
15 Ezekiel
16 Genesis
17 Malachi
18 Daniel
19 Ecclesiastes
20 Amos
21 Psalms
22 Joshua
23 Esther
24 Hosea
25 Micah
26 Joel
27 Zephaniah
28 Obadiah
29 Nehemiah
30 Isaiah
31 Lamentations
32 Proverbs
33 Ezra
34 Job
35 Habakkuk
36 1 Chronicles
37 2 Chronicles
38 Nahum
39 Song of Songs

It is generally accepted that there are two ways to evaluate a passages's difficulty: lexically (vocab) and syntactically (structure). Because syntactical difficulty is hard to empirically evaluate, the above order is exclusively based on lexical rarity. It assumes that a reader is familiar with the 500 most common words (I would use Anki if I were you; it's free and really good) and assigns a heavier weight to rarer words.  I got all my statistical data from Logos software, based upon Andersen-Forbes Analyzed Text and manipulated in Excel.

As the below chart shows, there can be a big difference in the number of words a reader would likely be unfamiliar with. If you start with Song of Songs you will likely be 4x as frustrated as if you start with 2 Chronicles!

The one other edit to the above list that I made was to combine books that are obviously related such as 1 & 2 Kings. If you want the spreadsheets, comment below and I can send them to you directly. 


  1. As a grad student in biblical studies, I have been looking for something like this. Would you mind if I put it into the format Wallace has (with chapter numbers to cross off) and make a PDF out of it? I can email it to you to put up here if you reply with your email address.

  2. Do it! (sorry for the delayed response!)

  3. Hey did Jonathan H ever make a PDF? If so, it would be cool if I could get it. ryannorthseattle at gmail.

  4. Sorry 'unknown' but I never heard back from Ryan h. I have a guess who that might be and I will reach out. If I hear anything I will forward it to you.

  5. I too would be interested in that pdf if it becomes available!

  6. All- I haven't heard from anyone since Johnathan H first reached out but because so many people have asked I'm happy to put something together! I hope to have something by the end of the week for you to run with.

  7. Thank-you so much for this. I am studying alongside my two teenage boys at home and have looked all over trying to find passages that we could start reading together. I went straight to Deuteronomy and found that we could read practically all of it except for a little bit of vocab. I am really happy, because we really wanted to start reading real texts.

    1. That's great! I'm so glad that this has been helpful to you and thank you so much for sharing.

    2. Hey everybody, I made a new post with a more reader friendly format.

  8. Here's a PDF with all the chapter numbers that you can cross off. Sorry it's a little ugly, but it fits on one page:

    Also, here is the raw text file I generated in case anyone wants to play with the format:

    1. Oh, I just noticed you made a much neater one!

    2. I like the simplicity of yours too Mark, I think it could compress very neatly (perhaps into a BHS sized sheet!).

      I'm still thinking about how to best incorporate genre, do you have any thoughts?

  9. What about Daniel, its readability should be placed at the lowest since it is written in Aramaic and not Hebrew. Even though the word-frequency is better than f. ex Esther, Esther is 10x easier to read since it is in Hebrew, afterall. Just a little tweak. :D

    1. That's a great suggestion Fingar! I completely forgot about the Aramaic parts! Only a minority of Daniel was written in Aramaic but it's certainly significant enough of a part so as to affect this reading chart! Keep the suggestions coming!

  10. Hello Mr Yates, I saw that you suggested Anki for computer card creation. I was wondering if you have access to the cards themselves to import into the program? I have downloaded the program, but don't have the actual cards.

    1. Howdy Anonymous! The cool thing about Anki is that people are always uploading and updating decks, you can browse what's online (for free download!) by clicking "get shared" on your anki program, and then search for "hebrew" (or whatever!) i just searched and noticed that there's a deck called "500 Basic Hebrew Words (" that has 500 words with audio that will certainly be a big help for getting you started in the right direction.

  11. I would like to have a copy of it. Thanks.

  12. I know this is an old post, but do you happen to have some of those stats to go with your chart. I'm really curious about what you're measuring. Is it number of unique words in each book beyond the 500 most common? I'm surprised that very short books rank so high on the chart, or how 1 & 2 Chronicles are so vastly different in their "readability"... I'd really appreciate any insights you have!

    1. Hi Tim, I gave every word a "rank" or "weight" from rarest to most common word(excluding the first 500 altogether). Then I calculated how much total weight a given book had (basically combining each word's number count times the given word's weight) and divided that by the number of words in the book. That way I could calculate the average rarity of the average word in a book.

      Regarding your question; I suspect that 1 Chronicles has vastly more names/locations than 2 chronicles. If a name only occurs once in the bible, it's pretty rare!

  13. Thank you, so much! Kindly send me spreadsheets if possible at

    Thank you, again!


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