Monday, June 29, 2009

Catholic Bible Dictionary Review

The last major Bible Dictionary published by a Catholic for an English-speaking Catholic audience was probably done by John L. McKenzie S.J. back in 1965. (If there are others out there, I would be happy to be proven wrong on this.) That old edition is still in print today, and I regularly see it not only at Catholic bookstores, but occasionally at places like Barnes and Noble and Borders. One wonders whether the popularity of McKenzie's work was due to its usefulness or the simple fact that it was the only volume available developed by a Catholic. My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
But, alas, there is finally a new Catholic Bible dictionary on the market. Thanks to the work of Catholic Biblical Scholar and convert, Scott Hahn, a new and updated Bible study tool is available for use. Published by Doubleday, the Catholic Bible Dictionary will prove to be a wonderful gift to many Catholics who are looking for a one-volume Catholic Bible dictionary. While smaller and less technical than the massive Anchor Bible Dictionary, this new edition I would place somewhere between the more comprehensive HarperCollins Bible Dictionary and the McKenzie edition in regards to sheer size and amount of material included.
This new volume contains more than five thousand entries, including:
*Explanations and outlines of every book in the Catholic canon
*Every significant person in the Bible, historical places, and events
*The social conventions and traditions of everyday life in ancient Israel
*Emphasis on language and imagery in the Bible
*Key archaeological sites and finds
*Church teaching, doctrine, and theology that relates the reading and interpretation of the Bible
In addition, The Catholic Bible Dictionary contains a chronology of the Old Testament and a chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah. Included at the end of the volume is a map section with index, which is identical to the maps found in the New Jerusalem Bible. (Probably has something to do with Doubleday)
While it is difficult to evaluate any work of this nature in just one sitting, it is clear that the fact that such a volume now has been published is a very good thing. From what I have read so far, I think this dictionary could be used with the RSV, NRSV or NAB. Ultimately, time will tell as to whether it will be useful or not. I tend to think it will be, not only because it is published by a major publishing house and written by a Catholic Biblical scholar that I trust, but more importantly it incorporates recent Biblical scholarship and archaeological finds. I hope to blog more about it as I begin to use it more over the next few months. What I can say is that if you are Catholic and need a good, basic one volume Catholic Bible dictionary, this one is for you.


Theophrastus said...

I am surprised that you rank this ahead of the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary in terms of amount of material contained. Looking at the respective page layouts and page count, I would have come to the opposite conclusion.

(Actually, it seems that the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible appears to be the most compendious of all the single volume Bible dictionaries. I use the Anchor Bible Dictionary, but I also own the Eerdmans and recommend it to students.)

Timothy said...

I think that I put it behind the HarperCollins edition, but slightly better than the old McKenzie version. I will check on that. HarperCollins clearly has more info, including diagrams and photos.

Timothy said...

Yeah, that was my mistake. Hopefully the edit will make it clearer.