Like many major modern reference works, the 'Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible' is a significant accomplishment of scholarly teamwork. Under the direction of David Noel Freedman, professor of Hebrew biblical studies at the University of California San Diego, two assistant editors and 12 consulting editors marshaled 600 scholars to work on this comprehensive achievement. The authors come from a wide range of backgrounds academically and theologically, but all are committed to the increasing importance of multiple interpretations and interdisciplinary pursuits.
Freedman explains something of the scope of this book in the preface, by beginning the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible by defining both the terms 'bible' and 'dictionary' -- for Bible, the works referenced in this volume include the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books, and the New Testament. For Dictionary, Freedman describes the different kinds of dictionaries of the Bible available -- multi-volume sets such as the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and single-volume editions such as the subject of this present review. The multi-volume sets, Freedman states, should more appropriately be called encyclopedias. 'A one-volume Bible dictionary is intended to be a rapid-response reference work.' Containing much the same information in briefer form, this kind of text serves most needs handily.
Another important use of one-volume Bible dictionaries is to provide a guide to further research by bibliographic information. As the majority of people cannot afford the multi-volume sets, one-volume dictionaries such as the 'Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible' fill an important, affordable role for the 'average' person, who is unlikely to invest in the more expensive works.
This dictionary represents scholarly views from all major denominational and scholarly viewpoints in Judaism and Christianity. Published in the year 2000, it provides up-to-date research and scholarship, drawing on the latest archaeological finds and interpretations from literary, historical, sociological and linguistic sources.
This dictionary has approximately 5000 entries. Among them, one will find all persons and places named in the Bible, as well as political, cultural, language and natural topics that relate to biblical stories and narratives. Additionally, specific and significant articles on archaeology, theology, the history of the Bible, extra-biblical writings beyond the apocryphal/deuterocanonicals, and particular developments within ecclesiastical traditions fill out the articles in the text. Each article is signed by the contributor, and the list of contributors is in the front of the book, with basic biographical information. All major articles include bibliographic information that includes pertinent books, articles, and journals for further research.
A few examples of how entries are treated will show how they are developed in this volume. I have selected a biographical entry, a geographical entry, and a topical entry.
The entry for Aaron
This entry begins with basic biographical information -- descendant of Levi and brother of Moses (with the appropriate biblical citations for source -- Exod. 6.20; Num 26.59; 1Chr 6.3). The article then proceeds to speak of Aaron's role as High Priest (in Exodus-Numbers, and in Chronicles). Following this, references to Aaron beyond these in the Hebrew Scriptures is developed, both in priestly and non-priestly portrayals. Then, Aaron as figure referenced in the New Testament is explored. Finally, the entry gives a summary of the character of Aaron, and concludes with bibliographic information which includes three books and one article.
The entry for Chaldea
This entry begins with basic geographical information -- where is Chaldea? This is a region in southern Babylonia near the Persian Gulf; the word 'Chaldea' became synonymous over time with 'Babylonia' after a Chaldean royal family took over Babylon. The entry for Chaldea then has two major sections -- one that describes the Land and People and one that describes the History of the land. Part of the discussion of the Land and People includes an etymological exploration of the names of the people and places in Chaldea. The History of Chaldea is described as falling into two major periods, which includes the connections Chaldeans have had with the story of the development of Israel. This entry also concludes with a bibliography, which includes reference to five books.
The entry for Lord's Supper
This entry begins with the basic information -- 'a meal celebrated in honour of Jesus Christ commemorating his last meal with his disciples'. A discussion of the terms 'communion' and 'eucharist' is included in the introduction to this topic. The major headings for the development of this entry include Paul (for his writings are the earliest in the New Testament, and from which the standard wording of communion/eucharistic prayers are derived), Synoptic Gospel traditions, other traditions, and a conclusion. For those who think there is a consistent picture of the way communion is done in the New Testament, articles such as these are indeed an eye-opener; the diversity present in the New Testament helps to explain the different practices among denominations.
Included among the articles are dozens of charts and photographs, which include paintings, sculptures, artifacts, people and places. Throughout there are black-and-white maps, and at the back, the book includes colour maps, with maps of all the major periods in biblical history, as well as modern maps showing the current geography of the area, as well as one that highlights major archaeological sites. The end-plates include transliteration tables for Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, to aid with pronunciation.
I have the 'Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible' at home on the shelf next to the 'Harper Collins Bible Dictionary', another one-volume ready-reference of comparable quality and scope. (My six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary is kept in my office at the seminary.) Either of these volumes will serve well as a companion to reading the Bible. The Eerdmans, being more recently published, is somewhat more up-to-date, but I have found the combination of the two volumes provides most of my needs when reading and preparing for homilies and presentations.