Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation

By Hurtado, Larry W. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview
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Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation


Hurtado, Larry W., Journal of Biblical Literature


Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, ed. John H. Hayes. 2 vols. Nashville: Abingdon, 1999. Pp. 1 + 653; xxxii + 675. $195.00.

As everyone in the field of biblical studies has probably noted, ours is a time of dictionaries and encyclopedias (and there is even a short entry in this work on Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias across the centuries). This recent contribution to the genre provides a wealth of concisely expressed information and will surely be a handy addition to the reference section of any library serving the needs of students in biblical studies, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, and the scholars who teach them. (It is unfortunate, however, that the title is the same as a slightly earlier work edited by R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden [London: SCM, 1990, 1994].) It is not possible in this review to do much more than give some basic description of the coverage and to offer a few comments by way of appraisal.

There are three basic types of entries dealing with (1) the history of the interpretation of writings treated as Scripture by various faith communities, (2) biographies of figures important in the history of biblical studies, and (3) "methods and movements." Each entry has a bibliography and cross-references to other relevant entries. Moreover, entries devoted to important figures also have lists of their works.

A number of the entries on figures and on methods and movements provide handy information that is not so readily accessible elsewhere (but cf. Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters [ed. Donald K. McKim; Downers Grove, IL /Leicester, UK: InterVarsity Press, 1998]). For those such as this reviewer with a particular curiosity about the people who have contributed to the field, there are many entries on figures across the ages, from the ancient world (e.g., Hillel, Akiba, Philo, Justin Martyr, Origen, Eusebius, Augustine, Theodoret, Theodore of Mopsuestia) on through the medieval period (e.g., Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Aquinas) and into later centuries down to the present, including some on still-living figures (e.g., Brevard Childs, James Barr, Moshe Greenberg, William Farmer, Martin Hengel).

With all that is provided, it is almost churlish to complain about what is omitted. But it is not readily clear why there are certain omissions, both among topics and among figures treated. For example, among my own illustrious predecessors in Edinburgh we have William Manson, but not H. A. A. Kennedy (whose studies on the influence of the LXX upon NT language, on the relevance of Philo, and on the mystery cults as background for Pauline Christianity were pioneering and remain noteworthy). There are entries on figures in classical studies whose contribution was essentially to the study of the background of the NT, such as A. D. Nock and Eduard Norden, but no entry on Franz Dolger or Erik Peterson. We have entries on M.-J. Lagrange and J. Bonsirven, but no entry on Jean Danielou, and there are entries on L. Goppelt, H. Lietzmann, and J. Jeremias, but none on Ethelbert Stauffer. Among major Evangelical figures, we have Merrill Tenney, but, very curiously, no entry on G. E. Ladd, arguably one of the most important figures in the post-World War II American Evangelical effort to enter and engage the scholarly mainstream in biblical studies. Among entries on modern Jewish figures, we have, for example, H. Montefiore and S. Sandmel, but Joseph Klausner does not appear.

Missing figures from the ancient world include Valentinus, Heracleon (apparently the earliest commentary on the Gospel of John), and the second-century Christian Ptolemy (whose Letter to Flora is a remarkably noteworthy hermeneutical statement), although there is a modest-sized entry on "Gnostic" interpretation (which mainly consists of observations based on the Nag Hammadi texts). Likewise, I find no entries on Qumran or Pesher; and I cannot divine where else to look in the work for discussion of what is rather widely recognized as an important body of texts in the history of biblical reception/interpretation.

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