Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible

By Johnson, Timothy J. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible


Johnson, Timothy J., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, xxxiii + 1425 pp., $45.00.

If it is true that our presuppositions reveal our own prejudices, then this dictionary is bound to succeed on the sole basis of its extraordinary editor-in-chief, David Noel Freedman. Few would contest Freedman's dominance in editorial activity with special applause for his role in the masterly six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD), perhaps the most influential of all Bible dictionaries. The Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (EDB) can boast of a dozen "consulting editors" who form a veritable "Hall of Fame" of biblical scholars, including John J. Collins, James C. VanderKam, Carol Meyers and Everett Ferguson.

Beyond that, the collection of nearly 600 contributors contains several experts in their respective fields. Names such as James L. Crenshaw, Peggy L. Day, Terrence E. Fretheim, Daniel J. Harrington, Roland E. Murphy, Stanley E. Porter, and Eugene Ulrich highlight an impressive list. By comparison, ABD required around 1,000 contributors, and the original four-volume set of the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (IDB) utilized a mere 253 contributors. The New Bible Dictionary (NBD; second ed.) uses around 175 contributors and The Dictionary of Bible and Religion (DBR) employs only 28.

At the outset, the editors concede that EDB is not intended to serve the same needs that multi-volume Bible dictionaries have in the past. Such multi-volume works, ABD included, "are more like encyclopedias" (p. xxi) and are naturally more ambitious. Instead, EDB seeks to be a "rapid-response reference work" and as such is limited in what each entry will offer.

With nearly 5,000 entries, EDB is exceptionally thorough. ABD contains 6,200 entries in a six-volume dictionary and IDB claims 7,500 in its original four-volume set. Other one-volume dictionaries pale in comparison. For example, NBD claims more than 2,000 entries and DBR claims more than 2,800 topics.

On the other hand, such an extensive array of entries is bound to diminish some other aspect of the work. One such area is in the bibliographic information offered at the end of the entries. Only some of the lengthier entries provide a brief bibliography, which usually contain one or two sources. However, seemingly important entries, such as "Blood," "Evil," and "Judge," offer no references at all. While it is unfair to compare this particular area with either ABD or IDB, it is worth noting that NBD generally offers much more extensive bibliographies, including ones on the three entries mentioned above.

Another area somewhat lacking, which is commonly found in Bible dictionaries, is the use of cross-references. The usual procedure is to either capitalize or bold-face various words within an entry for the purpose of directing the reader to other entries germane to the one being read. I have found this an invaluable tool over the years in both sermon preparation and research, as they alert me to other substantive topics that I might otherwise overlook. However, EDB has chosen not to include many of these in this work, which is somewhat surprising and troubling since it would not entail unnecessary additions to an already huge volume. Where they do exist, they are found at the end of the entry and are often limited to synonyms for the entry rather than topics related to that entry. …

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