Welcome to this detailed DDT Product Review of Eerdman's Dictionary
of the Bible edited by David N. Freedman (henceforth in this article to be
referred to simply as “EDB” - an acceptable abbreviation of this work).
No matter what “version” of this work that you are interested in, you’ll find
out what’s most important about it in this review: the content.
I want to give you enough information to make sure that you are an
informed buyer. I also want you to know right up front my theological
perspective so you’ll be able to understand what I write (I think that’s
important, and I’m quite sure you’ll agree!).
Finally, I know that you’ve already looked at the DDT Rating, so you already
know the conclusion: this is a fair reference work with (relatively) limited appeal.
Now, let us commence with the review!
There are many Bible Dictionaries available on the open market. So, why did Eerdman's
do this one? They published a Bible Dictionary back in 1987. In fact, the Associate
Editor (Allen C. Myers) of this 2000 edition was the main editor of that (1987) one!
When Eerdman's was deciding to make a new edition, it was actually decided that this
would be more than just a new edition; they've made significant changes to the entries.
From their Introduction:
Although the initial intent was merely to revise and update the 1987 edition of the
Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, the publishers were encouraged by pre-eminent biblical
scholar David Noel Freedman to build upon the expertise gained in producing that
volume and to develop in essence an entirely new reference work that would represent
the vast strides made in biblical scholarship in recent decades.
Included in this Bible Dictionary are entries reflecting the Apocrypha as The Bible.
You would expect a Bible Dictionary to be non-partisan and simply reflect "facts"
without "theology." In fact, the Dictionary says as much in it's Preface:
...A modern Bible dictionary should provide sufficient factual data to define and
explain all the distinctive terms and expressions found in the Bible. In addition,
it should reflect the present state of scholarly research in this field, including
not only the standard and long-established results of serious scholarship, but also
more recent trends and developments in as fair-minded and nonpartisan a way as possible.
So far, so good. However, when you look at the list of Contributors, what you find
are dozens of references to universities that are secular (like Harvard and University
of Michigan), Catholic (like Notre Dame and Wheeling Jesuit University), Neo-Evangelical
(Wheaton and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and liberal Christian (Baylor and
New Orleans Baptist Seminary). I found only two references to schools that might
be called "conservative" by some (Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Michigan
Theological Seminary) - but many conservatives would claim neither school as such.
The authorship and editors decidedly lean to the left.
Also, most current scholarship is performed by those with a liberal theology. Since
EDB has decided to focus on current scholarship, that portion of their articles are
left of center.
One of the ways I quickly assess the theological persuasion of a Bible Dictionary/Encyclopedia
is to check it's date for The Exodus. The reign of Solomon is fairly well set and
accepted by conservatives and liberals alike - somewhere in the second half of the
tenth century (970-930 BC is a commonly accepted date for his reign). 1Ki 6:1 is
a critical text for dating of The Exodus. It states: "And it came to pass in the
four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the
land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif,
which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD." Therefore
an Exodus dated to anywhere near 1446 BC is conservative (because it believes the
Bible - 1Ki 6:1 in particular); and anything in the 1200's is liberal (because it
rejects the clear teaching of the Bible - specifically 1Ki 6:1). Easy enough to understand,
While the article on "Exodus" doesn't come right out and state it, it implies via
academic acceptance that The Exodus took place in the 1200's - thereby denying the
inspiration of the Bible at 1Ki 6:1 (which is not even mentioned by EDB in it’s “Exodus”
entry). Oh, by the way - Moses lead the people in the miraculous crossing of "The
Sea of Reeds," and not the Red Sea - just ask EDB. This decidedly liberal view of
the Scriptures is pervasive throughout the dictionary.
The stated purpose of this dictionary is functional practicality. (One volume editions
almost universally function on practicality over detail.) Their target is the serious
student of the Bible.
However, as a pastor I must say that I would not be in favor of my Sunday School
teachers using this dictionary as a primary resource. It’s decidedly liberal bent
disqualifies it from receiving any recommendation to those not fully educated about
liberal bias. I have therefore placed the Academic Target to “Pastoral-Theologian.”
This is not a good resource for “Joe Small Group Leader” of First Conservative Church.
Language Skills Needed
This is not a Hebrew/Greek dictionary. It is a Dictionary of People, Place, Events
& (light) Theology. The book is written in English for English speaking people.
The length of the entries of EDB is actually quite nice. The articles that I specifically
studied for this review succinctly reflected the editors views, and typically did
so fully. When I disagreed with the articles conclusions, it wasn’t because the article
was too short (it was because the article was “too left”).
The two column per page formatting still leaves the text large enough to see. With
bold face entries and white space on the page, the formatting is rather pleasing
and easy to use. The articles are placed where you’d expect to find them. The maps
in the back are in color and nice.
This dictionary does a very good job in it’s area of emphasis: relating current archaeological
discoveries to the Bible. If that is the main reason you’re looking for a Bible dictionary,
then this one is a good choice.
I earlier stated that this is a fair reference work with limited appeal. The reason
is it’s liberal theological bias. If you conservatives are looking simply for a basic
tool to help you understand the Bible better, you could probably spend the same amount
of money on another book and be (much) happier in the long run.
EDB is a helpful - but not essential - addition to your library.
Amazon currently (October, 2011) has 20 reviews, and they can be read here. The average
Amazon rating was 4.75/5 stars.
Google Books currently (October, 2011) has 6 reviews and they can be read here. The
average rating was 4.38/5 stars.
The strength of EDB is in its current reporting of recent scholarship. Its academic
focus is on the contribution of archaeology to the understanding of the Bible. However,
this is also its weakness, as most current scholarship is decidedly liberal in theological
perspective. Helpful - but not essential.