November 12, 2013

Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible

Waiting for review copies of new study Bibles to arrive from a couple of publishers, I attempted to free up some needed space on the bookshelves by my desk, but I did not get too far before a reference book I’ve referred to for several years caught my eye - the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Thinking about the Bible teachers, students, writers, and other communicators for Christ who might want to hear about a highly recommended resources like this, it occurred to me to intersperse such reviews with discussions of the new translations, children’s Bibles, and study Bibles I especially love to talk about and read.

Beginning with biblical reference books I have on hand, the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible gave me an outstanding place to start, not only because of the eclectic list of outstanding biblical scholars who contributed to this massive work but also because of the awards for “Outstanding Reference Source” and “Outstanding Academic Title” by the American Library Association.

With over 1400 pages, this hefty volume (yes, it’s heavy!) defines and discusses approximately 5,000 entries on such subjects as the influence of archeology and extra-biblical writings. As you might expect, the A to Z topics also include virtually all of the people and places mentioned in the Bible with references, too, to pertinent cultural events, literary features, and geographical concerns.

When I opened the book to look for an example of the interesting discussions you’ll find, I immediately spotted an unexpected entry on “Coat of Mail.” Frankly, I think of that type of armor as originating sometime around the Middle Ages, long after Christians ceased fire on the Bible canon (pun intended.) However, the entry on page 266 described “Coat of Mail” as being “Armor consisting of 400-600 plates of metal, which were pierced and sewn to a cloth or leather undercoat. The plates overlapped to provide maximum protection; the armor was weakest at the joining of the sleeve to the tunic body and between the scales (I Kgs.22:34=2 Chr. 18:33). Such armor was probably developed to free the hands from having to hold a shield, thus enabling charioteers to drive and soldiers to wield the bow and yet still have protection.”

Does this matter to you or me? Maybe not. But as a re-teller of Bible stories in poems and other writings or in Bible study groups, this unforeseen entry adds interesting, intricate detail to, say, the story of David and Goliath as found in I Samuel 17 or the lesser known story of Uzziah, King of Judah, as told in II Chronicles 26.

Also, after the exiles returned to Jerusalem, Nehemiah 4:16 says the leaders stationed themselves around the wall, wearing coats of mail as they protected the laborers trying to rebuild. In addition, the Prophet Isaiah (59:17) and the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:14 and I Thessalonians 5:8) talk about putting on armor as a metaphor for protecting ourselves spiritually, most likely intending a coat of mail, rather than the Knight in Shining Armor many of us envisioned.

If that doesn’t interest you, pick any Bible subject that does, and you’ll surely find information you’ll be glad to know. I certainly did. For example, the back pages of most of my Bibles have maps of biblical places, which I appreciate, but I kept wanting one showing modern sites, and, yes, that’s included. The downside is that the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible has such thorough information, this reference book will definitely not be chosen to free up any of the needed space on my crowded bookshelves.

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler, who despite the lack of shelf space, remains eager to receive review copies of new translations (English), new children’s Bibles, new study Bibles, and new formats or treatments of older translations. However, the hotlinks to Bible passages mentioned above came from a highly recommended Internet resource, Bible Gateway, whose numerous translations and reference materials need no shelf space.

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