My first impression of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers kindly sent me to review, was its heft!
Then, looking at the outer edges of the book reminded me of striations in cut rock, colorfully telling what’s gone on prior to its discovery. Similarly, layers of color along those outside edges hint at the wealth of photographs and original illustrations included in this sturdy study edition.
The magnitude of features undoubtedly required keeping page bulk to a minimum. Nevertheless, I regretted seeing the thinness of the paper, which seemed even thinner after feeling the thick, slick book jacket and the canvas-like cover sheets at the beginning and end of the book. An option would have been to cut some of the 1,000+ images in favor of a denser quality paper, but then we would no longer have all of the amazing visuals that help us to open our eyes more fully to God’s Word.
Indeed, the website http://openmyeyes.com/bible/ provides a video to introduce this edition and establish its primary goal as helping us to see aspects of the Bible that might, otherwise, go unnoticed.
To do this, the book includes the kind of helps we generally find in a Bible dictionary – for instance, profiles of 120 Bible characters – and the kinds of color photographs we expect in a Bible atlas. The overall effect is to show us what Bible people, places, and times were like, so we can picture ourselves as part of the scene and relate to the ongoing relationship God wants to have with us and all mankind.
In addition to the stunning visuals in this heavily illustrated study Bible, we also get over 25,000 notes to accompany the updated text of the New Living Translation (NLT), which remains one of my top favorites.
Highly readable and poetic, the NLT translates ancient manuscripts into a contemporary, respectful English version that’s easy to follow in a worship service or in a Bible study group when other people read aloud from almost any classical or modern translation. Even at home alone, however, this edition makes the Bible remarkably accessible to new readers and also visually inspiring to those of us who have loved the Bible throughout our reading lives.
© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, Bible reviewer, is a poet-writer of numerous books in all genres for Christian and educational publishers. She also blogs about prayer, poetry, and writing and recently began posting her Praise Poems.
NLT Illustrated Study Bible, hardcover
November 20, 2015
January 29, 2015
After reading and reviewing the Essential Guide to Biblical Life and Times last year, I was eager to see the Essential Bible Dictionary, also published by Saint Mary’s Press, who kindly sent me a review copy.
Similar to the layout, info-chocked pages, and volume slimness of the other offering, this “essential, written by Dr. Sheila O’Connell-Roussell, focuses on the themes, people, places, and events that essentially inform our faith.
As a blurb on the back of the book tells us, this slender dictionary includes more than 800 word entries, 10 charts and tables, 5 pages of color photographs, and 4 colored maps. But even with all that info, once again, I found myself opening the book, starting to read, and getting “hooked” as happens with readers approaching any well-written book.
Most of us don’t make a habit of reading dictionaries, but I recommend the effort. For one thing, it sounds weirdly cool (“What are you doing?” “Nothing much. Just reading the dictionary.”) But mainly, you’ll discover definitions for words you might not know to look up and check out. Or you’ll find words you’ve heard but aren’t 100% sure of their meanings.
Also, one word might lead to another that’s related, so as you look up entries for each, you’ll get a bigger picture. For example, the entry on “Apocryphal Books” leads you to “Canon” and “Deuterocanonical Books,” each of which has distinct differences but similarities too.
To give you an example of the definitions, the word “canon” comes from “a Greek word meaning ‘rule’ or standard.’… The canon of Scripture refers to the list of books that the Church recognizes as the inspired Word of God.”
Although various church denominations might not agree on the canon for the Hebrew scriptures (aka Old Testament), all agree on the books included in the New Testament, but how did they decide?
“When the Church fathers evaluated the writings that were presented for the New Testament canon, they used the following criteria to evaluate whether writings were worthy to be included…. If the manuscripts agreed with all three criteria, it was considered inspired text.
• Was the manuscript written by an Apostle or a student of an Apostle?
• Did the image of Christ and the theology within the manuscript agree with the Apostolic Tradition?
• Was this text well known and accepted by the community?”
Besides the importance of the inspired word of God in the churches, most honor biblical events by some type of ritual or sacrament. In the Catholic Church, you’ll find seven, each of which has an entry in the book: Anointing of the Sick, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Marriage, Reconciliation (aka Confession.)
Looking up the word “Eucharist,” I was surprised to find no mention of “Communion” or “Transubstantiation,” but other related words have individual entries: Altar of Christ, Blood of Christ, Bread, Bread of Life, Last Supper, Passover, Sacrament, Unleavened Bread, Worship.
In addition to word links or cross references, some entries have their own charts or lists. For instance, look up the “Ten Commandments” and find a chart listing those God-given rules. Or look up, “Feast, Festival” and find info on Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Pentecost, Hanukkah, and other special dates on the Jewish calendar, which Jesus and His family surely observed. Or look up “Parables” and find the names and biblical locations of the parables of Jesus. Better yet, look up “Jesus Christ” to discover “The Titles of Jesus,” to Whom we look as essential for our daily bread and lives.
©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.
Essential Bible Dictionary, paperback
November 29, 2014
If you want a Bible dictionary with entries on the names, places, and topics in the deuterocanonical aka apocryphal books, the Catholic Bible Dictionary, edited by Scott Hahn and published by Doubleday, provides that and more.
When I first saw and ordered the review copy offered for free on the Blogging for Books site, I thought this dictionary might define the rites, rituals, and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Come to find out, others have made this mistake, too, but, as the title clearly states, this is a dictionary on the Catholic Bible. Therefore, the text includes information on Judith, Tobit, the Angel Raphael, and others mentioned in the deuterocanonical / apocryphal books but generally omitted from most Bible dictionaries.
Like any dictionary, religious or otherwise, this one has no need for an index as each topic is already alphabetized for an easy A to Z search. A clear font and spacious leading make the conversational entries easy to read, while clear maps in the back of the book make the movements through biblical places easier to envision. Also, in the back matter the chronologies of kings and historical movements help us to get grounded in what happened, with whom, and when, whereas the entries themselves offer insight into why.
For those insights and other information, we have the extensive research of former Protestant pastor, Scott Hahn, who has become well-known as an author, Christian apologist, and Catholic theologian. To further ensure accuracy in the material, the book has the official Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur of the Church to show freedom from doctrinal or moral errors.
To give you an example of the entries, I turned to a word rarely found in a religious dictionary “purgatory.” The closest entry in most Bible dictionaries might be “purge,” which eliminates or eradicates some type of impurity. To definite “purgatory,” however, the Catholic Bible Dictionary says:
“PURGATORY (Latin, ‘cleansing’ or ‘purifying’) Defined by theologians as the condition of those who died in the state of grace but with lingering attachment to sin. In purgatory these souls are purified for a time before being admitted to the glory and happiness of heaven. In this period of passive suffering, they are purged of unrepented venial sins, satisfy the demands of divine justice for temporal punishment due for sins, and are made ready for the beatific vision."
As the entry goes on to say: "The doctrine of purgatory is found in Scripture but is not fully developed. The two passages most clearly related to it are 2 Macc 12:45 and 1 Cor 3:12-15.”
For another example, let’s look at the entry for Tobit, a book unfamiliar to many Christians:
“TOBIT, BOOK OF The story of two Israelite families whose lives were touched by God in the Assyrian Exile. They were brought together by marriage and the intervention of the angel Raphael. Tobit is one of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament that is deemed scriptural by Catholics but not by modern Jews or Protestants” – the key word being “modern” as both Jewish and Christian readers originally accepted these books from the Greek Bible or Septuagint.
And, as the entry for “Septuagint” explains:
SEPTUAGINT (Latin septuaginta, ‘seventy’) The most ancient and important translation of the Old Testament into Greek. It was produced between the third and first centuries B.C.,” so Jesus and the Apostles would undoubtedly have been familiar with these books, which came about because “King Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt requested a copy of the Jewish Bible to be placed in his famous library at Alexandria 9ca. 250 B.C.) Unable to read Hebrew, the king brought seventy-two scholars from Palestine to Alexandria to make a translation of the Hebrew Torah….”
That desire – to present the Bible in the language of the reader – has led to many translations of Holy Scriptures into English with excellent resources such as this to clarify our understanding and electrify our interest in embracing the Bible as an everyday part of our worship, our faith, and our lives.
©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.
Catholic Bible Dictionary, hardback