Showing posts with label Bible reference. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible reference. Show all posts

November 29, 2014

Catholic Bible Dictionary for every Bible lover and Christian reader


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

December 7, 2013

Two reference books for advanced students and teachers of the Bible


When Wiley-Blackwell kindly sent me review copies of The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament and The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture, a quick look showed two volumes of encyclopedic scope well-suited for an upper level college text or a desk reference guide for serious biblical scholars. As a lifelong student of the Bible in almost every English translation, I wanted to see how deeply I might delve into historical criticism, literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, form criticism, and other scholarly approaches to biblical texts.

Diving into The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament, I found no shallow waters. Once I’d caught my breath, I saw the diverse methods of interpretation as various ways of approaching a subject as one might do, say, in finding a fresh angle for photographing a familiar object in a new light. Although every approach might not interest me personally, many do. As a poet and writer, for example, I’m intrigued by form criticism for its study of literary patterns (or forms) and identification of the Bible stories, parables, proverbs, or other sayings, passed along by word-of-mouth until being incorporated into a written text.

A chapter on “The Rise of New Testament Archaeology” has special appeal, too, for its discoveries of ancient texts and artifacts that shed light on biblical interpretations and NT times. Indeed, Helena, the mother of emperor Constantine who influenced him towards Christianity, traveled to Jerusalem on a quest to locate the site of the crucifixion, thereby launching archaeological digs similar to what we know today. Over the years, subsequent excavations unearthed a “domestic area overlooking the Temple Mount,” where, “houses are remarkable for their size, beauty, and evidence of wealth.” For example, the chapter mentions, “One of the houses (the ‘Palatial Mansion’) was over 6,000 square feet and had many of the features of the luxurious villas…” of the “architecturally privileged” – people who had social status and power in Jesus’ day. In extreme contrast, other archaeological digs in Jerusalem have produced skeletal evidence of crucifixion, a cruel form of death.

In the chapter, “Literary Criticism,” editor David E. Aune addresses such aspects of literature as the viewpoint or narrator, setting, characters, plot, and rhetoric or “the ways an author uses the features of narrative to persuade readers to enter into and accept the world of the story” – literary qualities important in telling a story well, whether fictitious or true. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, “Mark assumes a cosmic setting (God and angels, Satan and demons, clean and unclean animals, etc.), but this cosmic setting has somehow gone wrong and is in the process of change, providing a context for divine-human conflict to drive the plot.”

Hopefully, this gives you a passing splash of the depth readers plunge into in exploring approaches to biblical criticism, which the editor hastens to explain has no negative connotations but “refers to the use of independent reason in investigating the origins, text, composition, history, content, and claims of books of the Bible and to the ability to make informed decisions about authenticity and inauthenticity, truth and falsehood.”

With The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament highly recommended for its biblical scholarship, The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture seems more reader-friendly but just as thorough as indicated by its ample citations and impressive bibliographies at the end of each chapter. Both books also make excellent reference guides without overlapping. i.e., Instead of presenting approaches that influence our understanding of a biblical text, The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture shows the influence of the Bible on literature, art, music, psychology, and even history and politics.

In 30 chapters, key topics include “Part I. Revealing the Past,” which shows the influence of the Bible from ancient to modern times; “Part II. The Nomadic Test,” which begins with the biblical influence on Judaism and travels through Asia and the Americas; “Part III. The Bible and the Senses,” which delves into ways the Bible has helped to shape literature, film, and other arts; and “Part IV. Reading in Practice,” which touches on political, economic, and even national values, such as our ongoing cry for justice, freedom, and human rights.

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler


The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament, hardcover



The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture, paperback




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.