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