Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible

By David Noel Freedman, gen. ed.
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2000). xxxiii + 1425, 16 plates Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 105-106

Freedman and the other editors offer this volume as “a tool for practical Bible use, reflecting recent discoveries and the breadth of current biblical scholarship, including insights from critical analysis of literary, historical, archaeological, sociological, and other methodological issues” (xxiii). It contains approximately 5,000 alphabetically ordered articles that identify all persons and places mentioned in the Bible as well as cultural, natural, geographical, literary, and theological issues of relevance. Although the editors initially intended simply to revise and update the 1987 edition of the Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, this volume represents an entirely new reference work. Unlike multi-volume Bible dictionaries (perhaps more properly regarded as encyclopedias), Freedman regards this volume as a “rapid-response reference work” (xxi). The entries range in length from one sentence to multiple pages. Several entries conclude with a brief bibliography (the editors did not encourage the writers to include lengthy bibliographies). In addition to the sixteen maps at the end of the volume, four maps and a relatively small number of photographs and drawings appear throughout the body of the text.

In light of the breadth and size of this work, it offers helpful information to anyone who uses it. Obscure topics as well as significant issues receive attention. Students of the Bible should have at least a solid one-volume Bible dictionary in their library. However, even though this reviewer and the seminary librarian, Dennis Swanson, contributed articles to the work, it is probably not the best one-volume Bible dictionary on the market for evangelical readers. Most of the major articles are written from a non-evangelical perspective. For example, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is discounted, Isaiah and Zechariah both involve two distinct sections by two different authors, Daniel was written in the Maccabean period, the Pastorals were not written by the apostle Paul, nor was 2 Peter written by the apostle Peter. Although evangelicals should not necessarily limit their library to volumes written by evangelicals or books that totally agree with an evangelical position, it would be helpful if a reference work of this kind would at least present the evangelical option as a credible option (something that rarely happens in this volume). If a student of the Bible is able to own more than one single-volume Bible dictionary, the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible deserves consideration. It will provide its reader with an overview of the current position in biblical scholarship on a number of issues. However, this reviewer would not recommend it as the first or only Bible dictionary a diligent student of the Bible should own.