Dictionary of Ancient Rabbis: Selections from the Jewish Encyclopedia

By Jacob Neusner, ed.
Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson (2003). xxxviii + 473 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
15.1 (Spring 2004) : 126-126

Jacob Neusner is an amazingly prolific author and editor who specializes in Judaic studies. He has written or edited nearly a hundred works, many of which are important studies and reference sources for biblical scholars.

This work is not really new, nor does it represent current scholarship. As the title suggests, it is a thematic compilation of articles from The Jewish Encyclopedia. In fact the articles come from the first edition of The Jewish Encyclopedia, edited by Isadore Singer (New York: Funk and Wagnall, 1901-1906). The editor has extracted the articles on the significant individual rabbis of ancient times and placed them together into a single collection. He has a useful preface in which he presents an overview of rabbinic studies and their place in the larger context of NT studies.

The articles are exact copies of the original entries, including the bibliographies, and this presents a problem for the researcher. Though the authors of the original articles are identified by means of their initials, one would need access to the original work to determine who those authors were. The same goes for the abbreviations used in the bibliographic citations. The abbreviation conventions in many cases have changed since 1901 and the sources, which are often obscure, would be almost impossible to identify without access to the original encyclopedia. The work has no indexes or other helps to connect the reader to the original edition, and the original pagination is not included.

Except for the helpful articles on the rabbinic schools connected with the NT (particularly Hillel, 192-99, and Gamaliel I, 151-53), and interesting historical and biographical tidbits, this volume has little to offer the student. It is purely a secondary source, unsuitable for scholarly citation (besides representing research that is nearly 120 years old). Since the original text of the entire Jewish Encyclopedia is in the public domain and is available on the Internet (www.jewishencyclopedia .com)—even the original print edition is not difficult to locate in most libraries— why this volume was produced is a mystery.