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  • Anna Turton
    Commissioning Editor, Theology (UK)
  • Miriam Cantwell
    Assistant Editor (UK)
  • Dominic Mattos
    Publisher, Biblical Studies (UK)

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September 13, 2012

Comments

Joseph Ryan Kelly

Dictionaries are always helpful for students, but a good dictionary is a valuable resource to the scholar exploring a new avenue of investigation and looking for unexplored trajectories.

It goes without saying that a dictionary last revised in 1963 could benefit from an update. However, one wonders if the field of biblical studies wouldn't benefit equally from a technological update. Dictionaries are heavy, bulky, and rarely does one sit down and read it cover to cover. These kinds of resources are prime candidates for exploring digital technological advances, and thus far the digital model of the leading dictionaries (with the exception of the Lexham Bible Dictionary) strike me as being afterthoughts, forever enslaved to the physical and traditional mold.

Now is the time to re-think the entire approach to and medium of such reference works, especially as the internet increasingly dominates our lives. The company that achieves three things will corner the future market of digital scholarly resources.

1) Develop a cloud-based resource that does not require users to have special software. Any device that has internet access should be capable of accessing this resource.

2) Develop a model for reference works that is designed to be updated. A dynamic reference work has the potential of immortality, and what publisher could say no that?

3) Make this model profitable. This is necessary and also challenging. We know how to profit from pulp based products, but academia is still exploring ways to develop profitable academic resources online. In a time when a college student can drop out of an Ive League institution to develop one of the most influential and lucrative companies in the world, certainly established publishing companies have the resources to change their own field.

As to who would be willing and able to head such a project, you want to find individuals who have the scholarly credentials and a significant online presence. I can think of a couple of individuals who are qualified and capable:
John Hobbins: http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2007/05/the_future_of_a.html
Mark Goodacre: http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/

Paul Davidson

I find there are very few sources where an amateur with fairly in-depth Bible knowledge and an interest in higher criticism can quickly look up Bible-related topics for a concise yet thorough summary and analysis. Wikipedia has become the quick go-to source on many other topics but is more-or-less worthless on Bible topics, as it suffers from a number of problems, including denominational and apologetical bias, lack of citations, and lack of any peer review or editorial oversight for accuracy and thoroughness.

Currently, I find the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary fairly useful, but still lacking on many of the topics I look up. The Dictionary of Deities and Demons is magnificent for the specialized area it covers.

A new comprehensive, critical dictionary would surely be a boon to both amateurs and professional scholars.

One off-hand suggestion for working on such a dictionary would be John J. Collins. A few other names for covering Old Testament content would be John Day, Philip Davies, and Thomas Römer.

Sean

Yes it would be a good idea because (a) Anchor's for wankers and (b) NIDB is far to hea-vy. More seriously, I think a full-scale Bible dictionary drawing on European scholarship you add a different voice into the basic range of reference works.

People - need to be polymaths. Bauckham? Barton? Rowland? Dunn (after he finishes volume 3 of Beginnings)? Either that or ambitious junior people with the necessary organisational skills and energy to chase people.

And revision will be quicker than re-write, for sure.

Jacob Phillips

Good old fashioned dictionaries and concordances are the basic bread and butter of scholarship, and that will never change

Rusty Osborne

I am frequently directing my undergraduate students to Bible dictionaries to help fill out their understanding of the text. I find that these one-stop reference tools are invaluable for students. A very good dictionary article can help orient the reader to the main issues concerning a topic and then direct them toward necessary resources for further study. However, in order to do this, the article has to be current in its discussion. Unless a dictionary has a few timeless gems produced by world-class scholars, the material becomes dated and less helpful rather quickly. For this reason, I do not feel publishers should hesitate in regularly updating these types of reference tools in order to assure their readership that they are benefitting from the latest scholarly discussion on the chosen topic.

As a side note, please do not take the subscribe-to-the-digital-version route! If publishers are going to walk into the virtual world, you need to play by the web rules--make it free. If not, just focus on hard copy printing or one time purchase electronic versions. Books are expensive, but once you bite the bullet at least you have something to show for it. I would love to see an academic publisher step up to the challenge of open access publishing, and a new online, open access Bible dictionary would be an excellent project to begin with.

Suggestions: (OT) Hugh Williamson, Mark Boda, Gordon McConville, (NT) Tom Wright, Don Carson, Simon Gathercole

Suzie Gallagher

Ἀγαθοεργέω, I would like to see a new bible dictionary. I use one from the late 1800's, a basic one for adults, a basic one for children and two from the 1960's. None of them on their own fulfil everything I need from such a tome.
Perhaps the best leap on your part would be to open access your current book, giving it to project gutenberg for example. Or create a totally unique online presence for a new kind of book. Thinks Pottersville for bible dictionaries.
Χριστοῦ
Suzie

Terry Wright

New dictionaries are always worthwhile, but there’s a lot of competition on the market, especially in terms of one-volume dictionaries. Few of these are inexpensive; and, of course, if the dictionary proves popular, the publisher is likely to release further editions to account for advances in scholarship—all of which means added expense to the scholar.

Is there a way that T&T Clark could pioneer a kind-of returns policy, whereby each purchase of the new dictionary comes with a code number so that the scholar can trade in the first edition for a new edition? I’m not sure how feasible this would be. Another option could be that a first edition comes with a CD-ROM or, again, a code number, so that future updates can be accessed online and downloaded in a format that matches the style of the hard copy.

Content-wise, I dare say that entries on the way biblical studies is done around the world, or how geography contributes to different emphases, would be especially useful; entries such as ‘Biblical Studies on Continental Europe’ or ‘Biblical Studies in South-East Asia’. So many dictionaries draw hugely from North America or the United Kingdom, it seems, and I’m sure less ‘obvious’ voices would be appreciated.

I’m not sure how much of this makes sense, but I hope it’s useful in some way.

Dave Lincicum

Well, okay, my two cents:

I do send my students to dictionaries for quick overviews of topics, and will sometimes read a dictionary article for something I am teaching or just beginning to think about. But it seems to me that something like a Bible dictionary will need to think about its scope very carefully. I can think of the following types of categories that *could* be addressed: a) Biblical books (including Apocrypha); b) names, places, customs, etc., mentioned in the Bible; c) methods or approaches for interpreting the Bible (e.g., redaction, narrative, form criticism, apocalyptic, etc.); d) theological (God, redemption, eschatology) or generic (narrative, letter, law code) terms/concepts [this then poses the question about the arrangement of these topics; should the article on God cover the whole Bible? If so, how? Thematically? Chronologically? Should it be canonically or historically oriented? Etc.]; e) major interpreters or schools; f) other contextual information (e.g., Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocryphal gospels, Gnosticism, etc).

All of those seem to me worthwhile in different ways, but whether they can be combined in a single volume with a defined audience is well worth asking. If one does attempt to combine them, then perhaps comprehensiveness (esp. of 'b' above) may need to be sacrificed. In addition, for a dictionary article to be useful for most students and certainly for scholars, having space for bibliography is crucial, and (though now dated) this is something for which the Anchor Bible dictionary is often useful. But defining carefully the intended audience should offer a steer on some of these choices. If the audience in view is the lay reader of the Bible who does not want a window into scholarly discussion, then the dictionary will look very different to one geared toward theological students. This consideration could also, of course, affect the size/length of the volume(s).

It seems to me absolutely crucial that there be a significant revision if there is to be a publication. In the library at Mansfield College, where I teach, we have just rejected a donation of a Bible dictionary from the 1980s b/c it was too dated; I can't imagine anyone buying a 1963 reprint of something like a bible dictionary - at least not knowingly. As to other current Bible dictionaries, one would presumably be up against the ageing but excellent Anchor Bible, the IVP black dictionaries, the Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (and their Dict. of Early judaism?), and presumably some others. Maybe there is more space for a single volume than a multi-volume dictionary in the market (though I certainly couldn't say for certain).

Having both print and electronic options for purchasing the dictionary would seem to make good sense.

Knowing your intended audience and scope will also affect the choice of editor(s). If an ecclesial readership is in view, then perhaps having a well-respected scholar from the seminary world would be useful (Scot McKnight? John Goldingay? - not that they couldn't do the academic side, too, of course). If the academic angle is taken, there are lots of people who come to mind: Chris Tuckett, John Barton, Craig Evans, or various other names that have been floated by previous commenters.

Dave Lincicum

p.s. - just remembered that OUP is revising its (Oxford) Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics, edited by Robert Brawley along with the Editorial Board: Kathy Ehrensperger, Jan van der Watt, Isaac Kalami, Ralph Klein, and Stephen Fowl. Apparently it should be done in 2013, fwiw

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