Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 6th, 2014 by Joel Watts

A (sample) review of @ivpacademic’s Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity

Alas, but it is impossible to give a detailed review when 1) you do not have a full volume before you and 2) the project is as massive as this. Yet, I am gracious IVP-Academic has sent along a sampler for, if nothing else, a reasonable tease.

This new set, a 3 volume monstrosity of immense worth, is the second English edition, based on an Italian predecessor. As the preface notes, this progenitor grew and was subsequently outgrown by patristic studies. The rise in patristic study called for a new edition, first produced in 1992 by Oxford. Following that, a second Italian edition was released, leading us to this point, the second English edition (now published by Intervarsity Press). This new entry has increased the number of articles by 35%. The list of contributors is as impressive as the weight of the volumes. There are 26 countries represented among 266 contributors. This represents a large swath of modern Christian streams and adds to the flavorful understanding of the many facets of early Christianity. From the preface we learn that Arabic, Coptic, Armenian and Gothic experts are among the new contributors.

The set up will remind the reader of the Anchor Bible Dictionary (edited by David Noel Freedman) with the inclusion of a small but pointed bibliography after each article. Further, it appears (after a scan of the sampler) the articles include original languages when necessary. For instance, the entry for Abrasax includes both the Greek and Latin form of the name. This is truly an academic encyclopedia worthy of critical patristic studies. Further, like the ABD, this encyclopedia addresses even those things scholars may think minor such as presumed bishops (names afforded only by Tradition) as well as general topics, such as Abandoned Children.

Finally, articles are geared to the patristic field. For instance, when you examine the article on Abraham, unlike a critical dictionary that seeks to show the historical development or a theological dictionary examining how Abraham was seen in, say, Romans, the article in this work looks at how Abraham was imagined during the patristic time (identified in the preface as between 90 and 950). Thus, the Abraham article is divided into two parts. The first part examines Abraham among the Church Fathers while the second examines iconographic works associated with the Patriarch.

The cost may be prohibitive of students and laity, although I hope to see it include in bible software programs which will soften the price somewhat. Given the 3 volume set, even the retail price is not exorbitant, but more than likely the price is geared to libraries. With that in mind, this set would make a perfect addition to church libraries as well.  If you are a patristic student, then you will benefit from this set. There is no question about that.

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An inside view

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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