Catholic Bible Dictionary – Contents

Cover of "Catholic Bible Dictionary"
Cover of Catholic Bible Dictionary

This is the second main installment of my review of the Catholic Bible Dictionary edited by Scott Hahn from Doubleday Religion.  In this post, I will give an overview of the contents of the dictionary.

As an overarching statement, the Catholic Bible Dictionary is a general Bible dictionary.  So, if you are looking for a comparison, think New Bible Dictionary or Harpercollins Bible Dictionary in terms of length and types of articles.  Don’t think Anchor Bible Dictionary or IVP Bible dictionary series.  It contains general articles about the Bible (i.e. introductions to Biblical books) and topics related to the Bible (i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Against this background, there are a couple more things that can be said about the contents.  First, this Bible dictionary is geared toward Catholics, so, for example, in addition to articles giving general introductions to Biblical books, the dictionary has a number of articles about scriptural matters that are of particular interest to Catholics.  There is an article of substantive length on the Eucharist.  I haven’t surveyed a wide number of other general Bible dictionaries, but it is difficult for me to imagine them giving that much space to the Eucharist.  Second, in the articles that deal with other topics related to the Bible, such as inspiration, there are abundant references to Catholic documents, like encyclicals and statements written by the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Now, this type of Bible dictionary has its pros and cons.  Since it is a general dictionary it is going to be most advantageous for the general reader.  In fact, when I received this book, I had in mind my seminary students, who are not specializing in Biblical Studies, and undergraduates, who might be discerning the diaconate or might be catechists in church parishes.  The articles in this dictionary seem to be geared toward this audience.  If a priest is preparing a brief homily for weekday mass or an RCIA catechist is preparing a short scripture reflection for their group’s dismissal, this dictionary will provide good general background for the scripture passages in question and help them to ground their homily or lesson contextually.

The down side is obviously the flip side of this general focus.  If you are an expert in Biblical Studies, you might appreciate a general dictionary as a starting point.  But, most likely, it is going to leave you somewhat wanting, as it will not go into the level of detail that you would like in a dictionary article.  Thus, these are the kinds of resources that you might like to have on your shelf to recommend to students or members of your church; however, for more substantive treatments, you are going to look elsewhere.

To conclude, I would reiterate something that I have said from the outset.  This dictionary really does fill a gap among Catholic resources on the Bible.  To date, I don’t know of any other modern Bible dictionary that does in a Catholic context what seems quite common in Protestant contexts – New Bible Dictionary, Holman Bible Dictionary, New International Bible Dictionary, etc.  So, this dictionary continues to look like it would be at the top of my list of resources that I might recommend to Catholics who have a general interest in the Bible.

I will post the final installment of this review shortly, where I will give my evaluation of the contents …

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