This is the third and final installment of my series of posts on the Catholic Bible Dictionary edited by Scott Hahn from Doubleday Religion. I discussed the author and contents. I have noted throughout that this dictionary potentially fills a gap in Catholic Biblical resources. However, this would mean little if the quality was poor. Here I will give my reaction.
Perhaps the best thing that I can say from the outset is this is a book I will recommend to my students. I currently teach seminarians, those preparing for the diaconate and interested lay people. This is a book that I believe will be beneficial for them in parish ministry contexts.
The articles on the Biblical books are expertly written and helpful. They include all the information that one expects in these kinds of articles – author, date, outline, etc. The articles focused on issues related specifically to Catholicism present the Biblical material without being apologetic in tone – the article on the Eucharist is an excellent example. The topical entries also present the Biblical material in its complexity. For instance, the articles on women and slavery in the Bible do not gloss over the fact that these texts come from a different time and culture and may present difficulties from a modern perspective.
The selection of articles seems fair. Of course, anyone who studies the Bible academically may think that articles related to their area of research may be lacking in a general resource like this. But, I think this would be nit-picking. Decisions must be made about what belongs in and what belongs out. The Catholic Bible Dictionary does a fair job with these decisions.
The only down side that I would note is that, though the dictionary does not come across as apologetic in most places, the scholarship does seem overly conservative in a few spots where I believe more latitude exists. As an example, the article on inspiration deals with “verbal plenary inspiration”, giving arguments for this view without noting arguments to the contrary (i.e. if God was that concerned about exact words why do we end up with significant text critical issues in place like Jeremiah and Job? – among a couple other arguments). I am no theological liberal, but I think the treatment in the dictionary could present more fully the other side of an issue like this one.
This critique is not fatal to the dictionary. Considering the breadth of material in a dictionary of this kind, I would be very surprised if there was nothing to say in critique. I might even be a little suspicious of someone who had nothing to say in critique. As I stated from the outset, I plan to recommend this book to my students. I also recommend it to those readers of this blog looking for a good general dictionary of the Bible. It would likely be better received by Catholic readers, but I think there is plenty there for readers of a variety of different backgrounds to benefit from.