On Scripture Changes and the Bible Dictionary(s)

I’ve had this post half written for a while, and one of the changes in the new LDS scriptures has prompted me to emerge from my cave to finish it. The introductory section to the Bible Dictionary has been rewritten with some interesting twists. The old version is still available at the “classic” scripture site, classic.scriptures.lds.org.  The  oft-ignored disavaowal of the BD as an official position or revelation therein remains, I’m happy to report, as does the statement that the BD represents (light) scholarship, and is subject to scholarly revision. It seems few people know that the original BD was a revision of the Cambridge Bible Dictionary, as reported in the Ensign back in 1982 and perhaps elsewhere.  As the Bible Chronology and Harmony of the Gospels have become their own Help/Aid, they no longer merit mention.

Much more interesting is the excisal of a recommendation to use another Bible Dictionary.

The old read, “The topics have been carefully selected and are treated briefly. If an elaborate discussion is desired, the student should consult a more exhaustive dictionary.” The new introduction similarly describes the treatment as “concise” but alas, fails to suggest turning to a supplement for more lengthy discussion. The suggestion is still a good one. For LDS who are interested, what Bible Dictionary should they acquire to supplement?

It’s a bit of an understatement to describe the BD as “concise” and “brief.” My first recommendation is the Oxford Companion to the Bible, which has more topics, but is still legitimately “brief” at 900+pages.  The OCD is broader than a typical Bible Dictionary, in that it includes articles outside the usual scope of a Bible Dictionary, e.g. the translation, reception, and interpretation of the Bible. This means less space devoted to minor Biblical people/places/things, but more context into which these all fit. A more traditional BD would be Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Both can be found relatively cheaply in hardback.

 The next tier up moves us into multi-volume territory. I recommend the IVP Black Dictionaries, an eight-volume set aimed at interested non-specialists. The volumes are Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, DOT: Prophets, DOT: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, DOT: Historical Books, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Dictionary of Later New Testament & Its Developments, Dictionary of New Testament Background.  As you might guess from IVP Press, these lean conservative, but not as much as I’d assumed. They do a fair job laying out alternatives on the scholarly field while remaining very accessible.  Volumes can be bought individually, but (as you might guess) I recommend buying the electronic versions, which turn out to be cheaper, include some useful bonus volumes, and added functionality. The NT+bonus volumes are available for a steal here as The IVP Reference Collection, and the OT volumes in two chunks (here for the first two volume, and the last two volumes just became available today, at pre-publication pricing.) In response to inquiries, IVP has denied having any plans to release an updated Reference Collection with the OT volumes added, so these are the best electronic prices you’ll find.

Lastly for the hardcore, is the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Yale recently acquired and rebranded it the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. The primary difference between AYBD and the IVP Dictionaries lies in the audience; AYBD plumbs the scholarly depths in its content, approach, and bibliographical choices. At six volumes and 7200 pages, it covers everything. It also has a scholarly price. CBD, which offers such a great price on the electronic IVP, lists the AYBD at over $600. I recommend (shocking, I know) the electronic version, which at $269 will also fit on your iPad, Android phone, cross-links and scripture pop-ups, etc. It does go on sale from time to time; I bought mine for about $180 in 2003, I think. AYBD has the added cache of having been cited in General Conference way back in 2006 (when I blogged about it at M*!)

I don’t own the Oxford in electronic format, but I’ll upload a ZIP file with pdfs from IVP and AYBD on The Flood, so you can compare. I’ll update with in 24 hours, when I get back to my computer.

13 comments for “On Scripture Changes and the Bible Dictionary(s)

  1. I see the new version of the Bible Dictionary removes the explicit idea that there was no death for non-human forms of life before the fall of Adam. Now, as so many other things, it’s simply left ambiguous. (Anybody seen NDBF Gary around lately?)

    Entry on FALL OF ADAM AND EVE (previously FALL OF ADAM)

    Old: “There was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations.”

    New: “Before the Fall, there were no sin, no death, and no children.”

    Entry on DEATH

    Old: “Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam.”

    New: “Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth before the Fall of Adam.”

  2. Though I’m not inclined to read too much into this, it does seem a bit peculiar that in a day and age when there is more a new and exciting biblical scholarship and publications available than ever before, the church would strike its recommendation that members, seeking more light and knowledge, consult other sources.

    Though not a dictionary, I have found Who’s Who in the BIble, by Comway and Brownrigg to be quite useful. It provides nice mini-biographies and supplements them with some scholarly scriptural commentary. The Oxford Bible Commentary is also excellent. And if you’re interested in an introductory history of the Old and New Testaments–how and when they were written and the evolution of their doctrines–the Yale Open Course Series has recently published two excellent volumes on these topics. Both are available in softcover for about $12 a piece on Amazon.

  3. I thought the first option was hardcore! Unfortunately I haven’t delved into this yet, but could definitely see myself doing so in the future.

  4. I should clarify, what I called Harper’s BD in the post from memory is the HarperCollins TS asks about. I have no experience with it, but any one-volume BD from a respectable publisher in the last 25 years or so will be roughly equivalent.

  5. There simply is no satisfactory up to date Bible dictionary. AYBD may plumb the scholarly depths, but those depths reflect c. 1980 thought. It ignores more recent scholarly trends, such as current controversy over the historicity of the united monarchy as pictured in the OT. Perhaps more germane for Mormons is the relatively light treatment of the symbolism of Solomon’s temple in the ABD.

  6. That’s the nature of the beast, otaddict. On the plus side, 30 years out of date is about 90 year newer than most LDS are familiar with.

  7. I quite adore my ABD set. I don’t think there’s much to worry about its old shelf life. Admittedly, I inly stay on the fringes of Bible scholarship these days, but most “advances” or new trends in Bible scholarship are little more than new perspectives, not real developments. True advances in Bible scholarship come much slower than in other academic fields.

  8. DavidF I think you raise a good point. And I have also quite adored my ABD on CD. But (allowing that there may be a difference of opinion over what constitutes a real development) there are some things that bear on Mormon issues that can be termed real developments. For instance there are several completely new discoveries in the last ten years that bear on the nature of writing in the Hebrew states during the time the brass plates were being written, such as the Qeiyafa inscription, the Tel Zayit abecedary and the early seals and bullae discovered by Reich and Shukron at the Jerusalem Temple Mount dig.

  9. Thanks, Ben. These are very helpful suggestions.

    Technical question: what format does the electronic version of these commentaries come in (e.g., the AYBD)? Does in integrate with software like Logos or Accordance? Is it an epub or pdf document?

  10. All of these are available from Logos, which is a proprietary format, but has free reader programs on OSX, PC, IOS, and Android. You can print into pdf, though I’ve never tried more than an article/chapter at a time.

    AYBD and most of the IVP dictionaries are available through Accordance, which is OSX/IOS only.

    And I still have a post in the making on commentaries for you, Robert.

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