A couple weeks ago the Gospel reading recounted one of my favorite stories of Jesus. It is the story of his walk down the road to Emmaus with two of his followers after the resurrection. They don’t recognize him at first, for his identity is hidden. As they walk Jesus opens up the scriptures, showing all the ways that the law and the prophets lay a foundation for the cross and the empty tomb. Finally, after a day of walking with them through the scriptures, Jesus is invited to stay with the two travelers. They sit down to eat together that evening and as Jesus breaks open the bread he is revealed to them, and disappears.
Their comment on all of this has always struck me they said:
Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road,
while he opened to us the scriptures?”( Lk 24:32)
This has been my experience with scripture. There is such an amazing depth in its word, such a power to consume my heart. It inspires challenges and encounters me. It holds within it’s binding the power to change a life, and presents ideas that have shaped the world.
It is because I love the Bible that I get very excited whenever I get a new tool to read the Bible. Bible tools; like commentaries, dictionaries, critical editions of manuscripts, lexicons, atlases, and the like; help to unearth the treasures hidden within the field of scripture. Last month I was sent a copy of Scott Hahn’s Bible dictionary and thought it would be beneficial to write up a review.
On Bible Dictionaries
A bible dictionary is a particular genre of Biblical tool. They present key names, concepts, places, and ideas that one might encounter while studying the Bible. A good bible commentary will help you out if you run into a world that you want to know more about and want a simple place to start. It should present information at a level that an undergraduate could understand; readers shouldn’t have to look up three other articles just to understand what you’re saying. A bible dictionary should be conversant with the latest scholarship, but does not need to present a comprehensive review of all opinions. I have read dozens of them over the years, and I think everyone should have one in their home.
Hahn’s Bible dictionary is a fairly decent dictionary. It has a lot going for it. It’s fairly comprehensive (covering the primary items one might need to look up), and it presents the material in a very accessible way. This is not a book that will confuse you. Another nice thing about it is that it presents Catholic Church teaching that relates to ideas. This is perfect for those who want to hear the wisdom of the Church as they dig into the most sacred texts of the Tradition. The Catholic element of this text is what sets it apart. Nearly all the Bible dictionaries that are available today are written from non-catholic perspective, or even anti-catholic perspectives. This is particularly true of Bible dictionaries written for the non-specialist. This book fills in an important gap. It offers a Catholic Bible dictionary that the average reader can understand. I think that in itself justifies this books existence, and the fact that a popular writer like Hahn has put it together makes it all the more intriguing.
As much as I like the dictionary, it is not a perfect text. My main qualm with it is its lack of citations. A bible dictionary is not a great source on its own. It’s a great starting point, but each article should include the references used in writing the article. One of the main things I use Bible dictionaries for is as a starting point for additional research, and in that regard this dictionary is lacking. It does not reference the scholarship that backs up the content of the entries. This is a major failing. The overall effect is that this is dictionary very much feels like the project of one man, Scott Hahn, rather than a comprehensive tool for the whole church.
Overall the book is an easy read, that present’s Hahn’s own perspective on many of the most important issues one might encounter in Biblical scholarship, but we have to take him at his word. I for one hope that future editions will offer better citations, and a more diverse group of contributors.