Two terms in the title of this volume require some comment (i.e., definition or explanation and elaboration): “Bible” and “Dictionary.” “Bible” refers to the Christian Bible, as commonly used in places where the great majority of the people have some affiliation with the Christian Church, and includes both the Old and New Testaments. The OT for Protestants is the same as the Hebrew Scriptures acknowledged by the Jewish community as sacred Scripture. Catholic Christians also accept the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonicals as part of the OT. All of the above are treated in this Dictionary, as well as the NT, which is accepted as canonical Scripture by practically all Christian groups.
As for the second term, Bible dictionaries generally come in two sizes: multivolume like the classic Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (ultimately in five volumes), the more recent Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (originally in four volumes with a supplement added later), and the current Anchor Bible Dictionary (in six volumes); and one-volume dictionaries, like the familiar Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, of which the present volume represents not merely a new edition but in essence a fresh beginning. It would have been better to use different labels for different products, as the two kinds of dictionary differ markedly in conception, approach, function, and utility. The former are more like encyclopedias (a better term) and make a larger claim, namely, to provide important and useful information about the Bible in its world, and to cover the subject matter in sufficient depth and breadth to enable both the general reader and the specialist to satisfy their needs and interests on a given text or topic without recourse to other sources. That is a large order indeed, and even the most extensive dictionaries strain to meet such a standard (hence they provide ample bibliographies for further study and research).
On the other hand, a one-volume Bible dictionary is intended to be a rapid-response reference work. While it should cover the same territory as the larger work, and contain approximately the same number of entries, everything from definitions to descriptions and discussions will be scaled down proportionately, to fit the more restricted format. Briefly put, it should be comprehensive but not exhaustive. It should supply sufficient factual information about books and persons, places and events, define words and longer expressions, and thereby fulfill the basic purpose of any dictionary: to explain. Beyond that basic service, it should provide the necessary and valuable leads to further elaboration and enlightenment, so that the interested reader can pursue the topic in a larger, more detailed reference work or in books and articles devoted to that subject.
More specifically, a modern Bible dictionary should provide sufficient factual data to define and explain all the distinctive terms and expressions found in the Bible. In addition, it should reflect the present state of scholarly research in this field, including not only the standard and long-established results of serious scholarship, but also more recent trends and developments in as fair-minded and nonpartisan a way as possible.
While the realization of such a goal may be regarded as beyond the reach of fallible human beings, the attempt is nevertheless justified, and different means and routes can be used to reach or approximate it. One way is to choose a paragon of unassailable virtue, whose balanced judgment and equable sensibility are unchallenged, as an editor to write all the articles and edit the whole work. This has been tried in years past, but in today’s world of the Bible that is asking too much of any one person. An alternative procedure is to compile a long list of contributors, who represent and reflect a wide spectrum of views and positions relating to the Bible, and ask them to use their expertise to write about what they know best in the best way that they know. While the results will hardly be uniform and may not produce a smooth surface, the admixture will faithfully reflect the present state of studies and a full spectrum of scholarly attitudes and opinions about the central issues along with more peripheral ones.
Therefore, we make no claim to either unanimity or uniformity in the treatment of the varied and numerous topics of the Bible. But we have attempted to cover most if not all of the items likely to arise and concerning which readers will seek information and guidance. We have assembled a worthy list of contributors, whose chief common attribute is that they are serious scholars who have earned the respect of their colleagues in our field of study, and who have something of material value to offer.
We give special credit to our Associate Editor, Allen C. Myers, my former student at the University of Michigan, who has accomplished Herculean editorial work in fashioning a scholarly and approachable volume from the many and sundry pieces. His is a daunting and unenviable task. Those of us who are editors know and recognize his devoted work and countless hours to bring this project to fruition.
In presenting this work to the public, we have tried earnestly to provide useful and helpful information to maintain the high standards and the validity, integrity, and established value achieved by earlier editions of this reference work. We are following in the footsteps of proven leaders and standing on the shoulders of giants.
David Noel Freedman