The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford Companions)

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9780195046458: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford Companions)

The Bible has had an immeasurable influence on Western culture, touching on virtually every aspect of our lives. It is one of the great wellsprings of Western religious, ethical, and philosophical traditions. It has been an endless source of inspiration to artists, from classic works such as Michaelangelo's Last Judgment, Handel's Messiah, or Milton's Paradise Lost, to modern works such as Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers or Martin Scorsese's controversial Last Temptation of Christ. For countless generations, it has been a comfort in suffering, a place to reflect on the mysteries of birth, death, and immortality. Its stories and characters are an integral part of the repertoire of every educated adult, forming an enduring bond that spans thousands of years and embraces a vast community of believers and nonbelievers.

The Oxford Companion to the Bible provides an authoritative one-volume reference to the people, places, events, books, institutions, religious belief, and secular influence of the Bible. Written by more than 250 scholars from some 20 nations and embracing a wide variety of perspectives, the Companion offers over seven hundred entries, ranging from brief identifications--who is Dives? where is Pisgah?--to extensive interpretive essays on topics such as the influence of the Bible on music or law.

Ranging far beyond the scope of a traditional Bible dictionary, the Companion features, in addition to its many informative, factual entries, an abundance of interpretive essays. Here are extended entries on religious concepts from immortality, sin, and grace, to baptism, ethics, and the Holy Spirit. The contributors also explore biblical views of modern issues such as homosexuality, marriage, and anti-Semitism, and the impact of the Bible on the secular world (including a four-part article on the Bible's influence on literature).

Of course, the Companion can also serve as a handy reference, the first place to turn to find factual information on the Bible. Readers will find fascinating, informative articles on all the books of the Bible--including the Apocrypha and many other ancient texts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, and the Mishrah. Virtually every figure who walked across the biblical stage is identified here, ranging from Rebekah, Rachel, and Mary, to Joseph, Barabbas, and Jesus. The Companion also offers entries that shed light on daily life in ancient Israel and the earliest Christian communities, with fascinating articles on feasts and festivals, clothing, medicine, units of time, houses, and furniture. Finally, there are twenty-eight pages of full-color maps, providing an accurate, detailed portrait of the biblical world.

A vast compendium of information related to scriptures, here is an ideal complement to the Bible, an essential volume for every home and library, the first place to turn for information on the central book of Western culture.

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About the Author:


Bruce M. Metzger is George L. Collord Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary. A recognised authority on the text of the New Testament, he was chairperson of the NRSV Bible Committee, which produced the New Revised Standard Version, and he was co-editor (with Roland E. Murphy) of The New Oxford Annotated Bible.
Michael D. Coogan is Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College.

From Booklist:

After covering most of the world's major national literatures and literary genres, with this volume the venerable Oxford Companion series finally addresses perhaps the most famous literary work of all. According to the introduction, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OCB) "is an authoritative reference for key persons, places, events, concepts, institutions, and realities of biblical times." Taking what is called a "maximalist position," the volume treats "any book or part of a book that is recognized as canonical by any religious community." Editors Metzger, coeditor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (1991), and Coogan, an associate editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, have compiled a work that will stand for some time as a definitive one-volume treatment of the Bible.

The Oxford Companion to the Bible opens with a list of the 267 contributors, most academically affiliated, who come from a variety of religious backgrounds. The volume is arranged alphabetically by topic, with cross-references within articles noted by an asterisk before the word, and many see references scattered throughout the work. All articles are signed. The volume concludes with a bibliography, an index, and 14 color maps (each a two-page spread) with an index. Entries vary greatly in length, from some 200 words for Blasphemy and Fear to more than 22 pages for Literature and the Bible and more than 29 pages for the longest entry, Translations. Many entries are subdivided into separate articles, each with a separate contributor (e.g., Interpretation, History of). Taking into account these separate articles, OCB features 706 articles within 668 entries.

As with other Oxford companions, the work features readable articles that the educated layperson can understand. Although the introduction states that it can be used by "students and teachers in high schools," some articles such as Ecclesiastes, The Book of, which describes the book as "less ecclesial than sapiential," may be difficult for the high school student.

Given the relatively low number of entries compared with other one-volume works on the Bible, it would be unfair to compare OCB with works such as Harper's Bible Dictionary, which contains some 3,700 biblical terms with entries on every name used at least three times in the Bible. OCB goes into greater detail on topics than Harper's but avoids an entry for every person or event. Unique to OCB are such thematic entries as African American Tradition and the Bible, Children's Bibles, Freud and the Bible, and Popular Culture and the Bible. Whereas Women receives 21/2 pages in Harper's, OCB devotes 12 pages to the topic. Traditional entries, such as those on most of the books of the Bible, are dealt with in equally notable fashion.

The one drawback to this volume is the lack of bibliographies at the end of entries. While this is not an unusual practice in Oxford companions, the concluding 114-entry bibliography seems downright meager when confronted with the breadth of the work. Although the subdivision by 13 topics ("History," "Textual Criticism," etc.) within the bibliography helps, one wishes for more. On the other hand, the detailed index is a welcome enhancement (a feature missing from Harper's), allowing the reader to note where, for example, Moses is mentioned throughout the volume. The index also includes each contributor's name with the page numbers written.

Even for libraries that already seemingly have their fill of reference works on the Bible, OCB provides a significant addition to the reference literature, providing a substantial amount of depth at a reasonable price. While Harper's still is adequate for ready reference, The Oxford Companion to the Bible provides more substance on many topics.

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