Book Review: Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (New and Enhanced Edition)

Nelson's Illustrated Bible DictionaryNelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (New and Enhanced Edition), edited by Ronald F. Youngblood, is Thomas Nelson’s thoroughly revised and updated edition to the original 1986 publication. This is a hefty tome (5 lbs.!) with all full-color pages and a font size that is typical of any normal reading material, which is larger than most other dictionary and encyclopedic texts. It is thorough, containing entries for virtually every person, place, thing, idea, and action explicitly stated in the Bible (the list of plants and animals alone are quite lengthy) regardless of the brevity of mention in Scripture. (Do you remember Arphaxad? No? Well, he’s in there.) It also includes important topics that are necessary to Bible study (e.g., literary genre, historical entries, etc.), a great number of charts and graphs, and the like. A brief “Study and Teaching Outline” and important theological themes is provided for each book of the Bible.

What I appreciate:
1) The sheer number of entries, references, and its 2) readability are quite wonderful, but it’s also 3) a beautiful, well put together volume.
4) There is a brief, charted history of Bible events and themes that comprises roughly twenty-five pages of the introduction.
5) For those new to more in depth Bible study, the text begins with a step-by-step approach to using this resource, one I believe many will find quite helpful so as to discourage simply finding an entry, reading it, and assuming that’s the end of the matter.

What I don’t appreciate as much:
1) When much interpretation is necessary, this dictionary leans heavily on a dispensational, premillennial perspective (if that means anything to the reader of this review), not to the utter exclusion of other perspectives (there is sometimes a sentence or phrase nodding to others, or the mere mention of there being other “more complex understandings” without noting them), but also not very helpful for those who are interested in serious inquiry. However, though they are often of considerable importance to those looking for a study reference, considering the number of these related entries to those not so related, they are miniscule in number and may not sway one in whether or not to pick up this resource. (I should include a positive note here, in that if particular words are not explicitly found in the Bible, they are likely not to have an entry in the text. Relevant to my complaint about the given perspectival leaning, there is surprisingly and encouragingly no entry for the dispensationalists’ definition of “Rapture”—there is simply no such entry.)
2) Though this is an “illustrated” dictionary, one may not be so impressed by the way in which it is so. Many (certainly not all) of the pictures found within seem to be haphazardly placed without consideration of context. It’s as if those in charge of design layout thought, “What if people read a dictionary like they would a book, from page to page, and we wanted them to serendipitously discover something new or just see a pretty picture about a place or thing that really has nothing to do with its origin? We have all these pictures available to us, so let’s use them!” A thorough revision of the use and placement of such “illustrations” would be helpful. A number of maps and charts fall into this category, as well.
3) Due to the aforementioned, a separate index of illustrations (pictures, maps, charts, etc.) would prove to be helpful so one may find them.

When considering acquisition of a study resource, one must consider the need and depth to which one wants to go. This is a single volume meant (I believe) for “just give me some answers and references” kind of study. This is not an exhaustive, nor exhausting, set that can get the non-scholar bogged down in weighty detail. For those looking for the former, the text at hand may suffice. For those looking for the latter, this is not that resource. (For the latter, I recommend looking into a larger set like the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary.)

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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