Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary – Book Review


Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary.  J. D. Douglas, Merrill C. Tenney, ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011).  $29.95, hardback; 1517 pages.

This new release from Zondervan is more than a re-packaging of the venerable Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (Merrill, 1963) or the New International Bible Dictionary (Douglas, 1999).  Nor is this merely a stripped down version of the recent five-volume revision of the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible (ZEB).  This Dictionary gives a brief gloss for many items that the larger Encyclopedia provides support and additional documentation. This Dictionary is not a replacement for a multi-volume work like the Anchor Bible Dictionary or the ZEB. There may be places where the brevity of the work is frustrating, but that is the nature of a single-volume dictionary.  This work has enough definition to help a Bible reader understand historical, geographical and cultural elements in the text as they read.

The introduction indicates that 1,800 new articles have been added.  There are now more than 7,200 entries covering historical and geographical topics, but also general theological issues as well (Jesus, Sin, Bible translation, etc.)  A handy feature for the non-professional is the inclusion of Goodrich-Kohlenberger numbers for all Greek and Hebrew words.  This allows someone without biblical languages to use other Zondervan resources to do further study.  For example, in the article on loving-kindness (p. 862),  hesed appears in transliteration and the GK number (H2876) can be used to look hesed up in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis.

One of the first things I noticed is that the articles are all unsigned.  The introduction explains that this is a result of the blending of two dictionaries into one, then an extensive editing of all the articles.  Rather than engage in Source and Redaction Criticism to determine who wrote what, the names of the authors have been omitted.  I would have preferred to see signed articles (even if that means two authors), but I understand the rationale for deleting the names of authors.

Most of the 500 full-color photographs are provide by James C. Martin, author of the Visual Guide to Bible Events.  They are well-produced and relate well to the text of the Dictionary. I also like the fact that the photographs are not over-used, rarely do two pages in a row have photographs and they never are larger than a half-page, most are far smaller than a half-page.  There are only a few charts, including overviews of biblical books (author, historical setting, purpose and contents) and a few Old Testament or New Testament chronological charts.  The 75 full-color maps are from the Zondervan Atlas, although they are rarely larger than a quarter page in size.  The book-blurb on Amazon indicates that there is a Scripture index included, but in fact it is not included.  I am not sure how useful a Scripture index is for a dictionary and it would have increased the length of the book considerably.  Since this is a Zondervan product, all scripture is NIV or TNIV, although the spellings of common names are retained from the KJV.

The book is printed on thin, non-glossy paper.  I appreciate this since many of the recent Zondervan reference books (like the ZEB) have been printed on glossy paper.  This is better for reproducing photography, but I find the pages glare and I am not as happy marking notes on the glossy paper.  I will also point out that this book does not have a dust jacket, rather the boards are illustrated as a dust jacket might have been.  This is the trend for many recent hard back books and is probably motivated by marketing concerns, but that does not mean I have to like it.

At 1571 pages, this is a significant tool which will meet the needs of most laymen and most pastors.  It is an attractive and well-designed book and a worthy successor to the one-volume dictionaries edited by Douglas and Tenney.  With a street price of about $20, the book is also a great value.  A Kindle version is available for $16.99.  While it is impossible to call a book this size “handy,” it will likely be the first book off the shelf for most pastors and lay-teachers.