Book Review: Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch/Historical Books

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker. Downers Grove, Ill..: InterVarsity, 2002. 950  pp. Hb; $60.   Link to IVP  Link to Logos

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Ed. Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, Downers Grove, Ill..: InterVarsity, 2005. 1060 pp. Hb; $60.   Link to IVP   Link to Logos

The IVP Dictionary series began in 1993 with the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. I was in seminary at the time and this book was assigned as a textbook in my Gospels exegesis class. At the time, I thought using a “dictionary” as a textbook was strange, but the assigned readings in the DJG were worth more than several textbooks! After more than 20 years the series is now complete, and a second edition of the DJG was published recently. As a college professor I have assigned articles from the various dictionaries as reading for classes and consider a research paper that does not consult the appropriate IVP dictionary more than a little weak. Every student of the Bible will find all the IVP dictionaries valuable; Bible College and Seminary studies should think of these dictionaries as “first off the shelf” resources.

DOTPIn this article I am focusing on the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (DOTP) and Historical Books (DOTHB) because I was asked to review them as they appear in the Logos Bible Library. While bulk of my comments will be on using these resources in Logos, I think a few comments on the contents of the Dictionaries is important.

The contributors to the IVP dictionaries are drawn from a wide range of scholarship. While some authors are evangelicals: editor of the DOTP David Baker is from Ashland Theological Seminary and contributor Edwin Yamauchi served as president of the ETS. John Walton of Wheaton appears frequently in the DOTP. But there are articles from Peter Enns, William Dever and others who are anything but conservative! The editors of both Dictionaries assigned articles to the best scholar available, and the books are stronger because of this commitment to scholarship over ideological agenda.

Each of the Dictionaries include major articles on the biblical books covered by the volume. These cover the content of the book, structure, origins, and chronology of the book, along with any “special issues” for the book. For the Pentateuch, the authorship of the books is covered in T D. Alexander’s article and in articles on Form, Historical, and Pentateuchal Criticism. In the DOTHB, origins and authorship appear in the book articles.

There is a great deal of controversy over the possibility of writing a “history of Israel,” partially due to how “history” is defined as well as a scholar’s commitment to the authority of the Bible. In their introduction to the DOTHB, the editors state that “there are substantial articles that offer the best approximation the authors can achieve at a scholarly reconstruction of the past history of Israel in the various phases of its existence from Joshua to Nehemiah” (ix). The editors took “a clear and firm editorial line” but also allowed “allowed our contributors complete freedom to express their own point of view” (x).

DOTHBThe Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books has seventy-one pages on the history of of Israel, broken into eight periods: settlement (S. A Meier), pre-monarchy (M. W. Chavalas), united monarchy (A. E. Hill), division of monarchy (S. L. McKenzie), Assyrian period (B. E. Kelle and B. A. Strawn), Babylonian period (P.-A. Beaulieu), Persian period (T. Longman III) and the postexilic community (P. R. Bedford). These final periods overlap, although Bedford’s article extends to the fourth century B.C.E. This section of the Dictionary would make an excellent introduction to the historical books if published in a separate book.

The style of the IVP dictionaries is very user-friendly. All Hebrew and Greek references appear in transliteration. As is standard in Bible Dictionaries, sources are cited in-text so there are no footnotes. Each article includes a bibliography of sources cited in the article. These are not comprehensive, but they include the important resources pertaining to the topic.

Logos Features. Reading books on a computer (or even an iPad) is not my personal preference. But using a reference book like the IVP Dictionaries in Logos is extremely efficient. For this review I reading the book with Logos 6, although most of the features mentioned here were in Logos 5.

Unlike a traditional book, every word in these dictionaries is indexed. This means a reader can search for every reference to a topic in the entire book. If you are researching Joshua, for example, this will result in a staggering 935 references, far more than a typical book index. It is also not an efficient use of time to look up every one of these references! But in the search results Logos will give the name of the article and a short example of the text where Joshua appears, along with how many times the word appears in the article. The article on Arad, for example, only has the word “Joshua” one time, but the article on Jericho has the word 19 times. This kind of search is “fuzzy” in that it will include Joshua and Joshua’s, and any other variations that might appear.

For many words in the Dictionaries, the user can right-click to access the context menu and preform a Bible Word Study. I right-clicked on “Megiddo” in the DOTHB as an example. The Bible Word Study tool included links to all other Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias I owned and created a chart of the words used in Hebrew for Megiddo (just one, in this case). Clicking the Hebrew word opens a concordance section of the occurrences (in English) and I can run a Word Study on the Hebrew word if necessary. There are several other sections available in Logos 6, including the “Factbook.” The Topic Guide will create a page of information related to Megiddo, including any media in your library (photographs, etc.) and links to the Logos bookstore.

IVP BundleThe major dictionary articles typically begin with an outline of the whole article. These outlines are tagged so a reader can skip ahead to the section of interest. In most Bible Dictionaries, cross-references to other articles identified with an asterisk. In the Logos version of these Dictionaries, these words are links. Hovering over the link to *creation, for example, shows a short sample from the article, clicking the link will open the article. For any link, a shift-click will open the linked article in a new tab, allowing you to read two articles alongside each other. This would be difficult in a printed version.

All Scripture is tagged in the text of the Dictionary so that you can float over the text to read the reference or click on the reference to open it in your favorite Bible. I have the ESV linked to the NA 27 for Greek and the BHS for Hebrew, so clicked on a link in a Dictionary article opens the ESV to the passage and my Greek or Hebrew Bible is synced to the passage.

In addition to Scripture, if the Dictionary references a resource you own in your library you can hover over the link or click to read the text. This includes any extra-biblical texts (Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, etc.) If the article refers to 1 Enoch, I can hover over the reference and the text from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Charlesworth) will appear. If I hover over “Targum Onqelos on Leviticus 24:11” (p. 82), the Aramaic Targum appears along with Lev 22:11. All references to the Mishnah and Talmud are linked as well. This makes checking cross-references extremely convenient.

Even more useful are links to any book you own in the Logos Library. For example, in the article on Historical Criticism (p. 415), there is a reference to the Armana Letters. I happen to own the Armana Letters in the Logos Library, so hovering over or clicking the reference given in the article opens the section for me. The same is true for the collection of Ancient Near Eastern texts in The Context of Scripture (ed. W. W. Hallo), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. J. B. Pritchard. This gives the reader the ability to quickly check references without leaving their work environment.

An extremely valuable feature for me in the Logos format of these books is the tagging of the bibliography sections of articles. Any bibliography entry in blue text can be clicked to copy to Refer/Bibix style or plain text. The bibix format is for use in bibliographic software such as EndNote or Zotero. This feature makes creating citations your own documents.

Even though these are very useful features, one major linking feature I would like to see added to the Logos Library is some way to get a full bibliographic entry for an article. You can cut and paste part of an article and Logos will cite it as a footnote or endnote in Word, but there is not efficient way to cite a whole article. This is true for articles in all Logos format books. Less important, I would suggest the author’s name links to his biography as provided in the printed version.

Reading on the iPad.  Most of the features found in the desktop version are still present although books need to be downloaded in order to link texts. Bible references are all linked to your favorite Bible and will open in a floating box. Any links to other sections of the dictionaries can be clicked and the full reference will appear.


Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books using the Logos app on an iPad

The Logos mobile app includes a wide variety of highlighting and note-taking tools. Notes are synced to the desktop app, so any modifications made on either platform are saved to a file on your Logos account. Text can be copied and pasted in other applications such as EverNote or Microsoft Word. While the full desktop version of Logos will include a fully-formatted footnote, the mobile version does not.

One feature on beloved us at I particularly appreciate is the use of real page numbers rather than “location” as on the Kindle App (although there is no Kindle version of the Dictionaries). IVP sells a PDF ebook version on their website, but using a PDF file limits the user’s options for searching, cut/paste, note-taking, etc. The best mobile reading solution in my opinion is the Logos Bible app, and reading the IVP dictionaries on the Logos app allows for much more flexibility than a PDF file.

Conclusion. The IVP Dictionary series ought to be in the professional library of every serious student of the Bible. While these books may be expensive, they are indispensable tools for the study of the Old Testament. Unfortunately a resource such as the IVP Dictionaries can grow outdated and scholarship constantly dabbles with new approaches to the Bible. This is the reason IVP released a second edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Now that the set is complete, I hope the next 15-20 years sees each of the dictionaries updated to reflect new trends in scholarship.

NB: Thanks to Logos Bible Software for kindly providing me with a review copy of these books. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch/Historical Books

  1. Thanks for the reviews. While I have not used these volumes in the Logos platform, I require each specific one for any classes I teach on any of those books from the OT. They are a treasure-trove of information and an immeasurable aid to finding further resources for research. I know one curiosity (and strong critique) I have for the Historical Books volume is NO article discussing the “S/spirit”. This is something that absolutely must be changed in any update (I say this as someone writing my PhD on a theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets where such a theme looms large in a number of major texts: Judges, Saul/David’s kingship, Micaiah to Ahab, and the transition from Elijah to Elisha). The “Spirit” is not even noted in the index. While I have not read every article fully (though I have read many), does a simple Logos search of the Historical Books volume turn up any articles pertaining to the Spirit?

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