Editor in Chief Samuel E. Balentine. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, Two Vol., hardcover, $395.
*I would like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press for providing me with a review copy of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology for my honest opinion of the publication.
Unlike many encyclopedias, the editors of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology (henceforth OEBT) focused less on small entries about small subjects, such as an entry on Jewish Canon, and focused more on the larger topics, such as an entry on Canon. The larger entry encompasses the smaller points. In effect, this template for the encyclopedia allows for greater diachronic discussion of certain themes and ideas throughout the Bible. Thus, rather than offering brief, in-depth discussion, the authors of OEBT introduce the broad scope of certain ideas and their receptions through, if the material permits, the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Second Temple Period literature, gnostic material, Greek and Roman sources, in some cases Islamic materials, and much more. Hence, the template of OEBT tends to create sorts of outlines for topics that students, especially under-graduate students, may engage with in order to find a solid platform before embarking in research.
Furthermore, OEBT contains a plethora of articles that not only present basic essays about subjects and their reception through history, but also consistently makes not of areas where further research is necessary. With a template that specifically notes that non-static nature of biblical studies, the majority of essays in the OEBT recognize and take seriously the constant developments in the field of biblical studies, never attempting to establish a solidified interpretation of a certain idea, concept, book, or character. They leave open the possibilities for future studies in topics, resulting in an encyclopedia that doesn’t just say, “this is how it is” but says, “this is what is can become”.
Criticism, due to the plethora of authors is a challenge. For the most post, the essays were focused on presenting the materials, only explicitly analyzing material when necessary. Because it focuses on presenting material, there may be instances where details for an entry are assumed. These are present throughout the encyclopedia and are most often present to the reader whose basic assumptions about a theme or topic differ than what the author presents. Such issues arise on a case to case basis and are dependent on the person reading the entry.
Regardless of the possibilities of disagreement, something expected in academia, the OEBT presents comprehensive and detailed discussion of major biblical topics and its sub-topics. Though it may not be helpful for MA and PhD level research as it is not primarily focused on analysis, the OEBT is an excellent addition to any academic, or personal, library. It enriches the depth of knowledge available to students by presenting a vast array topics and times covered within individual topics. Whether one is using the OEBT as a starting point for research or referencing it to show tendencies in biblical scholarship, it is beneficial to libraries and will allow students to penetrate the infinite depths of the bible and theology.