Book Review: Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity

Review---Dictionary-of-Daily-Life

Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity, Vol. 2: De–H

Hendrickson | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Hendrickson for this review copy!

Along with an abundance of Bible translations available to the English-speaking world, we also have a wealth of resources and tools with which to study the Bible at our disposal. So, some may wonder why another dictionary that seeks to say something about the ancient world in which the Bible’s story unfolded? With such acclaimed series as The Anchor Bible Dictionary and IVP’s black dictionaries, do we really need another? In short, yes, for a couple of reasons. First, for all we know about the ancient world, there’s quite a bit more that we don’t know. What we don’t know about the ancient world, however, is steadily decreasing (albeit very slowly) and with new discoveries and advancements comes the need to supplement what we already “know”. Second, no matter how exhaustive a resource attempts to be, it is simply impossible to say all that can/needs to be said about a given issue, hence the need for other volumes and/or series to fill in the gaps. This is precisely the goal of Hendrickson’s marvelous series Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity (hereafter DDL).

The primary way in which this series differs from others is its focus—on the daily life of those of antiquity. More technical series (ABD, IVP’s black dictionaries) offer insight into all aspects of the biblical world, particularly those issues that were more pervasive socially, e.g., imperial cult, agriculture, religious praxis, etc. The DDL, however, places the focus on aspects of life that were perhaps not central to the texts that reflected the culture. Ed Yamauchi, who both edited and contributed to this series, cites the issue of abortion as but one example of a practice that was pervasive in the ancient Mediterranean, yet is not addressed in the Bible (1). This particular volume covers such matters as dentistry and teeth, doors and keys, food consumption, heating and lighting, and horses, along with a number of other aspects of daily like that are perhaps more expected. As Yamauchi correctly points out, the authors of the Bible took for granted what was well known to themselves and their audience, thus they had no need to provide all the requisite background information to understand what they were reporting (1). As such, we must comb the sources of the ancient world in order to understand their world and thus better understand the context of the Bible. However, outside of academia, most readers of the bible have neither the resources nor the skills to mine the depths of ancient sources, so works like DDL demonstrate their ultimate value.

The articles are written by experts in their fields but are written in very accessible prose so that the reader might receive the maximum benefit. Each topic is discussed in various contexts—the scriptural first (Old and New Testaments) followed by the cultural (Near Eastern, Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian)—thus providing the reader with a wider range of backgrounds against which to understand that particular issue. To accommodate those who wish to read beyond the pages of DDL, each article concludes with a substantive up-to-date bibliography.

There is really nothing to dislike about this series, save for the use of transliterated terms from the languages of the sources cited and otherwise noted. This negligible element aside, the DDL is a solid work, one that will benefit both scholars and non-academics alike. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that no, it is improbable that anyone reading these volumes won’t find something they disagree with. However, this volume (and presumably the first one) are well researched and lucidly written, so even in disagreement readers will learn with great benefit. Will this series replace others? No, and it isn’t meant to—it’s a supplement to previous works that will greatly aid in the study of the world of the Bible.

Αυτω η δοξα

 

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