Monday 28 October 2013

Review: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (2nd edition)

A guest-review by Jeff Aernie

Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 2nd edition. IVP 2013. xxxi + 1088 pp.

For over two decades lecturers, students, and pastors have benefited greatly from the IVP Dictionary series. The first edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (DJG) proved to be a wealth of information, becoming an instant success for its breadth and quality.

Given the widespread acclaim of the first edition it may seem odd that a second edition was needed. Many of the articles in the first edition continue to provide relevant introductions to the various aspects of Gospel studies which they represent. And yet, in light of the increasing speed at which Gospel studies has advanced, the second edition of DJG is a welcome contribution.

Most of those who are familiar with the first edition of DJG will simply want to know what is different between the two editions. One might be inclined to say: everything. It would be unfair and inaccurate to refer to this second edition as a mere revision – it represents a substantial update. Although there is significant overlap in terms of the entries, most of the articles are original contributions composed by new authors. Those few articles that have the same author in both editions have been substantially edited, with updates to both content and bibliography.

In terms of actual entries, there are 24 new headings, and 14 others that reflect either revised terminology (e.g., “Dreams” becomes “Dreams and Visions” and “Temple Clearing” becomes “Temple Act”) or a combination of previous articles (e.g., the songs of Mary, Simeon, and Zechariah are now combined into the more systematic “Songs and Hymns”). Several of the new entries revolve around more contemporary forms of criticism (i.e., “African American Criticism”; “Canonical Criticism”; “Feminist and Womanist Criticisms”; “Latino/Latina Criticism”; “Narrative Criticism”; “Postcolonial Criticism”). The other major area of study that sees increased attention in this edition is social-historical material, with contributions on “Cynics and Cynicism”; “Economics”; “Essenes”; “Gods, Greek and Roman”; “Judaism, Common”; “Orality and Oral Transmission”; “Sadducees”; “Slave, Servant.”

Three new contributions in particular represent significant advances. Richard Bauckham’s new article on “Christology” provides a systematic summary of the Christological emphasis of each Gospel, as well as tracing common characteristics across the fourfold Gospel. Given the focus of the volume, this type of synthetic treatment was a welcome addition. Joel Green, the only contributor to serve as an editor for both volumes, offers an important contribution on “Historicisms and Historiography.” While the relationship between history and the study of the Gospels has remained important since the publication of the first edition, questions of methodology have shifted. Green’s concise treatment of criteria-based historicism, critical-realist-based historicism, and social memory theory will provide a clear introduction for the next generation of Gospel students. It is also worth mentioning the addition of a constructive article on the “Theological Interpretation of the Gospels.” Andy Johnson here provides a clear description of a burgeoning area of study that should be mandatory reading for all theological students.

Most of the articles that were omitted from the second edition reflect a process of streamlining. For example, the older articles on “Benefactor” and “Taxes” are now helpfully subsumed under the more constructive essay on “Economics.” Two omissions, however, were particularly unfortunate. Most noticeably, the loss of Sidney Greidanus’ article on “Preaching from the Gospels” constitutes a significant deficiency. Students and pastors will want to return to Greidanus’ insights in the first edition of DJG. Perhaps less significant, given its widespread influence on other articles, is the omission of an article on “Rhetorical criticism.” Given the inclusion of a number of new articles on methodology in this edition it seems unusual that this would be removed as a separate entry.

Those minor complaints aside, one need neither be a prophet nor the son of one in order to assert that this edition of DJG will stand alongside its predecessor as an essential tool for New Testament studies. The editorial team is to be commended for creating a reference tool that will undoubtedly contribute to the future shape of the discipline.

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