Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Klauk, Hans-Josef, B. McGinn, P. Mendes-Flohr, C.-L. Seow, H. Spieckermann, B.D. Walfish, E. Ziolkowski (eds.) , Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception: Aaron–Aniconism (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009). Pp. xxxiv+1224. Hardcover. US$369.00. ISBN 978-3-11-018355-9.

The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception: Aaron-Aniconism marks the launching of a projected thirty-volume Bible encyclopedia (the second volume is also in print; the Encyclopedia is being made available online as well) designed to cover all the topics included in the standard Bible dictionaries (e.g., Anchor Bible Dictionary, [New] Interpreter's Bible Dictionary), but also the (very broadly construed) reception history of the Bible. In the former case, “EBR aspires to completeness…in its coverage of the scriptures themselves and their formation” (p. xi); in the latter case, it is meant to document “the history of the Bible's reception in Judaism and Christianity as evident in exegetical literature, theological and philosophical writings of various genres, literature, liturgy, music, the visual arts, dance, and film, as well as in Islam and other religious traditions and contemporary movements” (p. ix). Furthermore, the encyclopedia aims to distinguish itself from earlier reference works by “tak[ing] stock of the major shift that has occurred [recently] in most disciplines of the humanities…to an orientation informed by what has come to be called ‘cultural studies’” (p. x). The appearance in English of an encyclopedia published by Walter de Gruyter reflects the realization that “English [is] becoming the predominant language of discourse in religious studies and theology” (p. vii).

The work of the Encyclopedia has been divided into five “domains,” each overseen by one or two “main editors”: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Choon-Leong Seow, Hermann Spieckermann); New Testament (Hans-Josef Klauck); the influence of the Bible in Judaic (Barry Dov Walfish, Paul Mendes-Flohr) and Christian (Bernard McGinn) traditions; and other areas of biblical reception and influence (Eric Ziolkowski). More than 600 contributors are said to have supplied the entries merely for the letter A. The first volume, extending only as far as “Aniconism,” contains 1224 columns (not pages; there are two columns per page), 29 (black and white) figures, 16 (full colour) plates, and two maps.

A few samples must suffice to give an idea of the range of coverage given. The entry on Aaron (pp. 1–26) begins with a discussion by Richard D. Nelson of Aaron in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (pp. 1–7). The approach is straightforwardly historical-critical. Granting that the historian cannot know whether or not Aaron actually existed, Nelson distinguishes between pre-exilic texts, which do not speak of Aaron as a priest or priestly ancestor, and exilic and post-exilic texts, where he is portrayed as the ancestor of the priesthood of the Jerusalem temple—though Nelson notes that certain texts perhaps suggest an original connection between the figure of Aaron and the sanctuary at Bethel and sees others as “implicitly expos[ing] rivalries between Aaronic and non-Aaronic priestly groups” (p. 3). George J. Brooke then treats Second Temple and Hellenistic Jewish literature (pp. 7–9); here Aaron's appearance is said to be “limited…either to those works that are interested in history broadly conceived or to those texts that are interested in the priesthood” (p. 7). Günter Stemberger notes rabbinic expansions on biblical references to Aaron as well as the tendency to play down wrongdoing on his part (pp. 9–11). Shai Cherry discusses the treatment of Aaron in “Medieval and Later Judaism” (pp. 11–15), observing that in the earlier period his flaws tend to be downplayed (at times with considerable ingenuity) while his pure motives and sincere love of Israel are emphasized; in more recent treatments, suitable lessons are drawn from the stories and character of Aaron for Jews facing the challenges of modernity. Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer discusses the (few) New Testament references to Aaron (pp. 15–17): he is of importance only in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he represents “the sacrificial order which has been replaced and perfected by Christ” (p. 17). Under the heading “Archaeological Evidence” (pp. 17–19), Jaakko Frösén and Zbigniew T. Fiema take up references, from Josephus on, to the place of Aaron's death, identified as Jabal Harun, a mountain some five kilometers southwest of Petra; the authors summarize the results of archaeological explorations of the site. Arthur Holder summarizes the typological significance that Christian writers found in Aaron and his priestly vestments and the moral lessons they drew from the pertinent Old Testament passages (pp. 19–21). Gordon Nickel (pp. 21–23) writes of how Islamists regarded Aaron as one of many prophets between Adam and Muhammad, of the “allusive and elliptical” references to Aaron in the Qurʾān, and of later expansions on these in Islamic tradition. Finally, Brian Britt, Ori Z. Soltes, and Nils Holger Petersen discuss respectively references to Aaron in literature (e.g., John Milton, Sholem Asch, Leon Kolb [pp. 23–24]) and representations of Aaron in visual arts (from the wall of the synagogue of Dura-Europos to contemporary artists such as Ted Larson and Phillip Ratner [pp. 24–25]) and music (Handel, C. P. E. Bach, Rossini, Schoenberg [pp. 25–26]). Also worth noting is a substantial separate entry on “Aaron's Rod” (pp. 28–35), which is treated under the headings “Hebrew Bible/Old Testament,” “Philo and New Testament,” “Judaism,” “Literature and Music,” and “Visual Arts.”

The entry on Aaron is typical of many on biblical figures (e.g., Adam, Abraham, Absalom) and themes (e.g., abortion, adoration, adultery, afterlife, angels and angel-like beings), where authors pay comparable attention to the biblical evidence and to reception history. (Note that there are distinct entries on Adam [Person], The Apocalypse of Adam, The Testament of Adam, Life of Adam and Eve [Book], and Story of Adam and Eve.) There are, of course, a great many articles concerned exclusively with the former, presumably because nothing in the reception history was deemed worthy of discussion. The entry on Ai (pp. 678–681) will serve as an example. After discussing the meaning of the name and the location of the city (usually identified as Khirbet et-Tell, about three kilometers east of Bethel), Robert Mullins treats biblical references to Ai. He reads the story in Joshua as a straightforward historical account, speculating about Joshua's objectives and noting how the geographical setting of et-Tell fits perfectly the biblical account of the battle. Finally, Mullins summarizes results of archaeological explorations of the site, together with the problems these raise for regarding the narrative in Joshua as historical, and he mentions alternative explanations.

EBR also includes many articles devoted to the world of the Bible: Adonis, Akitu, Amarna letters, Amenhotep, and Anatolian languages, to name a few. On the other hand, EBR contains many entries pertaining exclusively to reception history. These include those devoted to significant manuscripts (Aleppo Codex, Codex Alexandrinus) and interpreters of the Bible (from Ambrose to Bernard Anderson), as well as approaches to its interpretation (e.g., Alexandrian exegesis). Indicative of the breadth with which reception history is here construed are articles on (the Bible's influence on) the Abbasid Dynasty, Agobard of Lyon, the American Revolution, Andalusia, and H. C. Andersen.

There seems little point in singling out individual articles for attention; but perhaps a final example will again illustrate the scope of this work. The important topic of “Allegory” is treated under seven headings (pp. 780–815). David Konstan and Ilaria Ramelli discuss allegory in Greco-Roman Antiquity (pp. 780–785), noting both occasional instances in which writers deliberately composed allegories and the history of allegorical interpretations, “used to find deeper meanings in received texts [especially Homer] and thereby rescue them from charges of superficiality, error, or blasphemy” (p. 780). Ramelli goes on to treat allegory in Judaism (pp. 785–793). Philo, of course, is given special attention (“the extensiveness, coherence, and systematic approach of Philo's allegoresis go well beyond the achievements of the Stoics” [p. 787]), but also his predecessors in Hellenistic Judaism, the occasional use of allegory at Qumran, rabbinic uses (the author notes the claim of Abba Saul that Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Qoheleth were only accepted as inspired writings after they were given allegorical interpretation by the men of Ezechias; also the work of the Dorshei Reshumot [“Interpreters of Allusions,” i.e., “of hidden allegorical meanings in Scripture”], and the common allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs “as celebrating the love between God and Israel” [p. 790]), and medieval Jewish allegory (especially the centrality of the allegorical reading of Scripture for Maimonides; also various allegorical commentaries on entire biblical books). Following this, Margaret M. Mitchell discusses allegory in the New Testament (pp. 793–796), noting that the degree to which Jesus's parables should be understood as allegories is disputed, and that early Christian authors debated whether or not Gal 4:24 legitimated the allegorical reading of Scripture. Alternations between the embrace and the dismissal of such interpretations throughout the history of Christianity are summarized under four headings (pp. 796–806): Greek Patristics and Orthodox Churches (Mitchell), Latin Patristics and Early Medieval Times (Mitchell), Medieval Times and Reformation Era (Kenneth Hagen), and Modern Europe and America (Eric Ziolkowski). A discussion of allegorical narratives in Islam (Maha Elkaisy Friemuth [pp. 807–808]) is followed by one on Literature, which highlights the influential allegories in Daniel and Revelation, the reflections on allegory in Origen and Augustine, and the famous allegorical works of Edmund Spenser and John Bunyan (Jason Yost [pp. 808–813]). The final sub-heading in the entry on allegory is Film (Werner Schneider-Quindeau [pp. 813–815]), where the author notes that a number of films “display an unmistakable allegorical connection to the biblical narrative” (813).

With a little good will, one can discover some relationship between the Bible and most aspects of human culture, at least in the West. Such good will is abundantly in evidence in this project, the ambitiousness of which is simply astounding. This reviewer can only wish the editors Godspeed and commend the project to readers as a rich resource without parallel.

Stephen Westerholm, McMaster University