Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 15 (2015) - Review

Colllins, John J. and Daniel C. Harlow (eds.) The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010). Pp. 1406. Hardcover. US$95.00. ISBN 978-0-8028-2549-0.

In yesteryear, if one wanted to consult a dictionary entry on a topic relevant to ancient Judaism, one would have to turn to a Bible dictionary such as the Anchor Bible Dictionary, or a New Testament “background” dictionary such as Intervarsity Press's Dictionary of New Testament Background, in the hopes that the entry related to ancient Judaism would be treated. With the publication of the Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, however, one now has access to a dictionary devoted exclusively to the time period, which focuses primarily on topics from the late fourth century b.c.e. until the early second century c.e. (p. vi).

The dictionary in divided into two parts. Part 1 consists of 13 major essays spanning approximately 300 pages, each of which gives a thorough overview and state of the question for the given topic or issue. The authors and topics treated are as follows: John Collins, “Early Judaism in Modern Scholarship”; Chris Seeman and Adam Marshak, “Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian”; James VanderKam, “Judaism in the Land of Israel”; Erich S. Gruen, “Judaism in the Diaspora”; Eugene Ulrich, “The Jewish Scriptures: Texts, Versions, Canons”; James Kugel, “Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation”; Loren Stuckenbruck, “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha”; Eibert Tigchelaar, “Dead Sea Scrolls”; Katell Berthelot, “Early Jewish Literature Written in Greek”; Jürgen Zangenbert, “Archaeology, Papyri, and Inscriptions”; Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev, “Jews among Greeks and Romans”; Daniel Harlow, “Early Judaism and Early Christianity”; Lawrence Schiffman, “Early Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism.”

Part 2 consists of 520 alphabetic entries, each of which includes a select bibliography, spanning from “Aaron” (authored by Robert Kugler) to “Zerubbabel” (authored by Steven Schweitzer) in over 1,000 double-columned pages of small print. The entries do not disappoint. Though I wish I could discuss them all, space allows only a very brief delineation of three representative entries.

The late Daniel Harrington provides an excellent treatment on ethics within Second Temple Judaism. He divides the entry into a discussion of the ethics of the Palestinian Jews, who “were concerned mainly to link their ethical teachings to biblical traditions about creation and Israel's past (Sirach) and/or to place them in an eschatological context (1 Enoch, Qumran texts),” and Diaspora Jews, who, “like Philo were especially eager to show the correspondence of the Torah with the right reason and nature” (pp. 605–6). Shani Tzoref's entry on the “Pesharim” discusses not only the “Teacher of Righteousness” and each individual Pesher, but also the “Kittim,” the “Wicked Priest,” the “Man of Lies,” etc. (pp. 1050–55). The topic of “Greek Religions” is explained by Harold Attridge, who discusses Jewish encounters with Greek religions and the instances where one can discern the use of Greek religion in early Jewish literature (pp. 699–701).

Finally, in addition to the two major parts of the dictionary, one will find 130 illustrations and 24 maps.

There are very few criticisms to offer about this volume. It is worth noting, however, that since the dictionary contains only 520 entries, it is inevitable that certain topics/issues/concerns were left untreated. For example, there are no entries on theoretical categories such as “ethnicity,” “race,” or “religion.” The topic of “rewritten Bible/Scripture” is also lacking. Granted, the topic is addressed in the introductory essays, but an entry summarizing the history of the genre and the merits and problems in speaking of such a category would have been useful.

In general, however, Collins and Harlow are to be commended, as the dictionary will be a standard reference work for years to come, especially because of its uniqueness. The student and scholar working in this time period will no doubt find this dictionary to be the starting point for all their research. The introductory essays alone are worth the price of the dictionary, but as it happens these essays were subsequently published in a book of its own, that one might purchase if not interested in the entire dictionary.[1] Overall, I give my highest recommendation for this dictionary for all interested in Second Temple Judaism.

Robert C. Kashow, Brown University

[1] John J. Collins and Daniel Harlow, eds., Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012). reference