The Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written by Norman Hillyer (revision editor) Reviewed By Gordon Kuhrt

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary is in three volumes comprising nearly 2,000 pages. It is magnificently produced and fully illustrated with many hundreds of photographs (often in full colour), maps and diagrams. Its vast range of articles on the books, peoples, places, events and customs in the Bible—as well as key words, themes and doctrines—means that a reviewer can only give a general impression of the whole enterprise.

This reviewer must first then admit to a prejudice. The predecessor of this 3-volume job was the 1-volume New Bible Dictionary which has been a much loved and well thumbed companion since its publication in 1962. In that final year of my theology degree course I often wished the NBD had been available a few years earlier—but in years of school teaching, lecturing and parish ministry it has been an immensely valuable resource.

But our standards and expectations have risen considerably in the last 20 years. Is the IBD sufficiently better than the NBD to warrant the investment of £40 for the set? (The NBD was 45 shillings in 1962!)

The quality of paper, presentation and illustration is far higher. The bibliographies are, of course, now far more useful. Where new knowledge is available from archaeology, etc. I presume the up-dating has been careful but do not have the expertise to judge. Rather I looked for the way in which the Revision Editors had handled some of the storm centres of debate in the last ten years or so.

With regard to the Holy Spirit—the articles on Spiritual Gifts and Tongues have little revision, but full marks for a major new section on Prophecy in the NT by John Baker (though he omits David Atkinson’s small but valuable Prophecy (Grove, 1977) and an entirely new article Spirit, Holy Spirit by James Dunn (now under S not H).

Articles on Genesis and Creation are little altered, but there is a useless introduction of Evolution—see Fall Part 1—(which should read Part iii), and when you finally get there, it is the slightest possible reference. Surely some better treatment is called for (even in a Bible Dictionary).

The articles on Biblical Criticism by F. F. Bruce and Pentateuch by D. A. Hubbard are little revised but always were very thorough and helpful. The former adds a small section on Redaction Criticism. There is no entry for Midrash (although in NBD it did direct the reader to the Talmud). This is nearly unforgiveable. The articles on Creation and Fall are stronger on doctrinal significance than on the nature of the literary genre and I cannot understand how Genesis 1 can be described as a ‘simple eyewitness account’. The article on Interpretation, too, has been little revised.

So, I am disappointed that the Press has felt unable to grasp some of the nettles of interpretation within different genres of biblical literature—it is a conservative revision. But the factual articles of history, geography and customs, etc. and many of the doctrine articles will still make it a very worthy part of the student’s and minister’s library.


Gordon Kuhrt

Vicar of Emmanuel, South Croydon and Rural Dean of Croydon Central, UK