New online Bible encyclopedia

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 11.39.33There is a new, free online Bible encyclopaedia produced by the Society of Biblical Literature, which is the largest global academic society for the study of the Bible. Bible Odyssey has been six years in the making, and has a really wide range of very good resources. It includes pictures, short articles, and video clips, and also offers an ‘Ask the Scholar’ service.

It aims to do two things: to inform people about the Bible, arguably the most iconic and influential book in global culture; and to try and bridge the gap between devotional and academic reading by making academic insights and though available in an accessible way:

The Bible is a revered text for many and holds an iconic status in American and even global culture. And yet, studies show that people are unfamiliar with its key themes or stories—and who can blame them? The Bible is not one book, but many: a compilation of poetry, law codes, novellas, proverbs, gospels, and letters that were pulled together over the centuries. Being literate about the Bible is a tall order—but an important one. Given the Bible’s immense impact, our civic conversations and cultural awareness can only improve when we are able to recognize key people, places, and passages of the Bible.

In addition, readers are also unfamiliar with critical approaches to the text. There is a big difference between Bible study, which happens in a religious setting, and study of the Bible, which happens in an academic one.  Bible Odyssey addresses not only the literacy gap but also the gap between the academy and the “street.” Why should Bible scholars have all the fun? Wouldn’t you like to know about the Synoptic Question, or about J, E, P, and D?

What will you find there, and will it be of any use in the context of ministry? The site is clear that it is an academic, not devotional, resource, and so you will find the standard academic approach to many things summarised impressively. The article on the historicity of the Old Testament, for example, takes a fairly clear sceptical line, as you might expect. But the site has been resourced by members of SBL, and as a reflection of what has happened in Anglophone biblical studies in recent years, there is a good representation of confessional perspectives and scholars who are closely in touch with the needs of the churches and of ministry training.

The article on the ‘The Sign of the Beast’ by David deSilva is sensible and well-informed—as you might expect, there is not much of a sniff of dispensationalism in these kinds of pieces.

Combined with something more confessional, such as Luther Seminary’s really good site Enter the Bible, it will function as a good introduction for those studying theology, as a top-up for those who have studied, and as a resource for the curious.

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3 thoughts on “New online Bible encyclopedia”

  1. To be read for profit but also with caution, at a quick look. I see the list of contributors goes right across the theological spectrum, from evangelical to Mormon (?), liberal and atheist. Nevertheless, I shall log it in Diigo and come back to it.

    • Yes—as I mention and the site highlights, it is very much an accessible collection of academic material. So, for example, there is video from Bart Ehrman.

      It is not designed for devotional use. For that you need to stick to the Luther Seminary site.

  2. This seems to me to highlight one of the challenges facing those of us who use the Bible pastorally, namely the need to help people approach the plethora of resources now freely available with critical discernment. When I was a teenager, I frequently heard the notes in the Scofield Bible quoted as those they were part of the text (more than a whiff of dispensationalism there). Then it was the NIV Study Bible – more balanced, but sometimes uncritically conservative. Now it is the web. A frequent dilemma in study groups is how to confront well-meaning individuals reproducing clearly wrong thinking.

    So, how do we help people read critically and how do we give them tools to think through, for example, their response to the sceptical attitude to the historicity of the Old Testament? For some this may not matter, but my fear is that unless we are committed to doing it, we may end up with some confused disciples.

    Is it just me, by the way, or do the authors of this volume have a rather strange idea of fun?


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