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Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity

April 4, 2014

I’m the grateful owner of a new 3-volume reference work:  Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity, Gen. Ed., Angelo Di Berardino (IVP Academic, 2014), hereafter EAC.  It seems to include articles on major and minor figures, events, texts, ideas, places, controversies and creeds, and still more in the period ca. 90-750 CE.  This is a translation from the Italian:  Nuovo Dizionario patristico e di antichita christiane (2006)

In EAC there are some 3,220 articles (each with bibliography), written by 266 scholars from 26 countries.  For this edition (there was an earlier 2-volume edition, English translation published in 1992) many new articles were commissioned, and others updated.  But a check of a few articles about which I know anything left me disappointed now and then.  E.g., the “Nomina Sacra” article has no bibliography later that 1989, and the judgement expressed seems to me woefully misleading.  I could also have wished for some cross-referencing.  For example, looking for an article on “Basilica” disappoints.  But you do find a treatment of the topic in the article, “Church Buildings.”

But, if you need some basic information on the wide swathe of people, places, events, and other things from the period covered (ca. 90-750 CE), EAC  is probably to be regarded as your first place to turn.

Unfortunately (although quite understandably), however, the work also reflects the traditional distinction (division?) between “New Testament Studies” and “Patristics/Early Church.”  So, it’s hard to find anything on any text, character or development earlier than the second century CE.  (It was our aim to try to bridge this unhelpful divide in establishing our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins here in Edinburgh, which brings together specialists in 2nd-temple Jewish tradition, NT/Christian Origins, and Patristics. For more information, click here.)

The breadth of coverage is EAC’s  strength, the number of articles reflecting its riches of information.  But that breadth requires, of course, conciseness (brevity) of treatment.  So, e.g., compare the roughly 3 pages given to “Papyrus – Papyrology” with the 5-page discussion by Edwin Judge in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (EEC, ed., Everett Ferguson, 2nd ed., Garland, 1992).  But there are many articles in EAC for which there is no equivalent in EEC.

So, thanks to all those in Italy who conceived and completed this grand reference work, and to those at IVP and those who worked with them to provide this English transation of a work that should and surely will obtain a wide usage.

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  1. Interesting comments. What do you think of Peter Brown’s latest: Through the Eye of a Needle?
    Have you seen it yet? I just bought it.

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