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Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art & Archaeology

January 16, 2017

After much anticipation (and a somewhat complicated shipping effort), I’ve taken delivery on my copy of The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology, Paul Corby Finney, General Editor.  (The publisher’s online catalogue entry here.)

I noted the forthcoming appearance of the work in an earlier posting (here).  In hand, it’s an impressive (even imposing) publication.  The two main volumes comprise 1,532 pages, in which over 1,400 entries appear, written by some 400 contributors.  In addition, the slimmer accompanying volume 3 has 164 full-color photos of various objects referred to in the main volumes, plus 22 full-page-size maps displaying the 740 place-names mentioned in the entries, followed by an index of these place-names.  In weight alone, it’s impressive, about 17 pounds, in part because of the heavy art-volume quality of the paper used.

Aside from there being no comparable work in any language, the scope of the work is commendable.  The editors made an effort to reach beyond the Mediterranean sites usually dealt with in books on early Christian art.  Illustrative of this, the multi-part entry on “Epigraphy” (1.475-505) includes discussions of evidence from the Balkans, Coptic Christianity, England, Italy, Montanist data (Phrygia), North Africa, Roman Pannonia, Syria, and Turkey.  Nestled into this muli-part entry, I noted also William Tabernee’s incisive analysis of what some have posited as “clandestine and crypto-Christian” inscriptions and symbols, in which he concludes (rightly in my view) that “‘crypto-Christian inscriptions’ is inaccurate and misleading in that it implies a clandestine intentionality that is not supported by the data” (1.481).

More recent finds are included, such as the “Megiddo mosaic” announced in 2006 (but the entry is “Kefar ‘Othnay,” the name of the Israeli village where the mosaic was discovered).  I’ve spotted bibliographical items dating to 2014.  And the entries I’ve been able to judge seem up to date in the issues and opinions offered.

Entries are typically written by scholars who have published on the relevant topic, such as Spier’s entry on “Gemstones: Engraved (Early Christian)”.  With so many entries, it would take at least several weeks to read everything.  But a few initial spot checks of selected items leave me impressed.

The $495 price for the work makes it mainly an acquisition for libraries, and any library serving scholarly study of early Christianity should include this work in its acquisitions.  But, actually, given the size, physical quality, and contents, it’s a bargain, and I could imagine what the price might have been with certain other publishers.

Finney (General Editor) has been at work on this project for well over twenty years, and it surely affords a great deal of satisfaction to see it published.  Moreover, as my spot-checking shows, the quality of the final product must make it doubly satisfying.  Kudos to Finney and all those whose efforts produced this milestone in scholarship on early Christian art and archaeology.

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  1. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Does it discuss nomina sacra or the staurogram?

    • Yes, both “nomina sacra” and “staurogram” have entries, the former by me and the latter by Finney.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        I would be interested to read it. I don’t suppose it discusses the Tetragrammaton or the IAW form at all?

      • The Tetragrammaton and IAO don’t have entries–It’s a work on early Christian art and archaeology, not a general encyclopedia of the ancient world.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        I thought there was a growing recognition of the Tetragrammaton and IAW in early Christianity? Prof. Hurtado have you read, reviewed or engaged with Robert Wilkinson’s book on Christians and the Tetragrammaton? I would be interested what you think.

      • Donald: You’re verging off again into another issue. The encyclopedia I posted about, and to which you have responded, is about early Christian art and archaeology. The Tetragrammaton doesn’t figure in that.
        But, briefly, to your comment: Of course, the name of God was important, especially in earliest Christian circles. As for Wilkinson’s book, from my limited perusal of it, it seems more a survey across several centuries, not particularly focused on earliest Christianity.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Yes it is a survey that includes discussion of the Tetragrammaton in early Christianity.

        The reason I was wondering is because, if nomia sacra count as art in early Christianity, then shouldn’t the Tetragrammaton also count? The book comments how Robert Kraft has argued for significant overlap in scribal practice between Jewish and Christian texts, such that instances of the Tetragrammaton should not automatically be assumed to be Jewish. Plus there is the use of Tetragrammaton in Origen’s Hexapla. Plus the use of IAW in early Christianity documented by Frank Shaw. Altogether isn’t there an argument to be made, if nomina sacra are included as early Christian art, then the Tetragrammaton/IAW form in early Christianity also merits discussion in that context?

      • Donald: If you’ve read my work on the nomina sacra, you’ll know why they are included: They are purely visual phenomena, special ways of writing key terms, with no difference in the way they are read out, purely visual expressions of early Christian piety. There are no instances of the Hebrew YHWH used in identifiably early Christian manuscripts. Nor are there instances of IAO. (Origen refers to both as features of Jewish manuscripts.)
        In any case, neither the Tetragrammaton nor the Greek IAO are *visual* items in the way that the nomina sacra and staurogram are.

  2. Michael Koncsics permalink

    Is it probable that this work might make it into some online format?

    • Unlikely, Michael. The ENORMOUS cost involved for the publisher makes it impossible simply to “give away” the work. And the cost of making the work available on a pay-to-view basis would escalate matters further. No. For any foreseeable future, the traditional book-form will remain indispensable.

  3. Craig permalink

    It is on sale right now at, 25% off, tax-free. for $371.29.

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