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Reviewed by:
  • The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
  • Joseph F. Kelly
Elizabeth Livingstone, Editor The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Third Edition Revised New York: Oxford University Press, 2006 Pp. xl + 1800. $150.

First published in 1957, the ODCC has been a valuable resource for scholars for almost half a century. It is, in effect, an old friend which has always been on the shelf for helpful ready reference. Indeed, when new editions of familiar, useful works appear, scholars sometimes hope that not too much has changed and that the "old reliable" still is. Those fearing change have nothing to worry about in this volume.

To review this revised edition, I chose ten topics in early Christianity, the area which would be of most interest to JECS readers. My concern was breadth, so two of the topics were formative figures for the era, Athanasius and Constantine. To them were added two major figures, Justin Martyr and Hilary of Poitiers, and a minor figure, Quadratus, so that half of the topics were persons. Next came two "-isms," Gnosticism and asceticism. Acknowledging important new developments in early Christian art, I included "basilica" and "iconography, Christian" while another major topic, "Nicea, First Council of," rounded out the list.

As an admirer who frequently consults the ODCC, I regret to report that for nine of the ten articles—all but "Gnosticism"—not a single word of text was changed. The irony is that the bibliographies were updated; thus, the reader can see a massive bibliography on Athanasius or Constantine while reading a text that presumably made no use of these new works. Since the third edition of ODCC appeared in 1997, there have certainly been new scholars and new works on these topics, so there is no way to explain the absence of new material in the texts of the articles. (In fairness, I must note that there was actually one change for the text of "Hilary of Poitiers, St." The third edition has "In 1851 Pius XI proclaimed him a 'Doctor of the Church'." This revised third edition moved the "I" in front of the "X.")

In general the bibliographies are improved and updated. When looking at [End Page 439] bibliographies in revised reference works, scholars always want to know three things: what has been deleted? what has been added? and why were their own articles not included? Passing over the third question, we find that the editors have well updated the bibliographies and were not reluctant to drop some titles which may have moved the study of the topic at one time but have little relevance now. As always, the bibliographies draw from works in all the major scholarly languages, but one still has to wonder why, in the era of Corpus Christianorum, Sources chrétiennes, and similar series, the bibliographies for some figures still include editions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? This would make sense if the entries dealt with the textual history of the author's works, but they do not. Other problems persist. For one entry, "Quadratus," the bibliography remains unchanged. For "iconography, Christian," the bibliographical change consisted of dropping "3 vols." and changing "1966–71" to "1966 ff." for Gertrud Schiller's Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst.

This newest ODCC is fourteen pages longer than the last one, so clearly some material has been expanded. It is also possible that the items on my list just happened to include nine that were not updated and that other early Christian entries are better, but this is unlikely. How can an article on iconography not warrant updating? Yet JECS readers may still find this work useful since for articles on early Christian topics they are more likely to turn to the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, second edition, or to a similar work, and then to use ODCC as a tool for checking on topics outside their field.

Joseph F. Kelly
John Carroll University


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pp. 439-440
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