restricted access A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature ed. by David Lyle Jeffrey (review)
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REVIEWS In sum, this is a book that only a SEL specialist would wish to purchase, though scholars ofhagiography and popular culture will find certain selec­ tions well worth reading. As the first book of SEL criticism in twenty years, it is disappointing, but one hopes that it may inspire bolder and more comprehensive studies of this important legendary. KAREN A. WINSTEAD Ohio State University DAVID LYLE JEFFREY, gen. ed. A Dictionary ofBiblical Tradition in English Literature. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992. Pp. xxxii, 960. $79.99. This immense work consists of a dictionary and a 100-page appendix of annotated bibliographies and discussions designed for the nonspecialist in biblical study. Items in the appendix fall under the headings "Biblical Studies," "The History of Biblical Interpretation," and "Biblical Tradition in English Literature." The dictionary offers six sorts of entries from the biblical tradition: proper nouns, common nouns, concepts, passages fre­ quently quoted, tag names of parables, and familiar terms drawn from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Dictionary entries typically indicate how the item under discussion is treated, first in scriptural texts, then in exegetical literature, then in "English" literature, the last meaning the literature of the British Isles and North America. The dictionary comprises 900 entries and a generous number of cross references. Probably the major problem for the general editor and his advi­ sory board was to decide, once the topical categories had been determined, which items· from the "biblical tradition in English literature" deserved notice in the book. A handy list of entries in the prefatory matter reveals quickly what was included and what omitted. One can wonder about some of the omissions; why, for example, is there no entry for helpmeet, ,horn, trumpet, or cherub as common biblical nouns or for tohu-bohu, a term from the original languages used by, among others, Browning and S.J. Perelman to mean "confusion"? With respect to odd inclusions, why is there an entry for a lesser player like Adonijah, for whom no literary use is cited? Does a single literary citation, fromJane Eyre, of "Night cometh, when no man can work" provide sufficient justification for entering the phrase here? 213 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER Why is Dido entered in a cross reference as an alternative designation for the goddess Ashtoreth while Venus and Aphrodite, also named in the Ashtoreth entry, are not? Another sort of problem with the choice of items arose from the diffi­ culty of devising meaningful headings under which they could be alpha­ betized. Who would ever think, in reading either the Bible or literature, to look for assistance in a dictionary like this under the heading "Enthusiasm" or "Deformity" or "Apokatastasis" or "Four Beasts" (as opposed to the more likely "Beasts"? Who, having chanced upon the "Deformity" entry and not found there any reference to Spenser's Duessa or Shakespeare's Caliban, would suppose that help is available under the heading "Imago Dei''? The editors are not particularly to blame for this difficulty in using the dictio­ nary, the problem being inherent in the laudable attempt to present in alphabetical arrangement anything as shapeless as the biblical tradition in secular literature. The 900 entries in the dictionary were written by 150 contributors. Even with a conscientious general editor laying down guidelines and work­ ing to achieve uniformity in the finished product, there were bound to be significant differences in the form and quality of work produced by so many participants. The length ofsome entries is out of proportion to their importance in biblical tradition: the "Bride, Bridegroom" entry is more than 13 columns long, "Blood" fewer than 2; "Charity, Cupidity" (written by the general editor) gets 16 columns, "Water" fewer than 2. Some entries betray a resolutely old-fashioned biblical scholarship. In the "Incest" entry, "patriarchal times" are said to be "at least 500 years before the pentateuchal laws"; in the "Balm of Gilead" entry, Ezekiel is said to have written more than 1,000 years after the time ofJoseph. (This latter piece also seems to assume that the word balm came into the language strictly as part of the phrase "balm of Gilead" and that any occurrence of balm alone is a self...