Although questions on religious topics may not be asked as frequently as in some other areas, there should be dictionaries and handbooks on religion in general and concordances and commentaries on the Bible. Unfortunately, there are no current reference sources that provide background on the religions of the world. Two standards of many years are now out of print: Eerdman’s Handbook to the World’s Religions and The Contiuum Dictionary of Religion. General encyclopedias are a source for information on all religions.

The Bible

Library collections should include different versions of the Bible, chosen according to community preferences. Selectors also should consider purchasing other holy books such as the Koran (Quaran). Reference sources about the Bible also are very important.

C1. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. HarperSan Francisco, 1996. 1,280p. (5)

This standard work, directed toward laypersons, was compiled under the direction of the Society of Biblical Literature, which consists of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish scholars. It includes entries for all people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible, as well as theological terms, words used in the Bible in unusual or important ways, and archaeological sites. Almost 4,000 alphabetically arranged entries are supported by some 500 illustrations (16 of which are spectacular maps), tables of archaeological sites, and an index. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 1,459p. Edited by David Noel Freedman (William B. Eerdmans, 2000.[4]) is also an outstanding source.

C2. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. James Strong, ed. Nelson, 2001. (3)

A concordance of the Bible refers the user to the location of words or ideas. Although Strong’s is based on the King James Version, it offers a “key-word comparison,” that enables the reader to compare the translations of controversial words and phrases in five contemporary versions of the Bible. This reprint of the 1990 edition utilizes a more readable typeface. Cruden’s Complete Concordance of the Old and New Testaments (Butterworth, 2000. [3, 2pa]), is another standard work.

C3. The Oxford Commentary. John Barton, et al. Oxford, 2001. (6)

Bible commentaries provide explanations and interpretations. For this work, a team of 70 highly regarded scholars provided line-by-line commentaries on each canonical book and the Apocrypha. There also are chapters on Post-Biblical Jewish Literature and Extra-Canonical Early Christian Literature. Libraries able to do so are encouraged to purchasing this relatively expensive work.

C4. Unbound Bible. (http://unbound.biola.edu)

This site provides access to many versions of the Bible—10 English, Greek, and Hebrew, 4 ancient, and 42 in other languages. It also provides access to a Bible dictionary and a commentary.


C5. Handbook of Denominations in the United States. 11th ed. Frank Spencer Mead, et al. Abingdon, 2001. (2pa)

A long-standing standard handbook, this work provides information on some 200 U.S. religious denominations and sub-groups—background, doctrines and teachings, governmental organization, and statistics on churches, members, schools, and institutions. A directory of denomination headquarters and glossary also are included.


C6. Catholic Online Saints and Angels. (http://saints.catholic.org/index/shtml)

This exhaustive listing offers all known facts about each saint, some in quite lengthy sketches. There also are listings for patron saints and a calendar of feast days. (Jerome is the patron saint of libraries.)

C7. The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Richard P. McBrien, ed. HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. 1,249p. (5)

Produced by Notre Dame University scholars and 280 other experts, this authoritative work is aimed at laypersons. The 4,500 clearly defined entries concern doctrine, worship, and other topics related to Catholicism. Some nonreligious topics such as the Big Bang Theory and complex moral and social issues also are covered. Topics are objectively treated and controversies are openly discussed. Illustrations include black-and-white photographs, maps, and tabular information. Although not as comprehensive, The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert C. Broderick. Rev. ed. Thomas Nelson, 1990, 613p. [2pa]), a less expensive volume, contains clear and well-written articles on traditional Catholicism.

C8. Oxford Dictionary of Saints. By David H. Farmer. Oxford University Press, 1998. 592p. (2pa)

Profiles of 1,300 saints, both famous and obscure, are arranged alphabetically and supported by an appendix which includes patron saints, emblems of saints, an index of places associated with specific saints, and a calendar of feast days. Included are all those of whom there is or was a notable cult and ones recently canonized.


C9. The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia. Mordecai Schreiber, ed. World Almanac Education, 1998. 380p. (3)

This colorful, clearly written guide to four thousand years of Jewish culture is a rich source of information for non-Jews and Jews alike. Arranged alphabetically, Aaron to Stefan Zweig, the work provides information concerning the meanings and origins of Jewish customs and traditions, biographical sketches of Jews in the arts and sports, and much more. There are many photographs, drawings, maps, and charts.

Mythology and Folklore

Since mythology is taught at all levels from elementary through college, libraries generally select books containing mythological stories as well as reference works concerning the area of study.

C10. A Dictionary of World Mythology. Arthur Cotterell. Oxford University Press, 1990. p. (1pa.)

Short entries on mythological characters and themes comprise this excellent work. The arrangement is according to the seven great traditions—West Asian, South and Central Asian, East Asian, European, American African, and Oceanic. For each section there is a discussion of the ideology of that particular area and reasons why specific myths developed. The author is a leading scholar of ancient civilizations.

C11. Encyclopedia Mythica. (www.pantheon.org/)

This encyclopedia of mythology, folklore, and legend, online since May 15, 1995, provides identities of over 6,000 gods and goddesses, superhuman beings, legendary creatures, and monsters from all over the world. There also are a few folktales—Native American, European, Asian, etc. New articles are added continually. There also are links to other sites such as Bulfinch’s Mythology, www.bulfinch.org.

C12. Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore. Alison Jones. Larousse Kingfisher Chamber, 1996. 512p. (3, 1pa.)

This work gathers themes and figures of folklore from around the world. Readable entries are generally one or two paragraphs in length, with important topics treated in lengthy discussions. There is a bibliography for future reading and a biographical note section on notable folklorists.

Price Guide: (1) Under $15 (2) $16-$25 (3) $26-$35 (4) $36-$45 (5) $46-$55

(6) $56-$65 (7) $66-$75 (8) $76-$85 (9) $86-$95 (10) Over $96

Page last modified: March 2, 2011