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UBBL317 (Ruth & Esther): Resource Types

This guide is intended to help those in UBBL317 begin their research on Ruth or Esther. Rev. 6/2022, Sharon Ralston

Resource Types

In the field of Biblical Studies we use various types or formats of literature. Each type serves a purpose. Below is a list of some of the formats of literature that we use. Each is followed by a brief explanation as to its purpose.

  • Introductions/Surveys - Introductions are technical works that discuss several things about a portion of the Bible. They will typically discuss authorship, date, and forms of literature in the book in question. In a Ruth & Esther class, one way introductions might be used is to look up "Naomi" or "Ahasuerus"  and anything we might know about these persons or, say, to look up "Megillot."  They can be used to look up an overview of the events and theological themes or agendas within each book, scholarly theories and disputes on their composition and authorship, historical background, their connections to other books of the Bible, especially what they might have in common with other books in the Ketuvim ("Writings"), ie the division of the Hebrew Bible to which they belong, or in the Historical Books, the section to which they belong in the Christian Old Testament,  with some including information on critical approaches to studying these books of the Bible -- and much more.  Introductions also discuss the various forms of literature found in a biblical book Ruth and Esther are both written as "narratives," specifically short stories, and both are often labeled as being comedies to some extent, Esther particularly.  You can consult introductions as well as bible dictionaries and critical commentaries to learn more about genres of the whole or units of a biblical book.  Knowing the specific form of literature will help a reader understand the meaning of a passage.
  • Histories - Histories are books that are focused on the people, dates, and events that shaped a culture. These books often cover a single nation and some period of time, e.g. the fall of Rome or a history of Israel. These books are indispensable for understanding the prophets and the historical books in the Hebrew Bible.
  • Atlases - Atlases are books that are more than just maps. True, map awareness is a big part of an atlas, but it is more than that. An atlas can also identify shifts in political power, chief agricultural products, rainfall for an area and, of course, where a battle took place.
  • Backgrounds - Backgrounds, or background commentaries, are used to explain some of the relevant cultural items mentioned in a passage. These are not detailed commentaries about every verse, but a brief introduction to a concept. These are often used while reading a passage.
  • Dictionaries/Encyclopedias - There is no difference between a dictionary or an encyclopedia in the area of Biblical StudiesThese books provide detailed entries explaining words, concepts, people, places, and events discussed in the Bible.  In the IVP dictionaries, the books of Ruth and Esther are both included in the Dictionary of Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings volumeEntries include topics such as "Ruth -- History of Interpretation" and "Kinsman-Redeemer and Leverite" or "Vashti."  Sometimes you won't find an entry on your exact term; in which case, you should broaden the category, e.g. "bread" might be under "food" or "meals."
  • Lexicons - Lexicons are the dictionaries of the original languages of the Bible: Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.. To use a lexicon you will need to find the word in the original language. There are reference tools and research help available to help you access these. Sometimes you can look the word up not with the original alphabet, but in transliteration (Roman alphabet used rather than the Hebrew or Greek alphabet). There are two types of lexicons used in Biblical Studies. A basic lexicon will give definitions of a term and some places where it is found. A theological lexicon will give the various definitions of a term, but also its historical nuance in usage from different times or authors, beginning with its secular Ancient Near East or Ancient Greek usage, noting extra-biblical Jewish and/or Greek usage, building toward a discussion of its theologically significant usage in the Old and/or New Testaments.  Both types are helpful for Biblical Studies.
  • Commentaries - Commentaries are books written to explain the meaning of the biblical book. Most commentaries will have an introductory section that will discuss who wrote the book, when, and to whom, like an introduction /survey. After an introductory section, most commentaries will then go about explaining the meaning of the text; some, phrase by phrase; others, passage by passage. Different commentaries serve different purposes. Some "critical/exegetical" commentaries set about to explain the text phrase by phrase (or verse by verse) and will focus on the meaning of the text for its original audience and address difficult or theologically significant words in the original languages of the text (Hebrew/Aramaic for the Hebrew Bible and Greek for the New Testament). In most cases they will also include summary sections to explain how a single passage fits into its context. Others set about to explain the text theologically. Their interest is not verse by verse or even section by section, but the eternal meaning that God intended for its audience. A third type of commentary is geared toward application, how are the readers to apply the message of the text.

On our "commentaries" tab in this guide, we arrange the commentaries with the "exegetical" or "critical" commentaries at the top. We follow those by theological commentaries, if there are any for a particular book. Following that we list some of the application commentaries. The bottom of any of our lists are denominational or theological specific commentaries, e.g. a Roman Catholic commentary series or a Wesleyan commentary series. Our lists on the commentary tab are arranged loosely this way, but after we distinguish between "Ebook and Print," "Print," and "Ebook only" versions of the book.

All of the above resources are typically called "Reference." They are books written for a person to refer to it, not read from cover to cover. Another thing these books have in common is that they are usually written by multiple people and have an editor listed on their title page. They are typically found on our "Reference" floor in the Stamps Theological Library. Another type of book is a "monograph."  A monograph is a book about a single -- monos in Greek -- subject. They can be written by one author or by many, but the intent is that it is about a single subject.