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.