Volume > Issue > Briefly: May 1993

May 1993

Roget's Thesaurus of the Bible

By A. Colin Day

Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco

Pages: 944

Price: $28

Review Author: T.L. Frazier

A. Colin Day, a Bible translator formerly with the Wycliffe Bible Translators and a computer consultant with the University of London, has produced something both gen­uinely new and (best of albpuseful. His Roget’s Thesaurus of the Bible topically groups to­gether Bible verses and pas­sages on nearly every subject conceivable. The framework used is Roget’s Thesaurus, spe­cifically the 1982 Longman’s revision which aimed to cate­gorize the whole range of ideas under 990 headings. Since the Bible is arranged according to ideas and not words, the the­saurus is, unlike a concord­ance, independent of any par­ticular Bible translation.

The List of Categories at the beginning of the book oc­cupies 15 pages and its head­ings are highly abstract. The reader will likely want to turn to the Subject Index, where one looks for a single word (or brief phrase) which specifies the particular topic. If there is difficulty reducing the topic to a single word or phrase, but one happens to know a Bible verse which exemplifies the idea, there’s also a Bible Index which will lead one to the ap­propriate headings. With these two indices, which seem rea­sonably exhaustive, one can find one’s way around easily enough.

Unlike the standard topical Bible, the topics aren’t ar­ranged alphabetically, but are grouped together under larger ideas and meanings. Cross-references to related categories are also given. This arrange­ment allows one to go deeper into a topic more easily than is possible in the average topical Bible.

There is also another ad­vantage of the thesaurus for­mat over the topical Bible. While in a topical Bible the author is free to add or delete any topic in his alphabetical listing, thus allowing confes­sional biases to flavor his work, the nature of the thesau­rus greatly reduces this possi­bility. The categories and headings developed originally by Peter M. Roget in the early 19th century (and later im­proved upon by others) are comprehensive and for the most part predetermine what will and won’t be included. This isn’t to say that Protestant assumptions don’t occasionally peep through (the most glaring being the failure to include the deutero-canonical books), but overall there is nothing much to irritate the discriminating Catholic user.

However, the thesaurus format also means that pecul­iarly Catholic topics aren’t likely to be found. There are no entries for, say, “Papacy” or “Sacraments” (though, to be sure, there are entries like “Peter” and “Christian bap­tism”). Consequently, the Catholic looking for a book to help familiarize him with Scripture may be perplexed as to why such major aspects of the Christian Faith are seeming­ly “missing” from Holy Writ. If this is the type of information one requires, then perhaps a solid Catholic reference work (of which there are lamentably few in English) is to be pre­ferred.

A possible pitfall for the new Bible student may be the biblical references used, which are merely Day’s loose para­phrases. The rationale for paraphrasing verses and sum­marizing large passages of Scripture was to keep the work to a manageable size — a legit­imate concern considering the work as it now stands is nearly a thousand pages long. Day adds, “The wording given should be enough to remind you of what the Bible says without quoting it exactly.” This may be so, but what of the new Bible student who has noting to be “reminded” of? Such a person must either trust Day’s summaries and paraphrases for the sense of the passage in question or laboriously look up each refer­ence in the Bible. But for those who are already at home in the Bible, this work isn’t likely to sit idly in the bookcase once the format is mastered. It’s worth a trip to the bookstore, for the book is far superior to the typical inanities cranked out by the Christian press each year. In a market flooded with gimmicky “reference” Bibles (with notes stating, for in­stance, that Job 25:5 indicates there was once life on the moon) and unintentionally comical commentaries (reveal­ing the mark of the beast to be supermarket bar-codes), it is heartening to see that room has been found on the store shelves for Roget’s Thesaurus of the Bible.

What Does the Lord Require: How Americans Think About Economic Justice

By Stephen Hart

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 253

Price: $24.95

Review Author: David Denton

If a Christian society ever existed, one based on the New Testament, we would find it to be socialistic but old-fashioned in its family life. So wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He felt that each of us would like some of it but very few would like the whole thing. To moderns, such a fully Christian society seems inconsistent: progressive on the economic side and conservative on the cultural side.

Stephen Hart’s What Does the Lord Require is a troubling illustration of Lewis’s observa­tions. Hart selects some 47 ordinary but fairly articulate Christians whom he finds rep­resentative of the major tendencies in American Christiani­ty, and interviews each at length on a variety of issues, especially economic justice. The responses are compared with results obtained in earlier surveys. What Hart and other sociologists have found is that members of certain Christian traditions are much more in­clined than others to work actively for economic justice — for many, the surprising thing will be that these Christian traditions tend to be Catholic or fundamentalist or evangeli­cal Protestant. Not surprising­ly, the obtuse Hart views the “conservative” Christians’ “lib­eral” concern with the plight of the poor as incoherent and inconsistent.

This further demonstrates the general inability or un­willingness to come to terms with conscientious attempts to adhere to all the tenets of the New Testament. But as Henry Fairlie said about C.S. Lewis’s ideal society, “There is no reason why a society that is what we call ‘progressive’ in its economic structure should also be what we call ‘progres­sive’ in its cultural attitudes, why someone who believes in a more equal distribution of goods should also believe in more permissive standards of behavior. Indeed much of what we call ‘permissiveness’ in our societies today is only an ex­treme form of the very indi­vidualism [found] in the ec­onomic realm.”

The Women Outside: Mean­ings and Myths of Homeless­ness

By Stephanie Golden

Publisher: University of California Press

Pages: 319

Price: $25

Review Author: Mary Meehan

“Riding the subway after a day at the shelter for homeless women where I was a volun­teer,” Stephanie Golden writes, “I used to try to figure out, logically, how it was that I could be going home while the women I had just left had no home.” Many readers will identify with her admission that, “I was left with the feel­ing that maybe I should be like the nuns who ran the shelter and give over my life to the homeless. Yet I also knew I couldn’t do that.”

Golden volunteered at the Dwelling Place, a shelter near Times Square in New York City. It is staffed by Catholic sisters (Franciscan Sisters of Allegany), and Golden believes that they offer “the most truly human and effective way to bring homeless people back into society.”

The book’s great strength is its description of Dwelling Place residents, their struggles with the welfare system, and how shelter staff and volun­teers try to help them. Golden is a good writer, and makes the women come alive as individuals. Golden describes, for example, being rebuked by a shelter resident over a matter of titles: “‘Really,’ [the resi­dent] said, ‘I have a thousand Ph.D.’s and ten religious digni­ties, and at the very least that’s worth a Reverend or a Doctor. Call me Doctor, or I won’t answer.’ ‘I was only asking if you wanted iced tea,’ I said. ‘Well, you could be polite,’ she retorted.”

Many of the women were homeless because they had lost a husband or other key family member. Golden says that most of them “were products of a generation that socialized women to be dependent and not to work.” While able to cope when they could depend on a man, some had mental breakdowns after they were widowed or divorced. Other shelter residents, especially after 1985, were drug addicts.

Some residents had worked, but eventually lost their jobs and were evicted from their apartments because they couldn’t pay the rent. Some took to the streets be­cause they didn’t feel safe in old, run-down apartment buildings or hotels (called single-room occupancy dwell­ings or SROs). By the early 1980s, however, even the SROs “were more to exist, as more and more were converted into middle-class and luxury hous­ing.” This was especially diffi­cult for former mental patients, but also for women who were simply down on their luck.

Golden offers useful in­formation from history, noting that there were homeless women from ancient times through the Great Depression. There were even female ho­boes who rode the rails, wearing men’s clothing to protect themselves from rape.

The weakest feature of the book is its heavy reliance on witch imagery. Golden sug­gests that women “have had such difficulty owning their own power” because it “was always thought of as coming from the devil.” She suggests that the elderly bag lady “is the modern old witch, pos­sessing magical powers and a certain animal quality,” and that “the young homeless woman is a contemporary form of the young witch, who at­tacks men with her seductive sexuality.”

While she admires the Franciscan sisters’ work with homeless women, Golden does not have a positive view of traditional religion as such. Apparently influenced by rad­ical feminist writing, she speaks approvingly of “the split between Eve and Lilith” and of “Goddess images.”

Golden’s focus on power­lessness as a women’s problem is one-sided. There are many powerless men out on the streets, too. Empowering peo­ple may be one answer, but even Golden suggests another when she describes the healing effects of everyday life at the Dwelling Place and of genuine community among its residents. Golden and one of the sisters started a coffee group for some of the women. “Gradually we noticed that they were coming for the companionship as much as the food…. The women now gave each other emotional support; they remembered each other’s birthdays, took each other to the doctor, visited each other in the hospital.”

Power alone does not do the job. All of us need com­munity.

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