BMCR 2007.06.03

Brill’s New Pauly. Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World – Antiquity, Vol. 9 (Mini-Obe). English edition

, , Brill's New Pauly. Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World - Antiquity, Vol. 9 (Mini-Obe). English edition. Leiden: Brill, 2006. lvi, 472. €228.00 (list); €207.00 (subscribers to the series).

Originally published in German in 1996-/1999- the Neue Pauly (hereafter NP) is familiar to practically everyone in classics and ancient history, as well as to scholars of the Ancient Near East. Hence, its translation is a welcome addition to the distinguished corpus of reference books in English. And a handsomely produced reference book it is indeed. The price of a single volume prevents, I suspect (wrongly perhaps), its inclusion in most private libraries of salaried academic professionals. But it is also available online.

I have not seen the other volumes which have been translated already (out of the planned 20 volumes) nor an editorial introduction to the English edition. But the comprehensiveness and thoroughness of the entire enterprise need not be in doubt. The ninth volume alone is devoted to one and a half letters. It starts with MI (Minicius), covers the letter N in its entirety, and, for reasons which I do not fully understand, ends with four and half pages of the letter O (from O to Oberdorla). All this is preceded by lists of abbreviations.

The New Pauly is ambitious in its scope. Its categories, to mention but a few, include personalities, localities, literary compositions, movements, sects and animals. Equally important are entries that introduce readers to concepts, trends and the arts, such as “Months, names of the”; “Mosaic” (technique and art); and “multilingualism”. Particularly welcome are categories such as “music” (covering the Ancient Near East; Egypt; Ancient Israel—sources, history, musicians and musical practice; Greece—concept, characteristics, sources, problems, myth, tradition and history, education, ethos, harmonics, systems, notation, and written music; Etruria; Rome; Early Christianity), and “musical instruments” (ancient Near East; Egypt, ancient Israel, Greece, Etruria, Rome), both enriched with notations and illustrations respectively. Perhaps the most difficult matter here is where to draw the line. Thus the section on Early Christianity in the “music” entry is rather brief (one paragraph) but contains cross references to other entries (“liturgy”, “Psalmody”, “missa”, “hymns” and “Ephrem”). Perhaps a note on the poetry of the ancient synagogue could have enriched this already impressive entry.1

How does the NP handle problematic personalities like “Moses”? The figure of Moses dominates the Pentateuch, whose complexities have engaged scholars from antiquity to our own age. The NP entry “Moses” is a model of brevity. Divided into two subsections, biblical and post-biblical, it highlights a few features of the “man called Moses”. The biblical section (written by E. A. Knauf) summarizes the Pentateuchal account in a pithy paragraph which highlights similarities between Moses’ birth myth (Ex 2) and narratives surrounding the origins of semi-legendary figures (Sargon, Romulus and Remus) and the less legendary Cyrus.2 This is followed by a brief survey of the debates relating to the historicity of the biblical account. Knauf focuses on historical figures, such as an inspector of the Egyptian copper mines in the Sinai, who may have provided an archetype for the creation of the biblical Moses. The short bibliography includes mostly works in German. Several have been translated into English.3 There is, besides, ample bibliography on “Moses” in English, easily available via both ATLA and RAMBI online databases. Beate Ego provides the sub-entry on the post biblical tradition of Moses which succinctly refers to apocalyptic, Jewish-Hellenic, pagan and rabbinic literature. The bibliography is mostly in English, referring to encyclopedia articles. At least one work has been translated into English.4

The richness of the NP is gleaned especially through the selection of topics and themes that ordinarily do not cohabit. Entries such as “Nabatean” and “Nabataei, Nabateans”, the first dealing with the language, the second with the people, provide a glimpse into great cultures on the outskirts of the Graeco-Roman world. The Nabatean kingdom formed the nucleus of Trajan’s Arabia after its annexation to Rome in CE 106. The Nabatean language exerted critical influence over the development of the Arabic script.

Another example of the breadth of NP’s scope is an entry on “natural catastrophes”, with cross-references to earthquakes, eclipses, prodigium, and with a map of datable earthquakes (8th/6th cent. BCE to 1st cent. CE) and a matching list of dates and locations. Here, too, the constraints of space must have excluded earthquakes which occurred after the first century, not least the one that damaged many sites in Palestine in CE 363, including the Temple in Jerusalem which Julian had begun to build, and the devastating one of CE 748.5

There are, predictably in so vast an enterprise, also some incongruities. Nonnus of Panopolis, a name perhaps familiar only to students of late antiquity, receives a more generous space than Moses. The entry, written by Sotera Fornaro, is as comprehensive as an encyclopedic article might allow, dealing with Nonnus’s biography and his most famous epic (the Dionysiaca) and their attendant problematics. The bibliography provides a balanced list of scholarly works in Italian, French, German and English (up to 1996).

A few further notes follow, none meant to detract from the value of this enormous undertaking. The dominance of references in languages other than English, coupled with lack of reference to English translations where available, renders the NP a bit less accessible to English-speaking students. Most bibliographies stop at either 1996 or 1999 (the dates of the German edition). An occasional update, primarily if not exclusively with a work or two published in English, would have been welcome.

The NP is bound to grace the reference shelves of libraries for many years. As a collective enterprise of (mostly) European origin it provides precious glimpses into the mindset and erudition of our colleagues on the continent. I can only hope that it soon becomes available in paperback and thus within reach of all of us who would dearly love to own our own copy.


1. I. Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy. Trans. R. P. Scheindlin (Philadelphia, 1993).

2. H. Zlotnick-Sivan, “Moses the Persian? Exodus 2, the ‘Other’ and Biblical ‘Mnemohistory'”, Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 116 (2004), 189-205.

3. J. Assman, Moses the Egyptian. The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge, Mass., 1997). M. Buber, Moses. The Revelation and the Covenant (New York, 1958).

4. Hengel’s work has also been translated. M. Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism. Studies in their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (Philadelphia, 1974, 1991).

5. K. W. Russell, “The Earthquake Chronology of Palestine and Northwest Arabia from the 2nd through the Mid-8th Century AD”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 260 (1985), 37-59.