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Research Strategy – Biographies

When researching the life of a Biblical Character, follow these steps:

1. Gather the Biblical Data

2. Consult Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

3. Consult the Library’s Catalog

4. Consult ATLA Religion Database

5. Consult Commentaries, Histories, and Other Resources

6. Ask a Librarian and/or Your Professor for Help

1. Gather the Biblical Data.

Use an exhaustive Bible Concordance to search for a person’s name. An Exhaustive Concordance will list every occurrence of the person’s name in the Bible. Here are some examples of exhaustive concordances:

  1. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible
  2. Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance
  3. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.

Several Bible software programs contain exhaustive concordances: just make sure that the concordance listing will provide you with every occurrence of your character’s name.

Compiling a list of passages where the character is mentioned will help in two ways. First, it will help you select a character that is not too obscure. Very little, if anything, is known about some people mentioned in Scripture. It may be difficult to write a 3-page paper on a person who is only mentioned in one verse in Scripture, especially if that person is not mentioned in other sources outside the Bible. Second, obtaining a list of Scripture passages will also help you to make use of other helpful resources, such as commentaries.

2. Consult Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias.

Look up your character’s name in two or three Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias. This will help you obtain a brief overview of the facts that are known about the character’s life. The article may also refer you to other books that may help you continue your research. Here are some helpful Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias that our library owns (these are located in the reference section of the library):

  1. Anchor Bible Dictionary. The ABD is a six-volume reference work that provides detailed articles covering all aspects of Biblical Studies. (Note: Some contributors to this reference work present a liberal view of the Bible’s historical reliability. The historical existence of some Biblical characters may be questioned.)
  2. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. ISBE is a four-volume encyclopedia providing detailed information on Biblical topics. (Note: The library keeps a copy of the first edition of ISBE, as well as a copy of the revised edition, published in the 1980s. Under most circumstances, you will want to consult the revised edition.)
  3. Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. This five-volume reference set provides detailed articles from an Evangelical perspective on Biblical topics. (Note: While the ZPEB is now almost 30 years old and somewhat dated, it is still a worthwhile resource. When using ZPEB, consult a more recent resource and compare its coverage of your topic with the coverage from ZPEB.)
  4. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. A shorter, two-volume work written from a conservative, Evangelical perspective.
  5. New Bible Dictionary. A one-volume dictionary, now in its third edition. (Make sure you consult the most recent edition, published in 1996.) The NBD is a good place to begin your research, because it will provide a brief overview of the Biblical data regarding your character. However, it should be used in conjunction with one or more of the encyclopedias listed here.
  6. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. A recent (2000), scholarly one-volume dictionary.

Many dictionary and encyclopedia articles will include bibliographies that the author used in writing the article. Make a copy of the bibliography and locate these same sources using either the library’s catalog or ATLA Religion Database (see below for more details on these two reference tools). Professors recommend that you consult resources that are listed in these bibliographies.

You may also want to consult a general encyclopedia to see whether or not your character is also known in secular history. Try one of the following:

Encyclopedia Americana

Encyclopedia Britannica (or try the online version of Britannica, available on the library’s homepage:

The library also has several subject-specific reference resources (for example: encyclopedias and dictionaries covering ancient and classical history) which may also be helpful for researching a Biblical character. Please ask a librarian for assistance in locating these resources, or use the library’s catalog.

3. Consult the Library’s Catalog.

Use the library’s catalog, SCROLLS (, to find books on your character. First try a subject search, typing the name of your character as the subject. If you don’t receive any hits, try performing a keyword search—again, using your character’s name as your search criteria.

4. Consult ATLA Religion Database.

You can use ATLA Religion Database ( to search for magazine and journal articles on the life of your character. Again, try a subject or keyword search, using your character’s name. You can use the library’s periodical holdings list to see which articles are available in our library.

5. Consult Commentaries, Histories, and Other Resources.

Several other resources in the library may be of assistance when researching the life of a Biblical character. If in step 1 you compiled a list of Scripture passages where your character is mentioned, you may want to consult Biblical commentaries. A good commentary may provide information on the life of your character. Some good commentary sets to explore:

Tyndale Commentaries

New International Commentary on the Old Testament

New International Commentary on the New Testament

New American Commentaries

Word Biblical Commentaries

College Press NIV Commentary Series

It is strongly recommended you consult more than one commentary whenever possible, since a particular book of the Bible may receive better coverage in one commentary set than in another. (Most modern commentary sets are multi-authored, and thus some volumes in a set may be of better quality than other volumes in the same set.)

You may also want to consult books on Old Testament history (or history of Israel) and New Testament history. There are several available in our library. Try browsing the shelves in 221.9 for Old Testament history (933 for history of Israel) and 225.9 for New Testament history.

6. Ask a Librarian and/or Your Professor for Help.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Library staff can help you locate resources and effectively use research tools like the library catalog and databases such as ATLA.

In addition, your professor may recommend certain resources, such as commentaries. Ask the professor if he/she has a list of recommended resources for your assignment.

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