Finding Commentaries in the Divinity School Library: A Short Guide

Need to find one or more biblical commentaries* for a sermon or an assignment? Below you’ll find advice on how to find commentaries using the Atla database, the Reference Room, the library catalog, and more!

Using Atla

You can access the Atla database directly from the Divinity Library’s homepage — look for the blue catalog search box and choose the second tab (Atla). Use the keywords “Daniel commentary” (or whatever book of the Bible you are searching for) and hit Search.

Now. Atla indexes a lot of material — articles, book reviews, books, and more. To narrow it down to commentaries specifically, scroll down and watch the left-hand menu. “Source Types” has a default selection of “All Results,” but that’s not what you want. Select “Books” — the page will refresh, and now all the results will be books!

Browse through the results and pick a few you like. The item record will only give you a little information — the title, the author, and the publication data. Once you’re ready to find the book itself, click the “Get it at Duke” icon. This icon will run a search for an online version of the book, and it will likely take you to a page that says we don’t have it — but that just means we don’t have it online. The same page gives you options to locate the book in the print catalog, OR request the item through Interlibrary Loan!

Using the Catalog — Finding PRINT or ONLINE Commentaries

Go back to the Divinity Library homepage and find the blue search box again. Use the same search string we just used for Atla (book name + commentary) in the main catalog search box. Sometimes if your book of the Bible is a common English name (Samuel, Daniel, Matthew, Mark, etc.), it helps to toss the word “Bible” in there, too.

You might get a lot of results — look at the menu on the left-hand side of the page for helpful ways to narrow them, for example:

“Available Online” — Check this box to only see e-books you can access immediately!

“Location” — Select “Divinity” to limit your search results to print books that are from the Divinity Library’s collection.

“Publication Year” — This one is towards the bottom of the menu, but very helpful if you are looking for the latest scholarship (e.g., within the last 25 years).

Using the Reference Room

The entire back wall of the Reference Room is filled with commentary series, arranged in alphabetical order by series title — starting with ANCHOR BIBLE on your left and proceeding to WORD BIBLICAL COMMENTARY on your right. The series are then arranged in order of canon (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus…). These are all modern commentaries (after the development of historical critical methodology),  and the wall is designed to be very easy to browse. None of these volumes can circulate (which means they’ll always be right there in the Reference Room for you to use!), but we typically have a circulating copy of all Ref Room commentaries that you can find in the stacks and check out.

One exception to the Reference Room’s WALL OF MODERNITY is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. Per its title, this series gathers short excerpts from commentaries by Early and Medieval church fathers and mothers on particular passages of scripture. Interested in using the ACCS or other methods to find pre-modern commentaries? Keep reading!

Looking for Pre-Modern Commentaries

What is a pre-modern commentary, and why should you be interested in studying one? We’re using “pre-modern” here to mean “before the development and popularization of historical criticism”; in other words, before the 19th century. (As for why you should care about pre-modern biblical commentary, go read David Steinmetz’s “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis,” chapter one in Taking the Long View.) When you’re well and truly convinced by Steinmetz’s thesis and ready to go about finding some good pre-modern material, here are a few places to start:

Searching the Library Catalog: Pull up the library catalog and use the following search string: “Bible. Daniel. Commentaries. Early works to 1800” Seriously. Copy and paste it (quotation marks and all) and hit SEARCH. (And insert whichever book of the Bible you are studying for “Daniel” in the example.) This will bring you pre-modern commentaries from our library catalog. Enjoy!

Using the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Series: ACCS gathers lots of short excerpts on short passages of Scripture, but these come from longer works. So how do you find the longer works? First, find a passage you like in ACCS. Locate the author (small caps, after the bolded section heading), and the source (small caps, at the end of the section). The source will have a footnote: look for the corresponding number at the bottom of the page. Here you will find an abbreviation of the larger source: LCC 3:178-79, for example, means Library of Christian Classics, volume 3, pages 178-79. Not sure what the abbreviation stands for? Look for the Abbreviations section in the front of the volume you are using. Popular series in English include ACW (Ancient Christian Writers), ANF (Ante-Nicene Fathers), FC (Fathers of the Church), LCC (Library of Christian Classics), and NPNF (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers) — and ALL of these series are in the Reference Room! (Ask a librarian if you get stuck.)

Using Biblia Patristica: Interested in finding commentaries in Latin and Greek? The Biblia Patristica series is located in the Reference Room at BR 66.5 .U53, or you can also use the online, open access search tool at BiBLindex. These resources gather citations of passages in the writings of early and medieval Christians that comment on Scripture and organize them by verse. Start by looking up your passage in a Biblia Patristica volume: you’ll find abbreviated citations of longer works; for example, “TERT PAT ” is Tertullian’s De patientia. (See the abbreviation list at the front of the volume — which will also tell you Tertullian’s De patientia can be found in CCL (Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina) volume 1. Look closely at the citation: often Biblia Patristica will give you the book and chapter number of the larger work, and/or the page and line number from the critical edition in CCL or PG (Patrologiae, Series Graeca) or PL (Patrologiae, Series Latina)! Confused? Find Dr. Benjamin. She loves helping people learn Biblia Patristica.

Browsing the Stacks for Commentaries

The Divinity School Library uses the Library of Congress classification system, which arranges books by subject. Each book of the Bible is its own subject — commentaries on Old Testament books start with Genesis at BS 1231 and end with Malachi at 1671; OT Apocryphal books occupy BS 1711-1871; New Testament books start with Matthew at BS 2570 and end with Revelation at 2820; and NT Apocryphal books occupy BS 2860-2970. Looking for commentaries on Daniel? Go browse BS 1550-1560! This section will be full of commentaries* and monographs** on Daniel. The full list of biblical books by Library of Congress Classification Number can be found here.

 

*What is a commentary?

A commentary is an in-depth, verse-by-verse analysis of a book of the Bible. Commentaries often interact with the original language of a text as well as its cultural, historical, literary, and socio-political contexts, in order to help readers understand the text’s function and purpose.

 

** What is a monograph?

A monograph is a book that is written (graph) by a single (mono) author, typically on a single subject. But a monograph is not necessarily a commentary! Remember, a commentary is a verse-by-verse engagement with a text. A monograph might go on at length about something related to the biblical text (e.g., coins within the Roman empire and currency used in 1st-century Judea), but will not offer verse-by-verse commentary. Trying to figure out if the book you have chosen is a commentary on Matthew? See if you can find the part that deals with Matthew 4. And Matthew 16. If that was an easy exercise, you have a commentary!

 

De-coding your Syllabus: Practical Tips for the Beginning of the Semester

Welcome to Duke Divinity School! We know the first days of a new semester are always hectic — and on top of it all, professors keep sending you 18-page documents full of dates and bibliography entries and bullet points! A syllabus can be complicated and intimidating, even for people who have been in academia for years, so please know it is NOT just you.

Don’t panic. Do this instead.

Sit down with a hard copy of the syllabus, a highlighter, and your personal calendar. (And a cookie.) 

Everything in this syllabus is important. But let’s grab the REALLY important stuff first.

REQUIRED TEXTS: These usually show up early in the syllabus. You MUST have these books OR know exactly how you can access them. HINT: if a reading says “SAKAI” next to it, the professor has posted it to your course’s Sakai site. If a reading doesn’t have this notation, YOU are responsible for making sure you have access to the reading, whether by purchasing the book or finding it in the library. Professors send their book lists to the library before each semester so that we can collect “e-reserves”, or electronic copies of required textbooks, that you can access online and read from home or from your favorite Durham coffee shop. Give it some thought: choose which books you want to invest in buying and which books you can find at the library.

ASSIGNMENTS LIST: Open the syllabus to find the calendar of assignments. Sometimes you have to dig a few pages to find it. And it may be under a few different categories, but often it will be under something akin to “Assignments and Policies.” You are looking for assignments and DATES. This section is the most important thing in the entire document.  Read it closely, TWICE, and immediately write or enter all of the assignments into your calendar on the days they are due. Midterm exam? In-class presentation? Final paper? Final paper due the same week as all your other final papers for all your other classes? Don’t let any of these dates sneak up on you! GET THEM ON THE CALENDAR. Start to make a plan for the hard weeks in the semester now. Do you know who’s great at helping make a plan for the hard weeks in the semester? Judith Heyhoe, director of the Writing Center and Academic Support! Email her at jheyhoe@div.duke.edu — she will be very happy to help you look at your schedule.

ASSIGNMENT DETAILS: Knowing you have a paper due in the first week of October and getting it on your calendar is a great first step. But as soon as you get it on the calendar, your whole brain is going to go, “Great! Let’s not worry about this until October 1.” HOLD THAT THOUGHT. Flip through the rest of the syllabus and see if you can find a section that gives more detail on the expectations for each assignment. Flag this section with a Post-it note that will stick out the side of your syllabus so you can find it easily again when you start worrying about an assignment in earnest. But do yourself a favor and read it now, and think about how you can prepare: does the assignment ask you to review a book that’s not on the assigned readings list? Summarize and analyze the course readings up to this point in the semester? You should make a plan for how you’re going to get that work done before the night before your assignment is due.

RHYTHM OF A WEEK: What does a normal week in this class look like? Find the CALENDAR OF ASSIGNED READINGS. Slowly skim through the first couple of weeks. About how many pages are you being asked to read to prepare for class? Do you need to write a summary of the readings, post a discussion question for Sakai, email your preceptor a reflection paragraph, or prepare some other response to each week’s readings? Figure out exactly how much work this class is going to be, and figure out when you’re going to do it. Reading is slow work! Try to find spaces in your schedule where you know you can read without being stressed about rushing off to your next thing.

ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS: Okay, admit it: you skipped ahead to see what you need to read for next week, and you saw “CCOT” and some numbers and got confused. Slow down! Go back and look through the different required texts and see if any of them have an acronym next to them. Often these books have long, complicated titles — and in the assignments sections, a professor will only refer to the book by its author’s last name, or by an acronym. So for the Cambridge Companion to the Old Testament, a professor might call it CCOT — aha!

OTHER AWFUL WORDS: Monograph… Peer-reviewed article… Chicago/Turabian style footnotes… Highlight ANY word you aren’t sure about and either look it up or ask your friendly librarians. Sometimes in a syllabus, professors will speak in the ways in which they are used to speaking and reading, which often includes jargon that is unfamiliar to people who haven’t spent the last decade (or more) immersed in the academy. And, if you feel overwhelmed from the start of the semester because you don’t understand the syllabus, that can be a difficult start to the class. We want you to feel empowered!

PARTING THOUGHTS: If there is ANYTHING you do not understand in a syllabus, make an appointment with either Dr. Katie Benjamin or Lacey Hudspeth on Sakai, or email them at katie.benjamin@duke.edu or lacey.hudspeth@duke.edu. Librarians are here to help make your lives easier and to aid in your academic success in any ways that we can!