A new book project will wait until at least mid-February. I am two weeks away from my annual winter vacation. Besides, my next book project will relate to the New Testament. My mind is presently still stuck on Iron Age and late Bronze Age problems.
So I will post individual reflections and short essays on things that interest me for the next few weeks.
Today I want to talk about alternatives to Wikipedia for online research.
That does not mean I do not appreciate Wikipedia. It has some well-known reliability problems. But on the plus side, it is very up-to-date, except when it isn’t. It often gets updated almost immediately with new information on topics that are being discussed in the media. I said “except when it isn’t” because unfortunately on biblical topics its information is often hopelessly out of date. Strangely, several articles just parrot the Easton Bible Dictionary which was published in 1896!
However, one of my interests is the Amarna period in ancient Egypt. Wikipedia articles often reproduce English translations of the primary sources, like the actual Amarna tablets. I find this very useful, even though I have Moran’s The Amarna Letters. Primary sources also get quoted on other historical topics. So much for my love-hate relationship with Wikipedia.
One of the reasons we use Wikipedia so much is that their articles usually show up near the top on search engine results. This is true not just on Google but on DuckDuckGo, Bing, Qwant and Yahoo as well. So, if you want to use these alternatives it is more convenient to bookmark them and use their internal search functions.
There is an online version of Encyclopedia Britannica. One of the problems with it is that, although the articles are professional, their approach is very secular. Religious topics are covered sparsely.
Better for my purposes is Encyclopedia.com. The quality of their articles varies. But they come closer to having the widespread coverage of topics that Wikipedia has–with fewer amateurish articles (says the amateur who dares to swim with the experts).
Also I should point you to the Oxford Research Encyclopedias where you can find up-to-date articles on many topics. Religion is one of the disciplines they cover.
Conservapedia is supposed to be a conservative alternative to Wikipedia. They have articles on a surprising range of topics. But their biblical articles tend toward fundamentalism and creationism. I would argue that this is unnecessary and that conservatism is broader than that.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has articles that are usually defensive of Catholicism. But, depending on the topic, they are sometimes quite good.
For my purposes, the Jewish Virtual Library is an excellent resource. This is my substitute for Encyclopedia Judaica, which is now behind a pay-wall.
Also covering my area of interest is the Ancient History Encyclopedia. I have to say that I find the articles there uneven. I was quite confused recently by their article on the Mitanni Empire. I am still not sure whether it is I who am confused or the author. But I have found some of their articles on Egypt helpful. The thing is that they tend not to discuss conflicting viewpoints. They pick one perspective to inform their narrative. That isn’t so bad, as long as you get that they are leaving out some complications for the sake of a simpler story.
Like Wikipedia, these sites are all free. There are others that require membership. But I don’t consider them alternatives to Wikipedia.
Because of the pay issue a lot of Bible students use old sources that are in the public domain. You can link to these from many Bible study websites. So you get the Easton Bible Dictionary being used in Wikipedia. Some of these old works are more useful than others.
I would recommend two. There is a Jewish Encyclopedia from 1906 which has a lot about Jewish history and rabbinic writings. There is the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia from 1939. It covers most biblical topics with articles by some of the best (mostly British) scholars of the time.
Just know that these sources cannot take advantage of the tremendous new discoveries of the last several decades. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance, were discovered in 1947.