Here on this blog I’ve provided some lists of good commentaries, journals, and reference works. But how do you find these and other good sources? In particular, how do you go beyond the listed volumes to find other relevant books and journal articles? There are three basic tools to use. (Note that these tips focus on resources available for Tyndale Seminary students. The basic techniques, though, will work for anyone who has access to a decent theological library.)
Bibliographies in textbooks and dictionary articles
Often you can find your first few good resources by looking in the section bibliographies included in most textbooks. If you can find a dictionary or encyclopedia article on your topic (or on something related) you can also look for a bibliography at the end of the article. This is often the most useful part of a dictionary article, because it points you directly to some key, influential works on the topic.
Tyndale library’s main catalogue search
Searching for specific books
If you already know the title or author of a book you’re looking for you can either type some of that information into the quick catalogue search (http://www.tyndale.ca/library), or you can make a more precise search by author and/or title using the “advanced search” page (https://tyndale.on.worldcat.org/advancedsearch).
Finding new books by subject headings
But what about when you want to find new resources? Here you can start by doing a simple search for basic words related to your topic (e.g., “Gospel of John” or “Synoptic Problem”). Then once you find a relevant book, you can deepen your search by looking at the subject headings that are applied to that book. If this book is useful, then presumably other books categorized with the same subject heading may also be useful.
To find the book’s subject headings,
- Click on a book title in the search results to view its item details.
- Click on the “Description” heading in the item details. This will expand into a section with various kinds of information about the book.
- Scroll down to the “subjects” section of the book description. Here you should see a list of hyper-linked terms and phrases.
Once you have found these subject headings, look for the ones that seem most relevant to your topic. Then you can perform a new search of the catalogue based on one or more of those subject headings. There are two ways to perform that search:
- Click on one of the subject headings right where you found it, in the “Description” of a relevant book. That link will take you directly to the search results for the one subject heading you clicked.
- If you want to search for more than one subject heading at the same time, you’ll need to write down the relevant subject headings and then use the “advanced search” page (https://tyndale.on.worldcat.org/advancedsearch).
The ATLA database
This is your main tool for finding journal articles and book reviews, but it also includes books of various kinds. To find the ATLA database, go to the main Tyndale library page, select “Online Resources” and then find the link under “Finding periodicals.”
Finding new resources by subject heading
Once you are at the ATLA search page, you can use this in much the same way that you used the Tyndale catalogue search: perform a basic search using some relevant terms, find some useful items, look at the subject headings for those items, and use the advanced search form to search for one or more of those subject headings.
Finding new resources using the “Scriptures” tool
The ATLA database also allows you to search for all of the items that discuss a particular biblical passage. This is especially useful when writing exegetical essays. Here’s how to use it:
- In the top navigation bar on the ATLA search page you’ll see the word “Scriptures.” If you click on that it will bring you to a list of biblical books. You may need to click “next” a couple of times to arrive at the book you’re looking for.
- Once you’ve found your biblical book title, click on “expand” beside it. This will bring you to a list of all the chapters in that biblical book.
- If you want to find all materials dealing with that chapter, just click the chapter name (e.g., “chapter 2”). That will take you to the list of items that include a discussion of the selected chapter.
- If you want to focus more specifically on a verse, click on “expand” beside the chapter name instead. This will bring you to a list of all the verses in your chapter. Clicking on one of the verse labels will take you to the list of items that include a discussion of that verse.
Tutorials for using ATLA
ATLA has collected some excellent tutorials both on their specific database features and on the search interface called EBSCO (see https://www.atla.com/products/support/Pages/ProductTutorials.aspx). Look in particular at these tutorials:
- Searching Scripture Citations Using the Scriptures Tool
- Searching Subject Headings for Sacred Texts of World Religions
- Advanced Search–Guided Style
Finding Resources When You’re Studying Long-Distance
All of the tools described above can be used remotely, through the Tyndale library web-site. In the Tyndale catalogue, an increasing number of books are available to borrow as ebooks. Look for the “access online” button that will appear in the search results list below the titles available electronically. You can even filter out the items that are not available as ebooks. Just select the “full-text” check box under “content” in the left-hand sidebar of the search results page.
Often in the past good Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias were the most difficult resources to find as ebooks. Note that Tyndale now has electronic access to all of the IVP dictionary series (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Dictionary of New Testament Background, Dictionary of the Later New Testament).
When searching on ATLA, look for a “PDF Full Text” link below the item details in the search results. Here again you can restrict your search to just full-text PDF items by selecting the “Retrieve Full Text Articles Only” check box under “Limit to” in the left-hand sidebar of the search results page.
One caution: A few items in both databases have links to electronic versions of the wrong book. Several commentaries on John’s Gospel, for example, appear to be available electronically. But the book that you find when you follow the link is a very old (and no longer usable) work, definitely not the one in your search results. So always just double-check that the ebook is the same volume you saw in the search results.