Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 47:3 (September 2004) p. 481
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Edited by Clinton E. Arnold. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, vol. 1, xxii + 516, $39.99; vol. 2, xxiv + 504, $39.99; vol. 3, xxiv + 520, $39.99; vol. 4, xxiii + 384, $39.99; set price $159.99.
This “Gold Medallion Book Award” (awarded by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) four-volume set covers only the NT. The stated purpose of its evangelical authors (1.vii-viii) is to provide a view of the NT in its first-century context so that the average Christian can have ready access to the available background information on the text of the NT. To achieve this purpose, these volumes provide a narrative of the contents of the NT books in their canonical order, copiously illustrated with sidebars containing maps, pictures, and historical and cultural information from the world of the NT. The authors do provide scholarly level endnotes and bibliographies that the more motivated reader can pursue. Since the stated purpose is to write at the level of the church audience, I will honor that intention and evaluate these volumes from the perspective of a lay reader.
The strength of this set is in its illustrative agenda. Volume 1 on Matthew/Mark/Luke contains 79 sidebars, 4 charts, and 399 photos and maps (this organization reflects the indices at the beginning of each volume); volume 2 on John and Acts contains 96/20/436; volume 3 on Romans to Philemon contains 107/3/443; volume 4 on Hebrews to Revelation contains 95/5/273. The total illustrative material, therefore, is 377 sidebars, 32 charts and 1551 photos and maps. This is all provided with only occasional overlap (e.g. duplicated coins) and then for different illustrative purposes.
The sidebars/charts/photos and maps cover a wide range of material. They might contain backgrounds and comparisons of rival groups (e.g. Pharisees/Sadducees/Scribes;
Stoics/Epicureans), or a detailed description of Herod’s Temple, or illustrative readings from extra-biblical Greek, Roman, and Jewish sources, or pictures of epigraphic and manuscript evidence. One drawback, however, is the difficulty of finding an item of interest. There is no comprehensive alphabetic subject index to all the items. The sidebars and charts are listed in the introductions to each volume, but these lists are like a table of contents rather than alphabetic indices. The lists for the photos and maps, however, are alphabetic.
The accuracy of artifact description is illustrated by the Ephesian Artemis statue.
This well-known marble statue has three distinct rolls of “bulbous objects” that many have labeled “breasts.” The author of the Acts section (C. Arnold) rightly notes, however, that numerous other expla...
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