Archaeological Study Bible (Book Review)

NIVArchaeologicalStudyBibleAs is my custom, I spent a year reading and studying a new Study Bible.  In 2012 I tackled the 2306 page NIV Archaeological Study Bible (edited by Walter Kaiser and Duane Garrett).  This Study Bible is different.  Not that it stands head and shoulders above other Study Bibles that have flooded the market in the last decade.  It is not trying to compete with those.  Walter Kaiser, executive editor of the NIV Archaeological Study Bible (ASB) writes,

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is pleased to join with Zondervan in offering this unique study Bible.  Together we believe that its release marks one of the most important events in recent publishing history.  The NIV Archaeological Study Bible represents a remarkable achievement, with its intriguing subject matter, archaeological/cultural focus and aesthetic presentation coupled with the widely accepted New International Version text.  Rarely has the publisher seen so high a degree of enthusiasm greet the introduction of a publishing concept as that which the prototype for the NIV Archaeological Study Bible received from such diverse groups as lay Christians, scholars and pastors who lent their valuable feedback.

High praise with high hopes.  Alas, while this Study Bible was fun and interesting for me to read in 2012, I’m afraid it didn’t (and will not) live up to its hype.  Why?

  1. It is mostly a historical reference.  There are very few devotional, exegetical or theological notes/articles in this Study Bible (and it appears that those notes are lifted word-for-word from the NIV Study Bible).  While it might prove to be a valuable textbook for a college class on the historicity of biblical events and culture, only archaeological geeks, ancient history buffs, and front-line Christian apologists will likely use this Study Bible more than a few times.
  2. The English Bible translation is the 1984 release of the NIV.  In 2002 Zondervan, publisher of the NIV translation, announced its plans for a new translation: Today’s New International Version (TNIV).  The TNIV proved controversial among its intended audience (American evangelicals), and it was effectively put on the back shelf in terms of marketability and importance shortly after its 2005 publication.  But not to be defeated, Zondervan changed strategies to releasing an updated NIV text in 2011, significantly revising the 1984 translation.  Thus the NIV ASB was destined from its publication date in 2005 to have a short life span as far as its Bible translation is concerned.  (Note the ASB is also now available in the King James Version.  But for many Bible readers this is archaic translation is not an acceptable alternative.)
  3. It finds itself among the few big, fat Study Bibles that are too heavy to tote anywhere.  The ESV Study Bible also suffers from this problem, but offers a work-around via electronic tablet and web access.  The ASB is available on Kindle, but not on the web.
  4. The aesthetic presentation of the ASB is beautiful and graphic, but does not add anything of substance to the actual experience of studying the Bible (isn’t that what a Study Bible is for?).  The ASB didn’t really break aesthetic publishing ground—it merely combined the common graphic presentation of a modern Bible handbook with the Bible text.  Quite an editing project, and neat to look at, but not ground-breaking as promised.

However, I am not sour on the ASB.  It is worth having in your library as a reference.  The 600+ special articles are alone worth the price of the book (this works out to about 1 article every 3 pages).  Some of its useful features include:

  • Article: The History of the Holy Land, from prehistoric times to the present
  • Articles: Bible Book Introductions, including sections on Cultural Facts and Highlights
  • Articles: Ancient Texts and Artifacts
  • Articles: Ancient Peoples, Lands and Rulers
  • Articles: The Reliability of the Bible, essays addressing critical theories
  • Articles: Archaeological Sites
  • Articles: Cultural and Historical Notes
  • Charts: tables and graphs presenting overviews and summaries of narrative details
  • Commentary: comments on the biblical text by evangelical Bible scholars at the bottom of each page with biblical text
  • Chart: A Chronological History of Palestine
  • Chart: Archaeological Periods
  • Glossary: definitions of biblical, historical, and archaeological terms
  • Sidebars: Ancient Voices, quotations from ancient non-biblical texts that illuminate the biblical text
  • CD-ROM: interactive compact disc includes pictures, videos, audio, and links to additional resources in the Internet
  • Standard Features: concordance, maps, cross-references, book outlines and prolegomena

Pastors, seminarians, and Bible college students should be familiar with its usefulness in helping people who wonder whether the Bible is basically historically accurate.  The ASB contains overwhelming evidence that the Bible is situated in a culture that it accurately reflects.  Bible skeptics should have it on their shelf and consult it before accusing the Bible of historical or archaeological inaccuracy.  But in my opinion, that is where it belongs: on the shelf, rather than at your bedside as the Bible you read daily.  Visit the ASB’s website for more information.

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3 Responses to Archaeological Study Bible (Book Review)

  1. Andrea B says:

    Thank you. I needed a review like this. Am looking for a Study Bible for my teen and want one with the theological notes. I couldn’t find a review that shared whether the archaeological stuff was in addition to or in place of the usual NIV study Bible notes.

  2. Frank R. says:

    Amazing review!, I was thinking in buy it but now I have second thoughts. I like archaeology and I think that the articles can be amazing but, as you say, the theological commentaries may not be that good (I think they can be a little bit liberal, unless some of them that I read from Genesis 1), thank you brother! Maybe now I will buy the NVI Study Bible instead.

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