Book Review: ZIBBCOT Vol 4


Special thanks to Jesse Hillman at Zondervan for a review copy of this fine volume!

After reviewing the 5th volume of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, the folks at Zondervan were kind enough to send me another volume to review. This volume (volume 4) covers the major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

Many of the comments I made regarding the fifth volume also apply to the fourth. The work is full of background from the literature of the Ancient Near East (ANE). We have ANE citations by everyone from the Egyptians, to the Babylonians, and Akkadians. The shear amount of literature we have from the ANE is astounding, and the editors put it to good use in elucidating the Biblical texts.

In addition to the normal commentary on individual verses, the volume is full of helpful articles on a given topic. One interesting article I came across in Isaiah was on “Dating Methods.” I’ve always wondered how we were able to get such precise dates for events hundreds of years before Christ. One extraordinarily useful method is astronomy. When ancient chronologies record events in relation to an astronomical event, we can usually calculate an exact date and assign dates with that as a starting point. It makes perfect sense!

Some other articles include, “Substitutionary Rites,” “Utopian Paradise, and, “Siege Ramps.” A very broad spectrum of background material is presented. The introductory articles are also quite detailed and helpful. The introduction to Isaiah offers a brief history of Israel during the 200 years covered by the book. This is vitally important to understanding the text. The introduction to Daniel is very well written. From what I can tell, it handles the issue of genre quite well, giving explanations of the various types of literature contained in Daniel and providing parallels to other ANE works. However, the commentary doesn’t take some suggestions to their full conclusion. The author doesn’t outright state that Daniel may have been written much later than the events portrayed in the text. It is suggested that the author of Daniel may have taken a well known literary medium (crafting history in the form of prophecy) and adapting it to his own means. But it isn’t stated outwardly that perhaps the work was written much later than the events it portrays. The reader is left to make the connection for themselves.

In sum, I heartily recommend these volumes to anyone seeking historical and cultural background knowledge for the world behind the Old Testament. They reveal to us the world into which God spoke his scriptures, and they help us better understand the message of these scriptures we have received. We not only have words, but also hundreds of pictures of artifacts to help the more visually minded place themselves there. There will always be cultural distance between a 21st century reader and the world of the Old Testament, but these works go a long way in bridging that distance. Pastors, students, and scholars (what a bibliography!) alike will find much to love about this series.


ZIBBCOT on Jonah

One of the passages we dug into this weekend at Spring Retreat for Chi Alpha was Jonah. Being curious about the exegesis we did together, I naturally pulled out ZIBBCOT Volume 5. John Walton, whose book on Genesis 1 I loved, had some helpful things to point out. One interesting point was that at this point in history (760-750 BC, if we take the traditional date), Assyria hadn’t been a threat to Israel for a generation, and wouldn’t be for a while after Jonah dies. This is curious, since we understood most of Jonah’s obstinacy from the brutal reputation the Assyrians had. I suppose Jonah could’ve been brought up on stories of Assyrian atrocities, but it does make his rebellion that much more curious.


Book Review: ZIBBCOT Volume 5


Special thanks to Jesse Hillman at Zondervan for a review copy of this fine volume!

Before I jump in, I should share a little of my own background (insert pun apology here).  I’m nowhere near an Old Testament expert.  I have some decent background knowledge for the New Testament, (at least for an interested layman) but the OT is a different story.  For this reason I jumped at the chance to review an OT commentary, hoping it would help me appreciate the OT more.  While the series’ focus is on historical background, it is a valuable resource that any interested layperson or pastor could put to good use.

Now for the review.  First of all, some specifics are in order.  I received volume 5 which covers the wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) and the minor prophets (Hosea – Malachi).  Each book has an introduction, each of which vary in length.  Most are rather extensive, though some books with scant information are shorter (Joel for example).  The introductions give information on dating, context, and the audience of the book.  The contents of the commentary are broken down by section and verse, following the normal format we see in other commentaries.  There is a plethora of end-notes and bibliographic information to further your research if you so desire.  Additionally, there is an introductory essay on comparative studies which was quite helpful to someone who was largely ignorant of the discipline.

There is a lot to like in this series.  What has impressed me most of all is the abundance of extant literature we have from the Ancient Near East.  We have Mesopotamian sources, Egyptian sources, Babylonian sources, Assyrian sources, Akkadian sources, and many others.  There’s a wide range of dates too, going as far back as the second millennium B.C.  All of these texts and records are brought to bear on the Biblical text in the relevant moments.  The volume also has brief articles interspersed throughout on a single topic of note.  Some examples include “Hymnic Doxologies” in Amos and “Divine Sonship” in the Psalms.  These typically go into more detail than the textual notes. 

As the name would indicate, there are tons of pictures in this series.  They are very well done.  I’m not a particularly visual person, but even for me they help connect the text in question to its historical context.  There are pictures to be found on nearly every page.  Often they take up half a page, and the quality is up-to-par.  They range from pieces carved in stone (murals?), to pottery and tablets.  Maps are also included at important points. 

Even with all the good things going for it, there are a few qualifiers to give the volume.  First, this isn’t a general purpose commentary, nor is it trying to be.  Detailed textual note are completely absent.  Instead, we’re treated to a rich assortment of historical background.  Second, it would be nice to have an article discussing in broad terms the various cultures which are cited in the text.  As an OT neophyte, I have very little basis to compare an Ugaritic citation with say, an Akkadian or Mesopotamian text.  Explaining these civilizations in the introduction would have helped me a great deal as I tried to make sense of the different sources.  At least a brief trace of the rise and fall of the culture in question.

All in all, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament is a great series.  This volume has proved very useful recently as I’ve been reading through the Old Testament.  If you’re wanting to gain a richer understanding for the Old Testament, I’d definitely recommend this series.  Comparative studies have too long been ignored by evangelicals (myself included!) but volumes like these stand ready to help us pick the rich fruit that the discipline has left us.