BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Review: Archaeology Study Bible (English Standard Version)

Archaeology Study Bible (English Standard Version)

Edited by John D. Currid and David W. Chapman
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 2064 pp., charts, tables, 400+ full-color photographs, 211 in-text maps, 4 timelines, 15 map plates, $49.99 (hardcover) to $99.99 (genuine leather, black)
Reviewed by Sidnie White Crawford

Archaeology Study Bible is an annotated Bible translation (English Standard Version) with articles and notes geared toward demonstrating how archaeology illuminates the biblical text. “Archaeology” is taken in its broadest possible sense, meaning “the study of the land and its history,” up to the Roman period. Too often study Bibles concentrate on the textual, theological, or literary background of biblical books and give only short shrift to archaeological data. This volume corrects that gap.

It gathers an abundance of valuable information about biblical Israel in a format suitable for the general reader; it is beautifully presented and lavishly illustrated, sprinkled throughout with maps and charts. Nevertheless, there is room for criticism with respect to the intended audience.

That the audience is Protestant Christian should already be obvious from the terms “Old Testament” and “Intertestamental” as well as from the absence of discussion of the deuterocanonical literature (aside from brief mentions in the background essays). But the intended audience is even narrower. As the general editors state in the introduction, all of the contributors to this study Bible “hold to classical evangelical orthodoxy in the historic stream of the Reformation”—in other words, they identify as conservative evangelical Protestants—“and affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness, and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written Word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They also affirm that God’s Word clearly teaches that the only means of salvation is through the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. vii).

These theological affirmations limit the volume in two ways. First, it limits the pool of contributors available. Second, and more important, it limits the academic worth of the volume (and, I would argue, its value to readers) by drastically curtailing the range of scholarship that can be presented and the way the biblical text is approached.

The first objection is easily illustrated. The List of Contributors consists almost entirely of white Protestant males who teach at conservative Christian colleges and seminaries. The list includes only one woman (Catherine L. McDowell, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary [Charlotte] ) and one Hispanic (Steven M. Ortiz, Southwestern Baptist Theo-logical Seminary). Conspicuously absent are any Israeli scholars, who are usually considered the foremost experts on archaeology of the land of biblical Israel. This deliberate lack of alternative voices compromises the merit of the volume.

The second criticism is weightier. Because of the theological stance, many issues and problems are simply not addressed, including the relationship of archaeology and the Bible. Examples abound; I will present two.

Throughout the volume, the historicity of the biblical narrative is never challenged. As a major example, consider the treatment of the Book of Joshua. The introduction to the book states, “As biblical archaeologists attempt to reconstruct the historicity of the events of this book, they have been able to provide a more accurate reading of the message of Joshua in its literary construct as well as substantial proof of the historicity of the accounts contained in the book” (p. 283).

Many archaeologists would dispute the phrase “substantial proof,” substituting “no proof.” 1 None of the issues of the Book of Joshua—the sources, etiologies, or different theories concerning the occupation of the land—are brought out in the Archaeology Study Bible. The reader would never be aware that these questions even existed.

Another example concerns the authorship of the Pentateuch. The Introduction to Genesis states: “The almost universal claim until recent times among both Jews and Christians was that Moses wrote Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch. Moses lived much later than the events described in Genesis, but he would have used earlier sources passed down to him, such as genealogical lists. Other OT writers attribute the Pentateuch to Moses (e.g., Josh. 1:7–8; Judg. 3:1–4). In the NT, Jesus unequivocally accepts Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (Mark 7:10; 12:26). Jewish writings, like the Talmud, and early church teachings almost unanimously agree on Mosaic composition” (p. 13).

There is no mention of source criticism; in fact, the only mention of possible sources in the Pentateuch is the suggestion that Moses may have used them in writing the Torah. Again, a comparison with The New Oxford Annotated Bible is instructive; it contains three full pages devoted to modern source theories of the Pentateuch.2

It seems to me that avoiding the questions and issues of modern scholarship does a disservice to readers regardless of their faith stance. This shying away from the genuine meaty questions of biblical scholarship lessens the value of this volume tremendously. While the editors make clear from the beginning their faith assumptions, which is to their credit, the overall refusal to engage with controversial issues that take front-and-center in other study Bibles deprives the reader of any opportunity to engage, in an intelligent way, with biblical scholarship that does not share the editors’ faith stance. This creates an unfortunate feedback loop: the reader comes with certain expectations; those expectations go unchallenged by reputable scholars and authority figures in biblical studies; and the reader leaves with his/her previous positions comfortably verified.

These criticisms mean that the Archaeology Study Bible cannot be recommended outside of the narrow audience for which it was intended. It is not suitable for use in most classrooms, and even pastors and church Bible study groups would wish to consider the book’s faith position before adopting it for their own use.


 

Notes:

1. In contrast, the New Oxford Annotated Bible asserts, “The book should not be read as straightforward history—it telescopes and simplifies what was a long and complex process of occupation of the land by the Israelite tribes […] the book’s presentation of reality does not necessarily reflect the course of events […] Consequently, archaeological excavations, together with sociological and anthropological analyses, must be used alongside the book to understand the early history of Israel in the land.” See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “Joshua,” in Michael D. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2018), p. 322.

2. Marc Z. Brettler, “Introduction to the Pentateuch,” in New Oxford Annotated Bible, pp. 4–6.


Sidnie White Crawford is Professor of Classics and Religious Studies emerita at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She is an internationally recognized scholar of Dead Sea Scrolls and textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

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1 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    I did not read the review complete, for that I apologize. I got annoyed with liberals who think they are an expert because another group of experts think they are. She might know here information. To suggest that there is no evidence for Joshua, is crazy and not even in keeping with what BAR has published.
    You don’t need to have all of the liberal scholars comments if that is not the purpose.

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1 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    I did not read the review complete, for that I apologize. I got annoyed with liberals who think they are an expert because another group of experts think they are. She might know here information. To suggest that there is no evidence for Joshua, is crazy and not even in keeping with what BAR has published.
    You don’t need to have all of the liberal scholars comments if that is not the purpose.

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