NIV First-Century Study Bible
by Kent Dobson
Hardcover: 1888 pages
Released: September 9, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher through Booklook.
Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
The NIV First-Century Study Bible invites you into the questions, stories, and interpretations—both ancient and modern. Join Kent Dobson as he unpacks the culture of Bible times, and illuminates Scripture passages while asking thoughtful questions along the way.
Compared to the overall excellent quality of the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, the quality of the NIV First-Century Study Bible did not impress me. The "about each book" sections, maps, pictures, timelines and such were pretty standard for a study Bible, so that just left the commentary study notes to make it stand out. Much of that commentary covered pretty standard things like pointing out when a prophecy had been fulfilled or references to the verse elsewhere in the Bible. Nothing unique there.
The "hook" was that the study note commentary would include quotes from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, Philo, rabbis (from the Mishnah), early church fathers, and modern scholars along with some cultural background. The Old Testament commentary was sparse and usually not enlightening. He even resorted to summarizing what was happening in the text--things obvious if you'd read the text. However, the author did a decent job in the New Testament.
I've read the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary for the New Testament, which was a major source for the author's comments. Very, very little of his commentary was new to me. And, frankly, I got more insights and answers out of reading the Bible Backgrounds books.
Got questions? Well, so does this author. It seemed like this author was sometimes more interested in raising questions than giving answers--even when there were answers. For example, for Luke 1:5, the author made it sound like Luke must have made an error in saying "Herod king of Judea" because King Herod ruled more than Judea. I'm thinking, "Luke's focusing on Judea and that phrase doesn't exclude Herod from being king of more than Judea...what's your problem?" On the Luke 4:44 study note, the author even says, "Luke may have been using the term "Judea" generically to refer to Israel." Yes, so why not just say so in the Luke 1:5 note?
Another example: In Genesis 26, the verses indicate that Issac moved from a place of famine to a place without famine and then planted some grain. The author says in his Genesis 26:12 note that it's a puzzle how Issac got a good harvest during a famine. Gerar is located in a spot that gets more rain, which would have been useful information to include. But apparently it was easier for him to pose a question than find the answer. He said in his Genesis 19:25 note that "There is no archeological evidence for the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah." Plenty of people think they've found it, yet he makes it sound like no one even has a clue.
I could go on and on. There were plenty of study notes that left me wondering why he felt the need to include them, especially in the Old Testament. For example, his Genesis 43:18 note reads, "Was this a touch of humor by the narrator? Where Joseph and Pharaoh in such need of donkeys that they needed to steal them from poor shepherds?" It's those poor shepherds that were worried that powerful and potentially greedy people would take them as slaves and take their possessions, so why would this be a joke? For the Genesis 45:23, the author writes, "Why is the text focusing on donkeys again?" Um, is this really important enough to include, especially when you have no answer? Seems like useless filler to me.
(Though I took my examples from only a few books of the Bible, I read every study note before writing this review.)
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.