Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Review: The Essential Bible Guide

book cover

The Essential Bible Guide
by Paul Wright, Menashe Har-El, & Baruch Sarel

Hardback: 124 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
With illustrations, maps, chronologies, and concise descriptions, this guide provides an attractive and organized framework to understand the land, people, places, history, and culture of the Bible. Includes over 60 full-color maps.

The Essential Bible Guide is an overview of the Bible with information about the lands and peoples mentioned in the Bible. Much of this information can be found in a good study Bible. However, this book would be useful for people unfamiliar with the Bible and its historical context who want a quick overview and for those interested in New Testament Bible background information.

The book had three sections. The first section (pages 1-40) covered the climate, geology, agriculture, and transportation of the Fertile Crescent. The first half used technical terms and was so generalized that it wasn't very useful. The second half was more useful, but it wasn't tied into Bible events. The authors referred countries not shown on the maps. They also assumed that modern weather patterns are the same as they were 5,000 years ago and give modern information. I (and others) wouldn't agree with this assumption.

The second section (pages 42-75) was a survey of the Old Testament. It gave a brief summary of what is in each book of the Old Testament (including traditional and critical views of when the books were written and by whom); a lesson on how the Hebrew Bible is arranged; a summary of who the peoples and lands mentioned in the Old Testament were; a who's-who list of the most mentioned/important people in the Old Testament; a brief summary of events in the Old Testament from Abraham to Ezra & Nehemiah's time; the development of the Hebrew alphabet; and information about the Hebrew calendar. It included a chronology chart from Abraham to Nehemiah where the dates from Abraham up to Saul were very general ("1st half of 13th century" for the Exodus from Egypt) but the rest had specific dates (The Kingdom of David = 990-968 BC).

The third section (pages 78-114) was a survey of the New Testament. This section was very good at tying background information into Bible events. Even those familiar with the Bible may find this section enlightening. There was a brief summary of what's in each New Testament book (who wrote it to whom and why); an overview of weather, agriculture, and land forms (hills, plains, etc.) for Judea, Samaria, the Coastal Plain, Galilee, and TransJordan; an overview of the cities/lands and peoples mentioned in the New Testament; information about the inter-testament period and how that set things up for the events in Jesus' lifetime; and a summary of the events in the New Testament with historical, weather, and geographical background information tied in.

Overall, the maps were readable and useful, but they often didn't illustrate the text. It seemed more like you were supposed to refer to them when reading that section of your Bible. A couple of the maps had so much information on them that the text on them was difficult to read. A few of the chart-maps lacked easy-to-understand keys (so they took some studying to figure out) or had keys with too much information (as if it had been taken from a larger map and the unused information on the key hadn't been removed). The pictures were excellent and illustrated what various places and things looked like, but two pictures lacked captions.

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.

Excerpt from page 96
Jesus' first visitors were simple shepherds from nearby fields (Lk 2:8); that they were tending their flocks on ground that would normally be sown with grain between November and April suggests that the Christmas story probably took place in the summertime, when Judean sheep and goats typically grazed on field stubble. The subsequent visit to Bethlehem of Magi "from the east" (Mt 2:1-12) indicates that, like Solomon (cf. 1 Kgs 9:26-10:29; cf. Isa 60:6) Jesus was a king worthy of receiving the tribute of the world. The Magi's gifts--gold, frankincense, and myrrh--were typical of the commodities entering the Roman world through Palestine via the Nabatean-controlled Arabian spice route.

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus subsequently fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Mt 2:13-18), no doubt finding shelter among the large Jewish population there. Coptic tradition identifies several sites visited by the Holy Family while in Egypt. Sometime after the death of Herod in 4 B.C. Joseph took his family back to Judea, then on to Nazareth in Galilee, preferring to live under the rule of Herod's more even-handed son Antipas rather than in a Judea controlled by Archelaus, a king who had inherited much of his father's temperament (Mt 2:19-23).

Joseph settled in Nazareth, a small, nondescript village in a chalky basin high atop a limestone ridge that overlooks the Jezreel Valley from the north. Nazareth was a village largely lacking in economic opportunities (Mt 2:23; cf. Jn 1:46). Jesus , like all growing boys in the first century, learned his family trade, in this case the specialized skills of a "carpenter," a worker in wood and stone, the local building materials (cf. Mt 13:55). It is likely that jobs were scarce in Nazareth and therefore possible that both Joseph and Jesus honed their skills in Sepphoris, Galilee's capital city in the Beth Netofa Valley five miles north of Nazareth. Here jobs were plentiful, as the city was undergoing a massive rebuilding campaign financed by Herod Antipas.

Read chapter one.

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