The past decades have seen the publication of several study Bibles focusing either on archaeology or cultural backgrounds, but the newly released Archaeology and Cultural Background Study Bible from Adventist publisher Safeliz offers a more comprehensive perspective and seeks to bring both elements together. This is a helpful approach, for archaeological remains are always part of a material culture reflecting distinct cultural, religious, and social concepts and values prevalent in the ancient world.
In a concise foreword the publisher tells us that the study Bible includes articles, notes, and other input from 80 Adventist archaeologists and biblical scholars from around the world who contributed 700 peer-reviewed articles. Additionally, more than 130 videos introducing archaeological sites and different biblical lands were produced and can be accessed by readers either by using a QR code with a smartphone or by entering a short web address into a browser. Countless photos and illustrations accompany articles and the biblical text and are often gathered topically and printed on special paper offering a better quality than regular (and much thinner) paper used for printing Bibles. For example, after the text of Exodus 15, the reader is introduced on four pages to ancient scripts (and languages) and ancient texts (including examples of cuneiform tablets, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the trilingual Rosetta Stone inscription, and an image of the Hebrew Habakkuk pesher [or commentary] from Qumran). After the text of Joshua 1, the editors of the Archaeology and Cultural Background Study Bible included four photographic pages introducing ancient altar forms and different major deities of the biblical world. Many of these special focused image collections are included throughout the study Bible.
As is to be expected in the genre of a study Bible, each biblical book contains an introduction discussing the title of the book, its author, the possible audience, the purpose and theme of the book, an outline, and relevant archaeological discoveries that have shed light on the particular biblical book. Theology and theological themes are less developed in the introduction.
Following the publisher’s foreword (p. v), the Bible includes a tribute to Siegfried Horn (p. vii), professor of archaeology, Old Testament, and biblical languages at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, and pioneer Adventist archaeologist whose influence on Adventist scholarship and research in that field can still be felt. This is followed by a list of the contributors to the study Bible (curiously alphabetized by first names and not last names!) and three very helpful major indexes (general, topical, and alphabetical). Particularly the 14 different subdivisions of the topic index will help readers to dig deeper (e.g., focusing on ancient individuals, ancient texts and artifacts, beliefs and teachings, buildings and structures, daily life, etc.). Beginning with the text of Genesis 11, every page of the study Bible contains a header that situates the book historically and archaeologically. For example, when reading Judges, the reader can see a reference to Iron Age I (1200-1000 B.C.), while a look at Malachi suggests the Persian period (or 539-331 B.C.) as its historical background. These are helpful general directions, but may not always capture the complexity of collections, such as the Psalms or some of the historical writings, such as 1 and 2 Chronicles, 1 and 2 Kings, etc., that contain material from different periods.
The study Bible also contains 23 useful maps and infographics, such as Canaan in Old Testament times (p. 381), Jerusalem in the lifetime of Hezekiah (p. 740), or the route of the Exodus (p. 172).
One additional feature of the study Bible should be highlighted here, namely, a significant number of introductory articles presenting, for example, the scope and importance of biblical archaeology, the origin of the alphabet, biblical languages, religions and cultures of ancient empires, the Dead Sea scrolls, the meaning of biblical names, the Septuagint, the intertestamental period, social classes in the biblical world, or life in the New Testament world, to mention a few. These helpful articles introduce readers to foundational topics that are referenced in the notes and articles focusing on more specific issues.
The Archaeology and Cultural Background Study Bible fills a significant void in the growing portfolio of Adventist biblical scholarship and offers readers interested in the archaeology and culture of the ancient world in which the biblical texts developed a good entry point to better understand the profound connections of the texts of the Bible to their surrounding cultures. At the same time, familiarity with the cultural and historical context of the biblical texts will also clearly highlight the remarkable differences of the biblical message to the message of the religions of the peoples and cultures that surrounded God’s people. Readers will appreciate the value-added resources (both printed in the Bible, as well as available digitally) that the Archaeology and Cultural Background Study Bible offers. More time in the Word is always time well spent—and those who invest in this resource will surely spend more time in the presence of Him who spoke to the world in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—and continues to speak in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Bahasa, and any other language into which the Bible has been translated.
* In the spirit of transparency, it should be disclosed that I have contributed to the publication of the study Bible but am not benefiting from its sale.