The ESV Archaeology Study Bible is an impressive new study resource shaped under the editorial eyes of John D. Currid (PhD, University of Chicago) and David W. Chapman (PhD, University of Cambridge). The contributors to the ESV Archaeology Study Bibleinclude a roster of field-trained archaeologists and biblical scholars, and the depth of their first-hand expertise is visible throughout. The contributors include David L. Adams, Barry J. Beitzel, Richard S. Hess, Gerald L. Mattingly, Paul H. Wright, and many more. This is important to acknowledge at the outset of this review because Currid and Chapman have taken extreme care to safeguard against this Study Bible becoming another example of a sensationalist approach to biblical archaeology.
The ESV Archaeology Study Bible advocates three core pillarsas the foundation of its existence in the marketplace—biblical orthodoxy, academic integrity, and accessibility. These core pillarsbecome a chaperone for the contributors as they interact with the biblical text and its intersection with the field of archaeology. This allows readers of various backgrounds and exposure levels an opportunity to approach the ESV Archaeology Study Biblewith confidence in the material and the ability to understand and apply it to preaching, teaching, and daily study.
The ESV Archaeology Study Bible contains over 2,000 study notes, over 700 full-color maps and photos, over 200 sidebar sections, various charts and timelines, book introductions, and a number of archaeology related articles. The text is black-letter and presented in a readable 9-point lexicon type font, with the study notes in an 8-point type. The paper used is a 36gsm thin coated paper, which is surprisingly quite opaque and shows little ghosting. I found the text to readable and resulted in little eye-strain when used for extended periods of time. Beyond the typeset and other reading-related matters, the illustrative power of the ESV Archaeology Study Bible is on a level of its own (see photos below). The print quality is consistent and detailed despite being printed in China. This is important note because not all heavily illustrated study Bibles are created equally. The ESV Archaeology Study Bible is both beautifully and appropriately illustrated to emphasize the archaeological aim of the volume.
The most notable aspects of the ESV Archaeology Study Bible are numerous in relation to the overall focus of the work. Three are worth mention here. First, the wide-ranging and numerous sidebars that are strategically placed throughout offer readers insight into the cultural background and practices of the ancient world that dot the landscape of biblical archaeology. They’re usually only a paragraph or two and often provide a translation of other related ancient literature. Second, each biblical book contains a brief and focused introduction that centers around the contribution of archaeology to that particular book. This is both unique and important to the overall emphasis of the ESV Archaeology Study Bible, and I believe that readers will enjoy such overviews before engaging with the biblical text and study notes. Third, there are approximately 15 articles that have been included and each is archaeologically oriented. Some of the most noteworthy and unique of such articles include “Expository Preaching and Archaeology” by John D. Currid, “Biblical Geography and Archaeology” by Barry J. Beitzel, “Daily Life in Israel Old Testament Times” by Gerald L. Mattingly, and “Daily Life in Judea-Palestine in New Testament Times” by Paul H. Wright. More could certainly be said about the articles, but I think the names alone lend insight into their usefulness. Finally, I should also note the editorial decision to include a number of reference sections, including a glossary of archaeology related terms, indexes of sidebars and maps, a concordance, and more.
While the ESV Archaeology Study Bible is everything that an armchair archaeological enthusiast could want and more, I did have a few practical expectations that were surprisingly unsatisfied. Two are worth mention here. First and foremost, I honestly expected more from the study notes. Don’t get me wrong. I found the study notes to be both informative and illuminating. But, there appeared to be a subtle lack of consistency across the contributors. For example, the study notes on Psalm 82 by David L. Adams provide extensive discussion (almost two full pages) on various expressions of divine council worldview in ancient Near Eastern literature. But, the study notes on Genesis 6 by John D. Currid doesn’t even attempt to address verses 1-4 and the significant insight provided by parallel Mesopotamian literature and myth. Similarly, Currid fails to offer any related insight from such literature on Deuteronomy 32. This is only one example, but it does illustrate a shortcoming of inconsistency across the contributors on related themes. Second, I would have expected more information and illustration of textual related archaeological finds, such as manuscript discoveries, writing practices, etc. To be fair, both subjects are addressed at various points in the ESV Archaeology Study Bible, but there is definitely an opportunity to better illuminate such from within the field of archaeology.
The ESV Archaeology Study Bible is an impressive new study resource that will both enrich and inform your study of the Bible with up-to-date archaeological insight. Currid and Chapman have done a fantastic job to ensure that the core pillars of biblical orthodoxy, academic integrity, and accessibility remain a constant reality throughout the volume. Where this resource shines will be different for each reader, but it clearly has a place complimented next to the ESV Study Bible and the ESV Bible Atlas.It’s beautifully illustrated and strategically presented to maximize its unique emphasis. I can sense that this will be used and consulted often by many, and thus, comes highly recommended for anyone serious about studying the Bible in its original context!