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Bible is beautiful, but does it mislead?

I’m rarely an impulsive book buyer, even though I love books. Oh, if it’s anything to do with Oklahoma football, or obscure titles on theology, I’ll buy right away, no matter the price.

Normally, though, it’s like sipping wine – slow, steady.

It was with some surprise, then, that I swiped a copy of Zondervan’s “Archaeological Study Bible” from the shelf of a Christian bookstore several months ago. I didn’t really care what the retail price was; I saw immediately that this was a value-packed item.

At just under 50 bucks, it’s a real steal, considering what it must have cost to produce a 2,336-page, four-color, hardcover book with 500 photographs, maps, charts and study notes. Plus, there’s an interactive CD in the back of the book.

This Bible has extraordinary graphics that will no doubt pique the interest of many who otherwise would not pick up a Bible. On that card, it scores well.

I should include a cautionary note, however, for Bible-believing Christians (this is, I believe, a fair term to use, since it identifies those who have a conservative view of Scripture): “Archaeological Study Bible” is produced by Zondervan, now owned by Harper-Collins, a secular publishing giant. Zondervan would also be staffed by folks who probably tend toward a more liberal view of the Bible – this Bible’s text is the NIV, which many conservative Christians have a problem with.

For example, early on, a study note on the various Flood stories from the ancient Near East contains this problematic sentence: “Assuming a later date for the Biblical composition, some scholars have suggested that Mesopotamian accounts may have served as a prototype for the narrative in Genesis.”

This viewpoint is one espoused by the heretical scholar Marcus Borg, who is still a rock star in mainline channels. The idea that Babylonian flood myths inspired the biblical story, however, is grotesque and unacceptable.

Fortunately, the study note for this particular section in “Archaeological Study Bible” goes on to say, “Most researchers believe that the Biblical account is not simply a modification of the Mesopotamian stories but one of several versions of a common story.”

The writer of this section still could not bring himself to point out that the Genesis version of this historical account reigns supreme, but at least he gave a nod to it, which is about as far as moderate-left scholars will go.

In fact, it is quite unfortunate that many biblical scholars today are positively giddy and ga-ga over Mesopotamian myths, yet treat the biblical accounts with some contempt. But that’s a topic for another time.

Interestingly, at the very beginning, the footnotes for Genesis 1 reveal that the scholars for this particular study Bible are fuzzy over the length of the Creation Week, although the Bible does state that it took a week. They do, however, quite clearly demolish the famous “Gap Theory” view.

Moving on to the rest of this study Bible, we see spectacular timelines and rich imagery that really shed tremendous light on the learning process for students. For example, in the book of Judges, we read a fascinating article (complete with color photograph of the ruins) about Mizpah, an important regional city for the Israelites. This attention to detail makes “Archaeological Study Bible” a real treasure.

In the Gospel accounts, there is a section (that would make Borg blanch) entitled “Non-Biblical Sources for the Historical Jesus” that make this an especially helpful volume for youth leaders and campus teachers who are confronted with such questions from students. Further notes and images that bring first-century Judean life alive make this a Bible that churches should consider stocking in their libraries.

Since I cannot seem to shake my Walter Matthau-esque grumpiness from time to time, I do have to point out a further irritation with this study Bible. In the book of Daniel, an article is provided which gives unhelpful space to more liberal theology.

First of all, the book itself is quite clear that the events were recorded at or very near the time they occurred, which would have been the sixth century B.C. However, the Zondervan-style of liberal scholarship then states that there are various reasons for assuming it was written later; among these reasons is the inane statement that “The stories of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and of the fiery furnace read like pious legends – far-fetched miracle stories common in intertestamental Jewish texts.”

This is ridiculous. This is a pretty transparent attempt to hearken back to the Babylonian myth idea of biblical inspiration. I must agree with the biblical writers that Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity was real, and the fiery furnace was an actual historical event.

To even hint otherwise gives nod to the kind of higher-critical method of scholarship that has so damaged Western culture. How’s that for hyperbole?!

Again, “Archaeological Study Bible” is invaluable if one uses it to bring life to ancient Near East culture in biblical times, or is used for a variety of other study helps. It will not serve conservative congregations well, unless someone is in place to toss-aside the dumb sops to liberal scholarship.

This study Bible is somewhat of a mixed bag, but I conclude by saying that it is quite good in the hands of an experienced apologist. Left to students who can be persuaded by the “myth” assertions, it can lead to disturbing conclusions and perhaps rejection of the Bible as an historical document.

Discover how real and relevant Bible prophecy is to you with Jim Fletcher’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine): How to stop worrying and learn to love these end times”