Book Review: The Harvest Handbook of Bible Lands

Harvest Handbook of Bible Lands book review

Authors/Editors Steven Collins and Joseph M. Holden
Publisher Harvest House Publishers
Publication Date 2019
Number of Pages 400
ISBN 978-0-7369-7542-1

In his forward to The Harvest Handbook of Bible Lands (THHoBL), esteemed scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. writes, “The scope of your learning and practical challenges will be unlimited and enhanced by leaps and bounds as you use this wonderful tool in the interpretive process.”

I would echo Dr. Kaiser’s assessment.  Steven Collins and Joseph M.Holden, along with the team of scholars who helped write various sections of this book, have produced a valuable tool for people who want to understand the world of the Bible.

THHoBL is hot of the presses and would be a welcome addition to anyone’s library.  While it was officially published in late 2019, it wasn’t available on Amazon in Canada until February 2020, making it one of the newest reference books about biblical archaeology one the market.

THHoBL is divided into two parts:

  • Part One: A Survey of the World of the Bible (Chapters 1-9)
  • Part Two: What Archaeology Has Revealed to Us (Chapters 10-11)

The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. An Introduction to the Biblical World
  2. The World of the Genesis Patriarchs
  3. The World of Moses and Joshua
  4. The World of the Israelite Judges
  5. The World of David and Solomon
  6. The World of Israel and Judah
  7. The World of the Exiles and Return
  8. The World Between the Old and New Testaments
  9. The World of the New Testament
  10. Archaeology and the Bible
  11. Archaeological Discoveries Supporting the Authenticity of the Bible
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Publisher’s Promotional Photos, Harvest House Publishers

What You’ll Like:

  • THHoBL is reader-friendly and organized chronologically, illuminating the world of the people in Scripture, from the patriarchs in Genesis to the world of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.  As such, it is easy to find information about the background to a particular part of Scripture you may be studying.
  • In the back cover, there is a full-color fold-out timeline which displays biblical events as well as the approximate dates for composition of every Biblical book.  It is laid out not only chronologically, but also geographically.  The authors write, “Think of it as geographically stretched through time.  Egypt is on the bottom because it is in the south.  Moving north and east, Canaan is next, followed by Syria, then Anatolia (Asia Minor) and Mesopotamia.  The thicker the line, the stronger the kingdom or empire relative to others.” 
  • Helpful Breakout sections provide important background information along the way which allow readers to go deeper on particular topics.  Moreover, these Breakouts are often written by the top scholars in their respective fields.  For example, Edwin Yamauchi, who wrote the classic Persia and the Bible, writes the breakout section entitled, “A Thumbnail Sketch of Persia and the Bible,” and Scott Stripling, the current Director of the excavations at Shiloh writes the breakout section on the tabernacle.
  • There is a ton of archaeological information!  This focus on archaeology is hardly surprising, given that Steven Collins is the Dig Director for the excavations at Tall el-Hammam (Sodom?), and many of the other contributors are seasoned archaeologists, including Randall Price, Philip Sylvia, Gary Byers, and David Graves.
  • Leen Ritmeyer’s drawings reconstructing what ancient buildings and cities looked like are extremely helpful.  For those who are not familiar with Leen Ritmeyer, he is an archaeological architect who has worked for decades with excavations all over Israel and is the world’s leading expert on the Temple Mount.
  • The final two chapters provide an informative history of biblical archaeology and highlight some important finds that support the reliability of Scripture.

What You May Not Like:

  • The maps: they provide a wealth of information, but are blotchy and the colors seem a little off.  For example, the water is a light, pastel purple in my copy.
  • There is no subject index at the back, which makes it difficult to locate information on a specific topic quickly
  • The chronology may bother some readers who take the numbers in the book of Genesis as literal base-10 arithmetic values.  The authors here interpret the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis within the Ancient Near Eastern context in which the book was written, as honorific.  In a breakout section entitled, “Chronology and the Patriarchal Lifespans,” Craig Olsen and Steven Collins explain, “This view recognizes that the base-10 numbering system of the later Iron Age Israel and Judah does not fit the Bronze Age cultural context of Abraham and his immediate Hebrew descendants…the Genesis lifespans cannot, then, be used to construct “absolute” chronologies.”  This approach, along with the fact that they adopt a short Israelite sojourn in Egypt (215 years, instead of 430 years, following the LLX instead of the MT), means that the dates they give for lives of various biblical people and events may be different than what you’re familiar with.  Even if you don’t agree, it is helpful to expand your perspective and understand a different way that Bible scholars who hold to the authority and inspiration of Scripture look at biblical chronology.

Publisher’s Promotional Photos:

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Conclusion:

The two words that came to mind as I was reading THHoBL were beautiful and illuminating.  The book itself is a big, gorgeous resource with carefully-chosen photos and full-color drawings that reconstruct what many places would have looked like in their day.  THHoBL sheds light on what the ancient world was like and provides valuable background information on the biblical text.  In short, there is much you will like in this 400-page volume.  It is written by leading scholars and provides easy-to-read commentary on the entire Bible.  I highly recommend The Harvest Handbook of Bible Lands.

 

Full Disclosure:  I am currently a student at Trinity Southwest University, where Dr. Steven Collins is the Executive Dean and one of my professors.  I am also colleagues with Dr. Scott Stripling and Dr. Gary Byers at the Associates for Biblical Research.  Scott and Gary both wrote “Breakout” sections in this book.

Note: I purchased this book at my local Christian bookstore (which I highly recommend – shop local before buying on Amazon!). Neither Harvest House Publishers, nor any of the authors, asked me to write this review.  All of the opinions expressed above are my own.

 

 

One comment

  1. Thanks Bryan for all your posts. Well done.

    I’m an old JUC student from the 1980s. I lead multiple trips a year, and have dug at 6 sites (including Area G at City fo David). Burnt House was what I helped uncover.

    Anyway, I hear about “honorific” dating all the time in relation to Hammam. Can you point me to any useful articles about it? It’s not the type of chronology I was trained with.

    No rush… thanks!

    Keep up the great work, brother,

    John DeLancey

    The chronology may bother some readers who take the numbers in the book of Genesis as literal base-10 arithmetic values. The authors here interpret the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis within the Ancient Near Eastern context in which the book was written, as honorific. In a breakout section entitled, “Chronology and the Patriarchal Lifespans,” Craig Olsen and Steven Collins explain, “This view recognizes that the base-10 numbering system of the later Iron Age Israel and Judah does not fit the Bronze Age cultural context of Abraham and his immediate Hebrew descendants…the Genesis lifespans cannot, then, be used to construct “absolute” chronologies.” This approach, along with the fact that they adopt a short Israelite sojourn in Egypt (215 years, instead of 430 years, following the LLX instead of the MT), means that the dates they give for lives of various biblical people and events may be different than what you’re familiar with. Even if you don’t agree, it is helpful to expand your perspective and understand a different way that Bible scholars who hold to the authority and inspiration of Scripture look at biblical chronology.

    >

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