Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentaries

December 19, 2013 — Leave a comment


John Walton, Genesis (ZIBBC)Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May, 2013. 176 pp. Softcover, $16.99

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John Walton is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School. He has written several books and several commentaries and now offers readers the installment on Genesis in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Because of that, and also because of his consistent scholarly output related to the ancient Near East backgrounds of Genesis (see here, here, and here), he is the ideal candidate to be writing a background commentary on Genesis. He is also the general editor of the complete set of hardcover Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentaries.

For people that aren’t convinced (or don’t need) to drop $200 on the entire set, this volume allows you to get a feel for what this commentary set offers. The advantage to this particular volume is that it’s a) the editor of the whole series and b) someone who knows his way around the backgrounds of Genesis. Plus, it’s illustrated. Who wouldn’t want pictures in a short commentary on Genesis?

I am particularly interested in Genesis, and I found this volume to be insightful and informative. I didn’t consult it extensively when I was teaching through Genesis for our college Bible study, but I did reference it in my prep work. Walton’s comments are limited, and usually concise, but I think the illustrations more than make up for it. In his case especially, if you want the full comments, get his actual commentary.

But, if you’re really interested in Genesis, and would like a manageable background commentary that will help you navigate some of the foreign territory of the Old Testament, this is the volume for you. If you’re a visual learner, all the better, and even if you wouldn’t necessarily consider yourself visual, the many maps, pictures of art and statutes, landscapes, and artifacts will help bring Genesis alive in your studies.


John Hilber, Psalms (ZIBBC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May, 2013. 176 pp. Softcover, $16.99

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

John Hilber is Professor of Old Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Before that he was a pastor for 15 years and then in the Old Testament department at Dallas Seminary where I had him for a seminar in ancient Near East literature. 1 In addition to numerous scholarly articles, Hilber offers readers the installment on Psalms in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Though some receive more attention than others, every Psalm has at least some background comments attached to it. Even if it is just to refer the reader to sidebar that has already covered (or will soon cover) the relevant background issue, every Psalm is accounted for. Interested readers will probably want to just jump to their favorite Psalm and see what aspect of the ancient Near East background Hilber is shedding light on.

Much like what I’ve already said about the Genesis volumes applies here. I haven’t yet gotten to Psalms in either my Old Testament class or college Bible study, but I have been reading through the Psalms a lot this past year. Part of that is because I don’t think I really know my way around the Psalter very well. As I’m getting acquainted though, it is helpful to have Hilber’s volume on hand. His insights in our ancient Near East seminar were very valuable, and I appreciated the perspective and expertise he brought to the discussions. I am anticipating that same level of insight as I continue to consult this volume, and do so more heavily later on this winter. For serious students of the Psalms, this volume is worth picking up.


David W. Baker, Isaiah (ZIBBC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May, 2013. 240 pp. Softcover, $19.99

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Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

David W. Baker is professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Ashland Theological Seminary. He has authored several commentaries and now offers the installment on Isaiah in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Of these three individual softcover volumes, Baker’s on Isaiah is the longest. While the Psalms and Genesis volumes are about equal length, Baker goes into much more detail in his comments.

Overall, the features are the same as far as the illustrated nature of this commentary. Baker moves section by section through Isaiah and offers insights into the ancient Near East backdrop to Isaiah’s prophecy. Like Psalms, I haven’t gotten to Isaiah yet in my prep work, but I am really looking forward to utilizing this volume when I do.

For people really interested in the ancient Near East background to the Old Testament, I would really recommend buying these three volumes together. I’m not sure about the specific reasons that Zondervan chose to single out there books for individual publication, but I have a guess. Considering that the four most quoted Old Testament books in the New are Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah, you could make a good case that really grasping those four books will also really help you understand the New Testament. By having illustrated commentaries on the background of three of these books, you are well on your way to deepening your understanding of 3 of the 4 key Old Testament books.


  1. And met with him a couple times in his office to ask questions about a potential thesis idea I had that never got off the ground. If you’re interested, the title was “Science as Post-Modern Divination”


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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