Zondervan has just released the five volume Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament (ZIBBCOT), and I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of Volume 1, Genesis-Deuteronomy. When I received this book I immediately experienced a case of deja vu, remembering the day in 1991 when I first held a copy of the Holman Bible Dictionary in my hands.
Recognize that I am not equating the Holman Bible Dictionary with the new Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, since the differences are greater than the similarities, but both of these produced in me the same response when I first opened them: Wow! Both of these publications provide a view of the historical background of the Bible that would be helpful for all serious students.
Here is a brief comparison of the Holman Bible Dictionary (HBD) with the ZIBBCOT:
Content - The HBD is a Dictionary of Biblical words, people, events, and places presented alphabetically. The ZIBBCOT follows the biblical text, giving commentary on the people, events, and places along with a presentation of extra-biblical background material.
Format - The HBD is a single volume for the entire Bible, and always felt like it wasn't going to hold up to regular use due to a poor binding and questionable paper. The ZIBBCOT is a multi-volume work (there are also NT volumes, see my comment below), and feels like a quality binding with decent paper. It feels and handles like an expensive college textbook. Additionally, while both publications contain numerous photographs, those in the ZIBBCOT are of better quality, possibly as a result of advances in digital photography since 1991.
Philosophy - The HBD is published by Broadman & Holman, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is unapologetically conservative, and takes pains to avoid controversy. Zondervan caters to a "bigger tent" customer base, and is less afraid to present material that might be questionable to some readers, as seen by the first words of the introduction to Genesis:
Inferences drawn from the whole of the biblical text suggest that Moses was considered responsible for the shape and content of Genesis from early times. The Israelites in the wilderness, in roughly the third quarter of the second millennium B.C., are then the initial audience of the book. Many scholars unconvinced of the connection to Moses are more inclined to view the book against a mid-first millennium B.C. backdrop. The discussion is not without significance, but its impact on background issues will not often be felt. (ZIBBCOT, Volume 1, page 3)
Now, on to some of my Conclusionss concerning the ZIBBCOT:
I intend to get the remaining volumes of this set for my library. While it may not serve as a primary textual commentary in my studies it is going to be very useful for providing both background and context. Other background materials in my possession, such as the HBD and Lifeway's Biblical Illustrator, while sometimes useful, are not tied directly to the biblical text, causing one to spend additional time looking for relevant entries, or just choosing to ignore them altogether. I anticipate that the ZIBBCOT is going to provide a wealth of background information to support my preaching and preparation of Bible Studies. After discovering this work I learned that Zondervan also publishes similar volumes on the New Testament. Since I have just begun preaching through Matthew, I obtained the volume for that Gospel, and it has already proved helpful.
Here are two videos produced by Zondervan on the ZIBBCOT;
Passive Christianity Is Dead Christianity
49 minutes ago