Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

The Cultural Background Study Bible is a Bible that contains a lot of information about the times in which the various sections were  written.  It has many pictures, maps and diagrams, and of course, commentary.  The Bible is pretty large and heavy, but that is to be expected with so much extra content being added to it. 

I must say that this Bible, or rather the extra content of this Bible, had a lot of unnecessary things, and even absolutely indecent things.  First, the pictures.  I don't remember if I've ever reviewed a Bible that had so many indecent pictures in it. There's the obligatory Adam and Eve (as usual, depicted before the fall of man with conveniently placed leaves), there are ancient artistic depictions of women exposing various body parts, including the lower half of the body,  there are ancient depictions of men being circumcised…and so on.  And get this, there's even a clay depiction of a woman bathing (not very detailed at all, but still…) from around, and I quote, the "eighth-sixth century  BC, a few centuries after David saw Bathsheba"! I’m sorry people (sarcastically said), but this is absolutely absurd.  Why would Christians think that looking at photographs of naked people are wrong but that it's okay to stare at a painting, statue, or etching of a naked person?????  I don't care how "ancient" the depiction is, or even how undetailed, it's still wrong.  Hasn't any one considered that some of the stuff might even be ancient pornography?  Whatever the case,  It's a denial of the fall of mankind, it's a denial of original sin, it makes it seem as though it is okay to not be ashamed to stare at other people's nakedness/shame, as long as it is ancient or artistic, and it also provides possible "stumbling blocks" to other Christians.  My understanding of the Bible is not enhanced by looking at unclothed people. 

Second, some of the commentary actually seems blasphemous. Just look at this commentary on  Isaiah 46:9:  "'I am God, and there is no other. ' The Assyrians saw their god Ashur as being the god from whom all other gods derive…In the Hymn to Aten from New Kingdom Egypt, Aten is hailed as the 'sole God beside whom there is none.'  In an environment where numerous other deities claimed power, Israel's God is not making an absolute statement of uniqueness, though he could, according to Israel's theology, rather, he is saying that the readers know his uniqueness through past experience, and this will be confirmed through future fulfillment of God's plans."  WHAT????????????? God is "not making an absolute statement of uniqueness"?  But what does God say in the VERY NEXT STATEMENT IN THAT VERY SAME VERSE ?  "I AM GOD, AND THERE IS NONE LIKE ME." This is simply shocking.  Let's look at another one:  The commentary on Proverbs 3:19:  "'By wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations.'  It is not unprecedented that creation is said to be the product of a deity's wisdom, in the 'Memphite Theology,' the Egyptian god Ptuah is said to produce the world through his heart and tongue, standing for his wisdom and his speech…" Sections in the Bible like this seem to be actually making the case that there WERE/ARE actually other gods like God, without taking into consideration the CONTEXT of the rest of the Bible, and even the evidence of the archeology, that states that other so-called 'gods' are not even gods at all, but rather wood and stone.  Essentially the commentators appear to think it valid to compare God to the attributes that man in his stupidity has ascribed to elaborately carved sticks and stones, and then finding "similar", though imaginary, attributes attributed to those sticks and stones they declare that God is not a unique 'god' and that He is compatible to a rock and a piece of wood.  I hope that they do not mean to do so, but this is STRONGLY implied. 

This is very awkward to say, but I don't like this Bible.  Or rather, I don't like some of the commentary and other additions to this Bible.  I don't know if I've ever said this before, but I'm saying it now:  Don't buy this Bible.  The back of this Bible says, in bold letters: "CONTEXT CHANGES EVERYTHING".  It certainly does.

I received a free review copy of this book from The BookLook Bloggers Program (My review did not have to be favorable). 


  1. The cultural background is an excellent study bible for those that want the backgrounds of the text as it was that day. The commentary is excellent given by top scholars.

    It is not a sin to see a naked human being, otherwise it would have been sin before the fall. It is sin to objectify naked human beings or clothed. Some cultures don't wear cothes at all. They are not sinning.

    Walton's point in Isaiah is yes, there were other competing gods out there in the culture surrounding the Israelites. That said, through experience, there is no other god than God as they will witness through Jesus Christ.

    This study bible is for the context that it was written and culture of those times. It is decently accurate. I don't quite understand what you had in mind regarding the bible?

    1. Hello Eric,

      I honestly don't see how looking at another person's nakedness, or not being ashamed of our own, can be defended biblically as justifiable before God. After the fall of man nakedness (and to be seen naked) is presented as shame and disgrace. Before the fall it appears that Adam and Eve did not know that they were naked (Gen 3:11). Afterward, with their sin came the knowledge that they are naked and they are so ashamed of their nakedness that they contrive coverings for themselves: "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths."(Gen 3:7) God does not rebuke them for covering up their nakedness. Instead of telling Adam and Eve to take off their covering of leaves and go around without any clothing, God Himself makes them coverings out of animal skins.

      And then in Genesis 9 Ham is cursed by his father for looking at his father's nakedness. If it was not wrong of him to look at his dad in a naked state then wasn't Noah sinning by cursing him?

      And in many, many prophecies, nakedness is associated with shame.

      "Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one."(Isa 47:3)

      Pass on your way, inhabitants of Shaphir, in nakedness and shame; the inhabitants of Zaanan do not come out; the lamentation of Beth-ezel shall take away from you its standing place.
      (Mic 1:11)

      Even in Revelation nakedness is presented as a shameful thing:

      Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) - Rev 15:16

      We have not been commanded like Isaiah to strip off our clothes and walk around in public. Isaiah did that as a sign of the shame that would come to the Egyptians (Isaiah 20:2-4)

      I'm sorry, but you see that I have to disagree with you, I can't in good conscience say that gazing at naked people is a good thing.

    2. I don't like a presentation of Biblical history that says that there were other competing gods - The fake attributes of other gods are irrelevant because the other gods don't exist. As Mark Rooker has stated, "What is somewhat remarkable about this vast array of gods named in the Bible is the fact that nothing is mentioned about their alleged abilities or qualities. The Bible is purposefully silent about any description of these gods. This is not important because the gods are in fact not a part of reality."

      The idols of the nations didn't do anything - It just seemed blasphemous for the commentators to show 'similarities' between the pretend gods of the nations and the One True God. There is no similarity and so that should not even be tried. I would have been a tiny...tiny bit more comfortable with these comments that the commentators made if they would have presented these attributes of these gods as absolutely absurd and fake...or said something like, "but of course, these people are just attributing these attributes to sticks and stones!" I did not like that they made God and statues similar in attributes instead of showing the infinite comparison between God and rocks and stones. The Bible mocks the gods of the nations, it doesn't deign to even examine the pretended fake attributes of the rocks and carved pieces of wood, it simply mocks them. The Bible never presents the so- called-gods of the nations as being in the least like Himself.

      So I just was horribly bothered that the commentators thought that fake gods were like the One true God, and that God was not being absolute when He said that there was not other God like Him - it just seems blasphemy to deny the absoluteness of that statement.

      I thought that this Bible might be more along the lines of: "here is a picture of the ruins of Babylon" and, "people in this day and time used such and such to draw water out of a well" - and thigns like, "here was the cultural background of what Paul meant when he spoke about women wearing headcoverings". Things like that. I didn't expect that the people who put this Bible together would think it would enhance my Bible study to contemplate pictures of naked people. And it does not help my Bible study at all to study the made-up-attributes of sticks and stones and to consider that they might be like the One and Only God.

      I expect better from Christian scholars. That's why I don't like the extra-biblical content of this Bible.

      Sorry this is so long -hopefully I make some sense :)