Given the choice between half-a-dozen trips to the British Museum and the possession of this book for me this book wins. It contains 112 information-packed pages of competent text and black-and-white photographs of 60 documents illuminating the historical world and background of the Old Testament and New (48 OT, 12 NT). The expected diagrams in the form of timelines and a map are first rate and give the context at a glance. It would probably sell far more at three times the price if it was in a large format, padded out more, and printed in colour.
As it is, the documents are chosen with care and explained with concise text, exemplifying what we know of the several cultures within and against which the dramas of the bible were played out. The introduction is an enlightenment in itself, and one section is outstanding, being a short description and explanation of the scripts in which the ancient texts were written. It de-mystifies a great deal of the obscure notations used to translate ancient scripts into the modern alphabet (eg, how syllabic signs, logograms, determinatives, and phonetic complements work), and explains the terminology used in all serious books in this area.
The 60 documents are presented chronologically: eg, the ziggurat at Ur (still there!); clay tablets of Atrahasis, Gilgamesh, Armana letters, and the Cyrus cylinder; stone obelisks, sphinxes, carved walls, stelae, seals and weights; and papyri, ranging from a Thutmosis III war campaign in cursive hieroglyphs to a personal letter in colloquial (koine) Greek from a wife to her husband, dated c.150BC. Certain articles stand out: the four-page summary of the development of the alphabet; the Merneptah stela (earliest mention of the Israelite people); the Moabite Stone mentioning Omri (king of Israel 885-874BC) and his God Yahweh; the Lachish ostracon war report (ink on pottery), with discussion of his use of the name of Yahweh; the Rosetta Stone; the koine Greek papyrus letter of Isias to Hephaestion (a lonely wife asks he husband to come home), the vernacular shedding light on the Greek of the New Testament; and the Codex Sinaiticus.
T.C. Mitchell, is Keeper of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum.
The review of this Book prepared by Michael JR Jose