The recently published Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels is more than a mere geographic commentary—it is a detailed and informative study tool emphasizing the geographical background of the Gospels, while also touching on historical, archaeological, architectural, and social issues. Geography is certainly the focus and strongest aspect of the commentary, but it is by no means the only type of background material addressed. Composed of 48 chapters, each in a concise yet thorough article form written by different authors, the book is ordered chronologically from the time of the birth of Jesus until the resurrection appearances. The chapters address all of the major events and locations in the Gospels, plus several more obscure but interesting topics such as crowds, the hill of Moreh, weather, pig husbandry, and geography of forgiveness. The volume is supplemented at the end by 6 maps and 2 charts, some of which are very useful and others unique, although the map about Absalom and David was an odd choice considering the limited number of maps (p. 527). The main text also is sprinkled with helpful maps, charts, illustrations, and photographs related to the particular topics. The writing team is comprised of sixteen authors with a wide range of qualifications and experience, ranging from seasoned professors and archaeologists to graduate students, but none of the chapters suffers from noticeably poor quality or lack of knowledge.
The volume itself correctly states that there is virtually no end to the number of Bible commentaries, but the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels fits effectively into a niche due to its specialist nature and specific topical focus (p. xiii). Graduate students, pastors, educated laypeople, and even professionals in the field will find material in the volume that is helpful in their studies on the Gospels, or at the least the chapters will inspire them to further inquiry. Subjects and locations of interest that can be appreciated by nearly all readers include the birthplace of Jesus, the wilderness temptation of Jesus, the location of the baptism of Jesus, Capernaum, Nazareth, Caesarea Philippi, Gehenna, the pools of Bethesda and Siloam, the Temple Mount, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus. The chapters contain detailed geographical information linked with the historical events and text of the gospel, and the authors note differing positions on topics that are debated both in the public arena and in scholarship. For example, places such as the praetorium of Pilate (pp. 494–97) and the tomb of Jesus (pp. 506–15) are handled in such a way as to inform the reader about the opposing views, while explaining the relevant evidence and still taking a definitive position informed by the facts. The bibliographies at the end of each chapter are also a useful resource for further investigation of the topics.
As with any work of this nature, there are sections that could be criticized, weaknesses pointed out, or positions some may object to, since it is impossible to please or accommodate everyone. The way in which the Quirinius census issue is addressed may leave readers searching for more answers or disagreeing with the author about the nature of the census and the date of the birth of Jesus (pp. 11–13). The section about the magi is quite short and neglects to mention the geographic possibilities presented by an ancient text referred to as The Revelation of the Magi while endorsing disputed ideas such as a summer birth and a meeting of the magi and Jesus at Bethlehem (pp. 6–9). Bethsaida is placed at Tel el-Araj, which has recent and convincing evidence, but nearby et-Tell as Bethsaida may be cemented in the minds of many readers (pp. 230–42). Those who are attached to the Garden Tomb theory might not agree with the conclusions, but hopefully all readers will recognize the case for the Holy Sepulchre as legitimate and substantial (pp. 504–15, 520–22). The chapter on Caesarea Philippi gives illuminating geographical context, although what could be interpreted as sympathy towards the view that Peter is “rock” of the Church may draw the ire of those who firmly believe the example is not referring to Peter (pp. 293–94). However, the volume excels in the area of geography, which is its stated purpose and the primary category it should be evaluated upon, even if points of criticism can be found in certain areas of archaeological, historical, or textual information. Because it is a geographic commentary, the volume could have benefited from more maps, especially topographical, and more photographs, particularly aerial or satellite. Overall, however, the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels achieves its purpose of creating a volume addressing the important geographic locations and related background found in the Gospels, and it is a resource which many will appreciate as an excellent addition to their research library.