I found this book while looking through my library’s catalogue for a book cited in Manners and Customs of the Bible, which is always a little risky without having the background knowledge to really be able to assess the quality of the statements. I didn’t find anything in The New Illustrated Companion that seemed to contradict what I’ve learned through other sources, so I’m assuming that it’s – at least in major part – in line with current scholarly consensus.
Much of the content of the book is simply retelling the stories of the Bible, occasionally relating the information to outside sources (such as the writings of other Near Eastern cultures, archaeological finds, etc), though the “extra info” boxes that appear on nearly every page contained far more detailed discussions. This was particularly true in the portion of the book covering the New Testament, and I was able to find quite a bit of food for thought.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, what really set this book apart was the illustrations. Every page has photographs of the relevant landscape or archaeological sites, diagrams, or paintings, and these were great fun to flip through.
Lastly, I quite enjoyed that Porter steps out of the scope of the Bible itself to, towards the end of the book, discuss Christian art and the development of beliefs in the early Church.
Though I do think that this would make a lovely coffee-table book, there were some pretty terrible editing issues, such as info boxes that end mid-sentence and a punctuation philosophy that borders on anarchism.
If you are looking for just a general primer to familiarize yourself with the stories of the Bible and with some of the context, I think that The New Illustrated Companion is as good a choice as any. The editing issues are a real detriment, but I do feel that the illustrations make up for it.