Getting a fix on the social context of the Hebrew Bible is imperative for anyone reconstructing either the “story” of the text or the “history” behind the text. Resources in this area often prove overspecialized and arcane, and readerly tasks as simple as scanning their table of contents can require highly sophisticated skills in cultural anthropology or Semitic languages. Social World of Ancient Israel, 1250–587 BCE offers those interested in learning about the biblical world a more user-friendly framework for viewing the broader picture; at the same time, it relies on the latest methods of cultural anthropology and biblical analysis in its presentation. Painting a picture in broad but precise strokes, the authors portray the landscape of ancient Israel in new and exciting colors that expert and student alike will appreciate.
Social World of Ancient Israel takes a unique look at the most prominent social institutions of the world of early Israel and the period of the monarchy, and then shows how properly understanding these social institutions is essential for sound biblical interpretation. Immersing the reader in five major areas of antiquity’s daily life —politics, economics, diplomacy, law, and education—Matthews and Benjamin explore the ways in which knowing how “players” function in these institutions (configurations include “father/mother,” “prophet/wise one,”, and“host/stranger”) can shape our understanding of earliest Israel. Perhaps most significantly, the book gently exposes the inefficiency of past anthropological models for interpreting the relationships, attitudes and social conventions of earliest Israel. Its corrective insights will enable scholar and student alike to plot new approaches for studying the Hebrew Bible and the ancient people of Israel.
The Logos Bible Software edition of this volume is designed to encourage and stimulate your study and understanding of Scripture. Biblical passages link directly to your English translations and original-language texts, and important theological concepts link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. In addition, you can perform powerful searches by topic and find what other authors, scholars, and theologians have to say about the Word of God.
“Clans tell ancestor stories to celebrate a father or mother whose particular virtue saved the community from extinction” (Page 32)
“In the world of ancient Israel, a man’s home was his wife’s castle. She had the domestic authority which he did not.” (Page 25)
“Villages insured themselves against war and natural disasters like famine, epidemic, and other catastrophes by creating a phratry, chiefdom, or tribe (שׁבט, šēḇeṭ; אלף, ’elep̱). Tribes spread the risk faced by the several hundred adults who made up a village to the thousands who made up a tribe (Sahlins 1968:16; Sahlins 1967:96; Fried 1967:14). When a village became unable to feed itself, the tribe provided a legal guardian (יבם, yāḇām; Latin: levir); when it became unable to protect itself, the tribe provided a judge (שׁפט, šōp̱ēṭ) or chief (נשׂיא, nāśî’” (Page 9)
“they were political and economical as well. Sexual relationships held societies like early Israel together” (Page 13)
“Marriage was a delicately negotiated covenant sealing a significant political or economic contract” (Page 13)
Social World of Ancient Israel offers the most refreshing and innovative approach to ancient Israelite society that I have ever read. The book uses different roles in village life and state institutions to open up the biblical world. Clear and engaging for beginners, full of insights for biblical scholars, this book fills a major need for a masterful synthesis of life in ancient Israel.
—Mark S. Smith, New York University
Victor H. Matthews is dean of the College of Humanities and Public Affairs and professor of religious studies at Missouri State University. He received his PhD from Brandeis University, and he has written numerous popular as well as scholarly articles. He is the author of Manners and Customs in the Bible and coauthor of Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East.
Don C. Benjamin teaches at Rice University. He is coauthor of Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East and author of Deuteronomy and City Life.