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Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods Paperback – October 1, 2007
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From the Back Cover
The Old Testament was not written in a vacuum. It was written by and to a specific people who lived within specific social, historical, political, and literary contexts not only of their own culture but also of the surrounding peoples. Clearly, an understanding of ancient Israel and the ancient Near East is essential for proper interpretation of the Bible.
Unfortunately, as readers seek this kind of understanding, they are confronted with a variety of competing opinions and methods regarding the culture, history, sociology, and geography of the biblical story. Does archaeology "prove" the Bible? Is the Bible history, and if so, what kind? How should the Old Testament be approached as literature? These and other questions are addressed in Studying the Ancient Israelites, which provides a guide to the tools, methods, and goals of the study of ancient Israel. The book also examines the insights that can be gained from geography, archaeology, literary study, sociology, and historiography as well as the limitations of each of these disciplines. Here is an excellent text for Old Testament study.
"Not only does Matthews write with the authority of a scholar with years of experience in the cultures of Israel and the ancient Near East, he also writes to bring the material to the educated layperson. This is an excellent background work, thus I would encourage all to read it as a prelude to any study of Israel. Studying the Ancient Israelites is full of practical, sensible help in understanding ancient Israel. The work contains specific examples concerning the various disciplines that have been used to study ancient Israel: archaeology, sociology, historical geography, historiography, and literary approaches."
--Mark W. Chavalas, professor of history, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
"Matthews is a sure-footed guide for students looking for help in sorting out the claims and counterclaims of scholars. This concise volume clearly introduces readers to the various issues surrounding the study of the ancient Israelites, offering insightful comments on the methods used in the investigation and why they are important."--J. Andrew Dearman, professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary
About the Author
Victor H. Matthews (PhD, Brandeis University) is dean of the College of Humanities and Public Affairs and professor of religious studies at Missouri State University. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Old Testament Turning Points, Manners and Customs in the Bible, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy, The Old Testament: Text and Context, and A Brief History of Ancient Israel.
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Top customer reviews
One weakness in the book is the fact that Matthews only focuses on one time period in Israelite history. This book only includes sources and data in the second period of Israel, "the monarchy (1000-587 BCE)." But "early Israel (1250-1000 BCE)" is neglected. When one deals with the world of ancient Israel, one should cover this important foundational era in Israelite history as well. The reviewer looks forward to seeing another guide to this earlier time period with an equally well-balanced perspective to understanding the ancient Israelites. Matthews' work could also be strengthened with an inclusion of a description of the ethnographic aspects of the ancient Israelite society.
In chapter 5, the history and historiography of Western society is applied to reconstruct the society of ancient Israel. When Matthews discusses the benefits of the social sciences to the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, he introduces a number of the basic issues to beginners. However, the sociological and anthropological terminologies and models (such as Emic/Etic distinctions, socially shared cognition, luminal, endogamy and exogamy, and structural-functionalist) are not clearly defined for the beginner. Thus, he provides the beginner little guidance (124.125, 130) in navigating these more difficult topics. Finally, a few minor corrections should be made to the reference section, such as the addition of diacritical marks on names (e.g., Ahlstrom; 199). However, this in no way detracts from the great value of this volume.
This book would be a useful supplement for assisting "students, laypeople, and their instructor" (9). It is highly recommended to anyone who seeks a clear, concise, easy to follow guide to the study of ancient Israelites before jumping into the deep ocean that is the study of the ancient Israelite world.