Book Review: The Compact Handbook of Old Testament Life -- By: Ron Zuck
Book Review: The Compact Handbook of Old Testament Life
by John Bimson
Reviewed by Ron Zuck
For those who wish a comprehensive understanding of Old Testament life and culture, John Bimson’s compact handbook of Old Testament life is essential. His panoramic presentation provides detail for comparing life during the Old Testament era with that of modern times.
Beginning with a description of the land, he moves to political structures, describing life in the cities, villages, and farming communities. Building on this foundation, individual family life and the institutions which affect it are reviewed.
The first chapter discusses the geography and climate of Palestine. The variety of terrain in this small area causes extreme climatic differences.
In chapter two, the empires which helped shape Old Testament life: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia, are discussed in historical order. Bimson’s insights along with the correlation of archaeological and historical data adds new dimension to events in the Biblical narrative.
Next, two chapters are devoted to life styles among the Israelites. Bimson considers three groups: pastoral, village, and city. To help visualize the livings quarters of the period, line drawings of tents, houses, and cities are used. An interesting note: by today’s standards, cities were overpopulated with 160–200 people per acre, while Bristol, England, for example has only 15 per acre.
According to Bimson, there was relative economic equality in Israel until the time of the monarchy. However, by the time of Amos the prophet, there was drastic inequality. Whereas farming communities relied on agriculture for livelihood, the cities developed industries. Industry may have contributed to the economic disparity.
Three vital ingredients for national development are the family, water, and a military. Water is a precious commodity in an arid land and its management challenging. From the book, we learn there were six sources of water in Old Testament days. Most interesting was its management in the cities where the source was outside the city wall. Excavations have uncovered water systems the engineering of which is still not properly understood. Diagrams accompany discussion of five city water systems.
The chapter on warfare has two parts; the first describes weapons of war, and the second their use. The cities of Lachish and Jerusalem are examples of cities under siege. Artifacts discovered (along with Biblical accounts) help illuminate living conditions during wartime.
Family life would be nearly impossible if there were no civil and religious institutions. While religion played a major role in civil and family aff...
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