Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 52:3 (September 2009) p. 579
Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods. By Victor H. Matthews. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007, 232 pp., $24.99 paper.
Victor Matthews’s new volume offers a most refreshing and innovative guide to the study of the ancient Israelites. Matthews utilizes contemporary social-historical methods and synthesizes findings from other scholars in this area of study. In this way, the book represents a step forward for the discipline and an essential tool for properly interpreting the OT/Hebrew Bible.
General overviews and specific area works related to Matthews’ topic are numerous. The first scholar to explore this discipline in the modern era was Harry M. Orlinsky in his work Ancient Israel (1960). Other noted works include John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (1994); Ronald de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institution (1997); Niels P. Lemche, The Israelites in History and Tradition (1998); John Bright, A History of Israel, 4th ed. (2000), William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (2002) and Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (2006); Martin Sicker, The Rise and Fall of the Ancient Israelite States (2003); Don C. Benjamin and Victor H. Matthews, Social World of Ancient Israel: 1250– 587 BCE (2005); Lester L. Grabbe, Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? (2007); Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar, ed. by Brian B. Schmidt, The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel (2007); Rainer Kessler, The Social History of Ancient Israel: An Introduction (2008); and Nathan MacDonald, What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat? Diet in Biblical Times (2008).
Matthews’s book helpfully navigates the past and current studies of the world of the ancient Israelites. It supplements current scholarly sources and methods. Given the large number of works, Matthews rightly stresses the importance of studying the world of the ancient Israelites within its literary, social, and historical context.
Matthews’s analysis is important because the world of the OT is different from ours. The textual and archaeological evidence in this book clearly provide a basic background to the political, cultural, literary, and social settings of the ANE and Israel so as to guide the reader to a proper understanding of the OT world. Many scholars working in the arena of ancient Israel studies in the past have been narrow in their focus, analyzing separately a variety of topics, such as religion, culture, politics, priests, education, and the e...
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