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Studying the Ancient Israelites

A Guide to Sources and Methods

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"Admirably fills a niche for a useful, yet affordable supplementary text for college and seminary courses covering ancient Israel or biblical history."--Jeffrey P. Hudon, Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin

The Old Testament Scriptures were not written in a vacuum. They were 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 students 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 supplemental text for any course in 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

The Author

  1. Victor H. Matthews

    Victor H. Matthews

    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 in Springfield, Missouri, where he has taught for thirty years. He is the author of numerous...

    Continue reading about Victor H. Matthews


"The book is a good introduction to several aspects of biblical analysis."--Dianne Bergant, CSA, Bible Today

"How can students new to the study of Ancient Israel conveniently acquire a foundational competence in the discipline? This is a problem that every instructor of ancient Israelite culture and literature has asked explicitly or pondered implicitly. One part of the solution is now this modest book from the pen of Victor Matthews, which surveys a broad range of basic facts, modern and ancient sources, and theoretical issues related to the study of Israel and the Hebrew Bible. . . . Matthews often illustrates the theoretical discussion of his chapters by applying it to test cases from the history and literature of ancient Israel. . . . The fact that Matthews exposes readers to both theory and practice is one of the real strengths of his book. The book is written in a very accessible style and rhetoric, with various sidebars and good indexes, which make it suitable for students new to the study of ancient Israel. . . . Studying the Ancient Israelites is a very useful book that will serve admirably as a textbook in a variety of classroom settings, as both a primary text (in courses on ancient Israelite culture and history) and as a supplemental text (in introductory courses on the Hebrew Bible)."--Kenton L. Sparks, Shofar

"When modern readers first approach the Old Testament they are confronted with social and cultural situations they do not understand, alien political and economic structures, and notations of geographical places and people groups with which they are unfamiliar. . . . A concise volume that would effectively introduce students to these issues and the further resources available to examine them has been a desideratum of many teachers. In Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Victor Matthews has created just such a primer. . . . His introductory handbook assumes no prior knowledge of biblical studies, yet introduces and summarizes a broad spectrum of information and approaches to guide the novice reader in the correct direction while providing more advanced students with a sound comprehensive review of methods and approaches to the task of interpretation. . . . Matthews can be commended for charting a balanced, informative, and readable course through the material. . . . Matthews' discussion of the contribution of the social sciences to the study of the Bible introduces a broad spectrum of background ideas to the reader, providing clear guidance that is especially helpful to the novice reader. . . . An extremely helpful and affordable volume. This readable work would serve well as supplementary reading for an introductory course in Old Testament, Ancient Israel or hermeneutics. Equally helpful is its usefulness to recommend as a resource to those serious non-professional readers of the biblical text who are seeking informed and helpful guidance in their reading of the text as a resource for personal faith."--Bruce Power, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures

"The volume accomplishes its purposes as an introductory companion to the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. . . . It will be useful for libraries, introductory undergraduate classes, and interested lay readers. . . . Recommended."--J. W. Wright, Choice

"[Matthews's] use of shaded insets to give the basic data on a method or Near Eastern archaeological finds comparable to Israelite data gives the reader a very helpful quick overview. His illustrations from biblical and Near Eastern texts show the various methods at work. . . . Matthews has presented an interesting book introducing methods of study. . . . The book will well serve a college class trying to understand the purpose and assumptions of scholars as they use the various methods. . . . Matthews is to be saluted for his personal mastery of the methods and his caring presentation of these to new students young and old."--Trent Butler, Review of Biblical Literature

"This volume is a well written introductory 'guide' that explores various aspects of Israelite history. Matthews has published extensively in various fields of biblical studies and has created a concise supplementary text. . . . He clearly intends this work as an introductory treatment for college-level students and informed laypersons. . . . Matthews does an admirable job in presenting the necessary study tools and covering the relevant issues. Especially commendable is his inclusion of historical geography. . . . Studying the Ancient Israelites admirably fills a niche for a useful, yet affordable supplementary text for college and seminary courses covering ancient Israel or biblical history."--Jeffrey P. Hudon, Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin

"A strength of the book is the extent to which it provides actual examples of the use of the various tools and approaches as applied to biblical passages. . . . This will be a useful textbook to recommend to students as an introduction to a range of appropriate resources and methodologies."--A.H.W. Curtis, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

"Matthews makes available to newcomers to the field of Biblical Studies an entrée not only into the social-scientific method of inquiry but, indeed, a comprehensive spectrum of methods that have characterized the field in recent decades. The book is written with an eye to undergraduates or the interested layperson and incorporates maps, charts, photographs, and highlighted summary sections. At the same time, it is a useful tool for more seasoned researchers who work mostly in a specific methodological discipline and may benefit from a 'refresher' course on the merits of other approaches. At 232 pages, Matthews' volume is substantial but by no means overwhelming, and his manner of discussion makes for easy and digestible reading. . . . Each section contains references to scholarly works (a full bibliography appears at the end of the book) allowing for those interested in engaging more technical studies to follow up on his more general discussion in each of these sections. Each chapter draws from a wide variety of biblical texts and fleshes out their relevance to the topic at hand. . . . Matthews has provided a valuable tool for those interested in acquainting themselves with the current state of biblical studies. It will complement other works that university lecturers might include on a reading list for introductory or intermediate courses in biblical studies and is sensitive to the needs of a wide variety of readers beyond the university classroom as well."--Mark Leuchter, Biblical Theology Bulletin

"[This] 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. . . . 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. . . . The strength of Matthews's writing style is that, when needed, he provides a clearing in the forest through which to see an individual tree. This functions to promote a more complete understanding of the world of ancient Israel. The broader approach of Matthews, however, guides the reader and helps one to see the whole picture of ancient Israel. . . . Matthews enhances the understandability of his work by utilizing visual aids such as shaded boxes, maps, diagrams, graphs, and black-and-white photographs along with the main texts. He also provides a well-balanced and well-referenced summary of earlier and current scholarship on the ancient Israelites. . . . [This book] is highly recommended to anyone who seeks a clear, concise, easy to follow guide to the study of ancient Israelites."--Daegyu Jang, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Studying the Ancient Israelites is very accessible and easy-to-read, and is full of interesting insets and sidebars that highlight and/or summarize material. . . . For readers who want to pursue subjects further, there are select bibliographies at the end of the first and last chapters, as well as a comprehensive reference list at the end of the book. . . . A well-written introductory level work that would serve well as a supplementary textbook for classes on the history of ancient Israel, OT survey, or other classes concerned with the study of ancient Israel."--Ralph K. Hawkins, Criswell Theological Review

"This volume provides a concise introduction to students of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East. It is written clearly with many examples that give the reader a better idea of how to apply the discussed concepts to the biblical text. The numerous sidebars interspersed throughout the book are also quite helpful. . . . Beginning students and their professors will welcome this work as a useful educational resource for studying the ancient Israelites."--Benjamin J. Noonan, Ashland Theological Journal

"Matthews provides a general audience of students and non-specialists with a well-written and informative introduction to the methods and sources for reconstructing the history of ancient Israel. . . . It could . . . be an invaluable resource and starting point for discussions in university classrooms and for an interested general audience."--Bradley Crowell, Journal of the American Oriental Society