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The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World, 2nd Edition

An Introduction

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"This study packs a lot of punch in a short amount of space and welcomes both students and scholars alike into the rich world of the ancient Near Eastern prophetic tradition and each of Israel's prophets. This text is an excellent resource, an indispensable tool for learning, and should be used in every biblical course on the prophets."--Carol J. Dempsey, University of Portland
Victor Matthews, a veteran teacher and expert on the world of ancient Israel, introduces students to the Hebrew prophets and their social world. Drawing on archaeology and ancient Near Eastern texts, Matthews examines the prophets chronologically, placing them and their message into historical context. He explores pertinent aspects of historical geography, economic conditions, and social forces that influenced a prophet's life and message and explains why prophets served an integral purpose in the development of ancient Israelite religion. He also explores how prophets addressed their audience and employed rhetorical methods, images, and metaphors to communicate effectively. Logically organized, clearly written, and classroom friendly, this book meets the needs of beginning as well as advanced students. It is a substantially revised and expanded edition of the successful text Social World of the Hebrew Prophets.
1. Historical Geography
2. Defining and Describing the Prophet
3. Premonarchic Prophetic Activity
4. Early Monarchic Prophets
5. Elijah and Elisha
6. Major and Minor Prophets
7. The Book of Amos
8. The Book of Hosea
9. The Book of Isaiah
10. The Book of Micah
11. Prophetic Voices of the Late Seventh Century
12. The Book of Jeremiah
13. The Book of Ezekiel
14. Postexilic Prophecy
15. The Hellenistic Period and the Book of Daniel
16. Final Thoughts


"This is a user-friendly, insightful introduction to the prophets and their times. It brings together for readers the prophetic books, the figures they represent, and the world that produced them."

Andrew Dearman, professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Matthews's The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World suits the needs of the college and seminary classroom in exemplary fashion. In it, Matthews sets the biblical prophets in their broader social context and in their specific historical contexts. He describes the phenomenon of prophecy, traces the outlines of its developments in ancient Israel from Moses to Malachi, and sketches the key themes in the preaching of each of the classical prophets. Supplemented by inserts that examine important background issues and a very helpful glossary and couched in readable, direct prose, this introduction sets a high standard."

Mark Biddle, Russell T. Cherry Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

"The sheer genius of Victor Matthews is his ability to take very dense material and present it in a way that is thoroughly engaging, well researched, and brilliantly written. This study packs a lot of punch in a short amount of space and welcomes both students and scholars alike into the rich world of the ancient Near Eastern prophetic tradition and each of Israel's prophets. This text is an excellent resource, an indispensable tool for learning, and should be used in every biblical course on the prophets."

Carol J. Dempsey, professor of theology (biblical studies), University of Portland

"My students often have difficulty coming to terms with the Hebrew Prophets because they are so diverse and yet all part of the same phenomenon of prophecy in ancient Israel. Victor Matthews has produced a very readable volume that provides the information students and other readers of the Old Testament need to begin a fruitful journey with the prophets. He has put the prophetic books in the full context of the Hebrew Bible and in the process helped his readers understand a number of issues in biblical interpretation. His volume demonstrates the value of approaching the prophetic books with attention to their social setting. The volume is a fine beginning point for those who would interpret with integrity the Old Testament prophetic books."

W. H. Bellinger Jr., Baylor University

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


"Victor Matthews, a well-known scholar in the field on the social worlds of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East in general, has produced over the years several excellent introductory textbooks on various issues and topics relating to the study of the Bible and its social context. Th[is] volume . . . is an excellent introductory textbook for the undergraduate level, to the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible prophetic literature. In fact, although it does not cover all relevant topics as a general introductory textbook of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, since it does cover much general ground it can even be used as the textbook for students studying the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in an academic setting for the first time. . . . The breadth of the discussions and the suggested readings at the end (without notes and references in the text) fit very well with the intended readers (undergraduate students but also interested laypersons). . . . The author is to be congratulated for updating this very handy and excellent volume!"

Aren M. Maeir,

Review of Biblical Literature

"[This book is] appropriate for use in college and university classrooms or for interested laypeople. . . . The second edition has been significantly expanded by fuller paraphrases and descriptions of the contents of biblical passages throughout. . . . This revision enhances the usefulness of the book, permitting instructors to focus on a few critical biblical texts for direct study while trusting Matthews to provide the general outline. There are also some expansions of descriptions of the social contexts of particular texts, particularly Second Isaiah; these frequently cite biblical texts outside the prophetic corpus and thus expand the book's scriptural purview. . . . This book is a good introductory text for an introductory course on the Hebrew prophets for college and university students, especially in a theologically conservative Christian context. Instructors should make clear that the text uses a particular (canonical) approach and alert students to the fact that other approaches exist, but for teachers wishing themselves to use a canonical approach this book will serve them well."

Stewart Moore,

Review of Biblical Literature

"The background [Matthews] describes is helpful for those who wish to understand the social world of ancient Israel. Using archaeological evidence found in annals, omen texts, and inscriptions, he colors in the social world of the prophets. Matthews' survey of the prophets provides helpful tools for introducing the reader to the world of the ancient Near East. . . . The language is not overly technical making it quite readable. Many pastors [and] students who are looking for a book to bridge the gap between the undergraduate and graduate level will find this book useful. While this is not necessarily a graduate text, the professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament will appreciate the organization and brevity as [a] tool for teaching."

Christopher Chadwick,

Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin

"This book meets a twofold need. . . . [It] introduce[s] readers to the background of the ancient world of the prophets. In the process, Matthews introduces the reader to each Old Testament prophetic book. . . . The practical purpose and organization combine to make this book of great value for pastor and biblical student alike. . . . Each chapter is helpful, and the summary effect of the book is beneficial as it calibrates modern readers to the original context and message as the foundation for the modern message that can be proclaimed today. . . . An upgrade from the first edition is an expanded glossary, which allows Matthews's scholarly writing to remain accessible to multiple reading levels. The words are well chosen and the definitions are concise but complete. The addition of maps and tables in the second edition is also a valuable upgrade. The multiple inset boxes are reordered and the format is enhanced, making them more helpful. . . . A worthy companion for the study of the OT prophets and their message."

Dean M. Erickson,

Word & World

"Matthews's expertise as a teacher is evident on every page of this fine introduction. With both scholarly precision and clarity of expression he leads the reader through the lives of the prophets as they appear in the biblical text, sketching their social and historical contexts, pointing out relevant geographical data, highlighting economic forces, explaining the literary imagery employed, and drawing intertextual links between the prophets themselves. Inserts explaining pertinent issues . . . are found throughout the text. A glossary at the end adds to the book's pedagogical value. This is a very readable book and will serve as a fine supplementary text for the study of ancient Israelite prophets."

Dianne Bergant, CSA,

The Bible Today

"The book is an accessible introduction that will benefit both students and scholars. The opening chapter on historical geography alone is worth the book's price. . . . Matthews has produced the standard textbook on this topic for use in college and seminary courses."

Brad E. Kelle,

Religious Studies Review

"The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World integrates fresh insights, new historical evidence, and the most recent scholarship into this successful introductory textbook. Known for his insights into the social situation of ancient Israel, Matthews combines his vast knowledge of archaeology and historical geography with the tools of the social sciences to provide a fascinating study of the world of the OT prophets. . . . That Matthews is a seasoned professor is immediately evident. His introduction is incredibly accessible. Reflecting care and pedagogical insight, Matthews's work is readable, brief, and well-organized. Important terms are highlighted throughout and included in the glossary. All chapters include text offset from the main discussion addressing a variety of relevant topics. . . . In terms of its brevity, clarity, and scope, the book is ideal for use as a textbook in an undergraduate classroom or an introductory level graduate course. . . . The great strengths of [Matthews's] work--a depth of historical insight and accessible style--warrant consideration and critical engagement in any context."

Michelle Knight,

Trinity Journal

"The strengths of the work include the incorporation of extrabiblical ancient Near Eastern materials to illustrate Old Testament events and lifestyles. . . . This volume contains profitable points and pertinent parallels to ancient Near Eastern sources. It will mostly appeal to pastors and students who wish to explore the prophetic corpus from a critical perspective."

Mark A. Hassler,

Journal of Theological Studies

"There is much here to recommend. The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World is an introductory textbook, and the intended audience is never forgotten. The book offers a glossary which defines various boldfaced terms . . . as well as a brief bibliography for further reading. Additionally, the book offers students numerous excurses, set apart in boxes within the text, which allow for further clarification by way of comparison with parallel biblical or ANE background texts. All discussions are well supported by examples from the biblical text, and additional text references fill the page. It is accessible and interesting, and by focusing on the social world of the prophets, offers a bit of a different approach than other introductory texts, and adds a real-world depth to the individual prophets that is often missed by beginning readers. Overall, this is an excellent resource for introductory level classes in both the academy and the church."

Jason T. LeCureux,

Southeastern Theological Review

"This introduction to the prophets provides much helpful information for understanding the social, cultural, and religious world of the prophets. Pedagogically it is a new angle for studying the prophets: start by looking at the prophets' world and function before looking at their message."

James Zeitz,

Catholic Books Review

"[This] revised and expanded edition . . . includes two new chapters and some significant additions to material included in the first edition. . . . In many ways Matthews's new edition is a significant improvement to the first edition. The format of the text and the excursus boxes are cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing. The inclusion of maps in the chapter on historical geography is very helpful. . . . The inclusion of a chapter on the difference between the Major and Minor Prophets increases the value of the book as an introduction for the uninitiated. . . . Many of the strengths of the first edition are still present in the second. Matthews's writing is very clear and will be accessible to almost any level of reader. Likewise, a glossary of technical terms that are bold-faced throughout the book adds to its pedagogical value and is an ideal feature of any lay or freshman level introduction to prophetic literature. . . . Matthews has produced an accessible introduction to the prophetic literature and the world of ancient Israel. Considering the complexity of the material, this work is commendable."

Samuel Emadi,

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament

Praise for the Previous Edition

"This [book] is clear and well organized. Sub-headings, highlighted terms, and offset boxes make this text a wonderful pedagogical tool for teaching an introductory course in the prophets. [Matthews's] primary focus on the prophets' social world with attention to the various literary forms and techniques found in the prophetic texts is a welcome addition to the collection of texts already written about Israel's prophets. Without any sacrifice of content, the work is concise, reader-friendly, and thoroughly engaging. This is an excellent resource of scholars, teachers, students, and general readers of the Bible."


"Introduces students (and scholars as well) to the world in which the prophets lived and about which they spoke. Matthews brings to life the prophetic text by clarifying the significance of many social, economic, vocational, and political aspects presupposed by the prophetic oracles, aspects with which modern readers often are not acquainted. The value of the book is enhanced with a glossary and topical bibliography."

Craig A. Evans,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"Two features help to make this book more accessible to its intended audience: the text is interspersed with highlighted boxes containing basic information of various kinds, and key terms printed in boldface can be found in a glossary. The work concludes with a selected bibliography to guide further research and indexes of names, subjects, and primary sources."

Michael H. Floyd,

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"This text is meant as . . . an introduction and succeeds admirably. . . . Matthews is a good teacher; certainly his book has considerable pedagogical merits. The layout is clear, stages in the movement of thought are flagged for the aid of slow learners, and summaries are provided by way of tables within the text. There are two indexes, a glossary (always helpful to a beginner), [and] current bibliographies on every prophet with website addresses for updating."

Robert C. Hill,

Heythrop Journal

"The book . . . functions as a good, general introduction to the social world of biblical prophecy. It encourages the reader to be sensitive to the social realities that shaped the contexts, messages, and audiences of the prophets. The book should prove useful for students, pastors, or lay people who are unfamiliar with a sociological approach to biblical studies."

Patricia Dutcher-Walls,

Toronto Journal of Theology

"The OT prophetic books often intimidate modern readers who intuitively sense that this literature comes from a far distant time and place. Many desire to understand the prophets, but are often frustrated in their attempts to do so because of the geographical, temporal, and cultural barriers that seem to defy interpretation of such ancient literature. In this volume Victor Matthews . . . attempts to bridge this gap for readers. . . . His volume is geared for students, not specialists, and is best utilized in introductory college level courses on the prophets."

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.,


"Often books bringing a wealth of scholarship to bear on a particular subject make it difficult for general readers to gain benefit because of the use of technical language. Not so with Victor Matthew's Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. Instead, Matthews uses his vast knowledge of the biblical world to illuminate the prophets and their message in this brief, easy-to-read introduction."

Restoration Quarterly

"A fine textbook for secondary and college-level study. . . . It treats only the most significant critical issues, but it does so in a manner that is both readable and in contact with the best of contemporary scholarship."

Mark E. Biddle,

Review & Expositor

"Matthews has written a valuable new textbook on the Hebrew prophets. It is accessible in writing style, straightforwardly presented, and comprehensive in scope. . . . I recommend it for college-level biblical studies courses. . . . Multiple features of the volume enhance its pedagogical value."

Stephen L. Cook,

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures