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The Cultural World of the Bible, 4th Edition

An Illustrated Guide to Manners and Customs

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In this new edition of a successful book (over 120,000 copies sold), now updated throughout, a leading expert on the social world of the Bible offers students a reliable guide to the manners and customs of the ancient world. From what people wore, ate, and built to how they exercised justice, mourned, and viewed family and legal customs, this illustrated introduction helps readers gain valuable cultural background on the biblical world. The attractive, full-color, user-friendly design will appeal to students, while numerous pedagogical features--including fifty photos, sidebars, callouts, maps, charts, a glossary of key terms, chapter outlines, and discussion questions--increase classroom utility. Previously published as Manners and Customs in the Bible.


Reconstructing Israel's Social World from Context
Development of Biblical Literature
Historical Geography of Bible Lands
Approach of This Book
Discussing Aspects of Everyday Life in Ancient Israel
1. Ancestral Period
Historical Introduction
Physical Appearance and Fashion
Cultural Issues Faced by Immigrants
Herding Practices
Food Preparation and Diet
Marriage Customs
Religious Practices
Legal Customs
Weapons and Warfare
2. Exodus-Settlement Period
Historical Introduction
Village Life
Agricultural Methods and Tools
Weapons and Warfare
Social Organization and Administration of Law
Family Life
Religious Practices
3. Monarchic Period
Historical Introduction
The Israelite City
Social Life
Health Issues
Religious Practices
Weapons and Warfare
4. Exile and Return
Historical Introduction
Life in the Diaspora
Life after the Return from Exile
Religious Life in the Diaspora, Yehud, and Samaria
5. Intertestamental and New Testament Periods
Historical Introduction
Background to Hellenism: The Persian Period
The Rise of Hellenism: Alexander and the Diadochoi
Temporary Independence: The Hasmonean Kingdom
Last Glimpses of Power: The Herods
Roman Rule and Jewish Protest: The First Jewish Revolt
A Final Chapter: Bar Kochba and Diasporic Judaism
Social Life
Economic Life
Religious Life


"With impeccable skill, detailed research, and a thoroughly engaging style, Victor Matthews has produced a text that captures the complexity, beauty, and magnificence of the ancient biblical world. The study provides a window into the richness of an ancient people's historical, cultural, social, and religious life, beginning with the ancestral period and continuing through the intertestamental and New Testament periods. This work is perfect for undergraduate and beginning graduate courses in Bible."

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

"Matthews provides a reliable guide to the world of the Bible. Readers will be enlightened by the many details that he pulls together from a wide range of sources. His broad knowledge of the ancient world and its texts will serve well the reader who desires to dig deeper into the Bible and understand it in its cultural context."

John Walton, professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College

"This classic work is packed full of fresh information from archaeology and from texts outside the Bible that provide a multitude of insights into the Bible's social and religious practices. With its accessible style, the book contextualizes Israelite ways of life within the broad sweep of the ancient periods that the biblical books purport to represent. Highly recommended as a companion to reading the Bible."

Mark S. Smith, Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, New York University

"This fourth edition will be of great use in the classroom. Maintaining the historical summaries and discussion of everyday life of earlier editions--including everything from fashion to child rearing to sewage systems--and with an expanded text, discussion questions, annotated bibliography, and glossary, this is an unparalleled resource for university instructors and students. As in his other work, Matthews takes a balanced view of the historical accuracy of the Bible, presenting the centrist position in current debates about the patriarchs, settlement period, and united monarchy. This book will greatly assist students to read the Bible with ancient social worlds in mind."

Robert D. Miller II, The Catholic University of America

"The Cultural World of the Bible provides a comprehensive, sophisticated, and stimulating overview of the world standing behind the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament and the impression it left on their varied contents. Matthews navigates a remarkable spectrum of history, geography, and civilizations with masterful skill. Both seasoned scholars and newcomers to the study of the Bible will find this to be a valuable and eminently readable resource."

Mark Leuchter, director of Jewish studies, Temple 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


"In this fourth edition, The Cultural World of the Bible helpfully adopts features and expands content that more effectively address the needs of an undergraduate classroom. Presented in a readable and engaging style, Matthews adroitly contextualizes and unpacks complex, cross-cultural data, making good on the book's objective to bring the world of ancient Israel to life. His capacity to make sense of diverse evidence, elucidating obscure manners and customs from antiquity with clarity, provides an ideal volume to pair with regular required readings in the Bible itself, whether in courses related to the literary landscape of the Hebrew Bible or backgrounds of the Christian Bible."

Tyler R. Yoder,

Review of Biblical Literature

"This fully revised and expanded fourth edition features . . . a broader focus than previous editions, making it suitable as a textbook or supplement thereto. . . . Its pedagogical features are designed to sharpen critical thinking skills while the sidebars focus attention on how the ancient world differs from our own. The volume's exploration of the history, archaeological data, and literary features of the OT and NT give students the opportunity to explore a cultural world within its original context and literary milieu."

Old Testament Abstracts

"At the end of each of the five sections there are 'Discussion Questions' posed to enable students to discuss the social realities of ancient life and process the information presented in the chapter. . . . The revised textbook will prove helpful to undergraduate students embarking on the study of the Bible who require insight into the way ancient people actually lived."

Jessica Keady,

Journal for the Study of the New Testament

Praise for Previous Editions

"Matthews, an Old Testament scholar with numerous publications concerning the social world of Israel and its place in the broader ancient Near East to his credit, proves an able guide to summarizing the vast amount of information available on the topic. . . . Matthews excels as a trusted guide, outlining and detailing numerous aspects of daily life in order to facilitate an understanding of the biblical text. . . . The book can be recommended as an up-to-date resource presenting an understanding of the current state of scholarship regarding the political, social, and cultural contours of the biblical period, and as such should be helpful to beginning students."

Bruce Power,

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures

"This is a valuable piece of writing for anyone studying the Bible, history of religions, archaeology in the Middle East, or the history of Israel in its widest sense. It is clearly written, eminently readable, well indexed, and obviously well researched. It will fit into any theological/religious studies library and would be a very useful tool for anyone involved in preaching or teaching the major faiths that use the Bible. The price puts it well within the reach of most people who might find it useful--even university students!"

Graham P. Cornish,

Reference Reviews

"This readable guide's introduction and chapters address the Bible chronologically. . . . The introduction clearly sets the scene . . . where preliminary questions are helpfully addressed. Matthews states 'this volume is designed to be useful to both the layperson and the scholar in their study of the Bible' and this aim is achieved. All chapters have valuable historical introductions. Sufficient subheadings direct readers to manners and customs drawing on biblical studies, anthropology, and archaeology. The guide is lavishly illustrated to show lifestyles in Bible times. Good-size colored illustrations, photographs, maps, and diagrams supported with an engaging text make daily life come alive."

Robert S. Dutch,

Journal for the Study of the New Testament Booklist

"A very helpful resource for biblical study. . . . The book is a delight to read. Colorful reproductions, maps, and charts are found liberally throughout. Unfamiliar terms are highlighted and then explained in the glossary at the end of the book. Biblical citations indicate where the customs appear in the biblical text. Review questions at the end of each chapter make this a fine study help."

The Bible Today

"A valuable resource for congregational libraries, seminary students, and anyone interested in studying the Bible and the cultures in which it is set. Beautiful photographs . . . [and] drawings . . . illustrate the volume. Scores of maps . . . make Bible history come alive. . . . An extensive bibliography, glossary, and indexes of subjects, personal names, place names, and ancient texts complete the volume."

Beverly M. Bixler,

Congregational Libraries Today