Life in Biblical Israel. Library of Ancient Israel

  • Philip J. King, Lawrence E. Stager
  • Jan 1, 2002
  • Series: Volume 5 - 2002

King, Philip J., and Lawrence E. Stager Life in Biblical Israel. Library of Ancient Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox. 2001. Xxiii + 440 pp. Hardback, $39.95. 0-664-22148-3.

It is a pleasure to recommend this contribution to the Library of Ancient Israel series. It fills a void that has been felt for some time as the discoveries of archaeology often have not been translated into accessible form for the student and teacher of the Bible. In particular, the realia that describes how the Israelites of Old Testament times lived in their world has been in need of updating. The two writers have joined together to achieve a remarkably comprehensive description of the world of ancient Israel. Philip King, retired professor of Old Testament at Boston College, brings a wide ranging knowledge of the biblical and archaeological fields, already demonstrated by his archaeological companions on Amos, Hosea, Micah and on Jeremiah. Lawrence Stager, Dorot Professor of Syro-Palestinian Archaeology at Harvard University, contributes a depth of archaeological experience and work in both the theory and application of anthropological models. The product of many years of collaborative efforts, this book will serve for the 21st century what G. Dalman's Arbeit und Sitte did more than seventy years ago.

An introductory chapter sets the stage with a discussion of the importance of archaeology and the relationship of the material culture to that portrayed in texts (both biblical and extrabiblical). Throughout the book, full benefit will be made of both types of sources. King and Stager take the traditional critical position for the dating of the books of the Old Testament. However, this is nof of great consequence as virtually nothing they write turns on these critical issues as opposed, for example, to a traditional Evangelical stance. After providing a splendid recreation of a day in the life of a village family during the time of the Judges, the authors explore these subjects. The pillared (also called four-room) house was not only the basis for village life in ancient Israel (and on into the New Testament period and later) but also provided a basic architectural form for the construction of storage houses, palaces, and temples. The patriarchal family was an extended one in which everyone has responsibilities and from which identity was derived. Thus status for much of Israel's history was not obtained outside the family. Thus there was a "nesting" of households in which family house lay within the royal house which itself depended on the divine "house". From this model developed the understanding of kingship, in which the nation was an extended family, and of deity, where God was a patriarchal figure.

After discussing the importance of hospitality, the details of food preparation, and the roles of priests, medicines, and physicians in healt care; the authors consider the environment in terms of agriculture, food, water, pottery and clothing, and travel and transport. Moving from the local family to the royal and national context, the authors consider royal architecture and water systems, warfare, the common dress, music and song, and literacy. The final section considers the role of the divine: high places and temples, altars and figurines, feasts and offerings, and tombs, the afterlife, and the cult of the dead. Clustered around each of these topics are a myriad of details gathered together from a wide array of sources. Complementing the text are some 228 photos (mostly color), artistic recreations (not just line drawings but fully drawn portraits of aspects of biblical life), and maps. The photos and drawings are not the customary collection found in Bible archaeology books but a collection of otherwise unavailable materials from Stager's own excavations (Cyprus, Carthage, and Ashkelon) as well as from related excavations of recent years (e.g., Dan, Miqne, Bethsaida, Ashdod). The book is footnoted and a full bibliography and set of indices appear at the end. In particular, a comprehensive list of biblical references allows the Bible student to use the book as a ready reference.

This text should be in the library of every serious student and teacher of the Bible. The price is amazingly low, given the quantity of color illustrations and color photos, and indeed was subsidized by the dedicatees. Thus it is fair to say that one will not find a more contemporary and useful guide to life in Bible times (OT and NT) than what is contained within these pages.

Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament
Denver Seminary