Everyday Life in Bible Times.
By John A. Beck. Baker Books, 2013. 319 pp. $29.99

A person can’t read and understand Shakespeare without some
understanding of the times and culture in which he lived and wrote. That is
why anthologies of his writings often include footnotes which provide brief
explanations of Shakespeare’s allusions. Without them the casual reader will
have difficulty being be able to understand and appreciate his 15th century
stories. Similarly, a basic understanding of biblical backgrounds and culture is
essential to a proper understanding of the ancient world and writings of the
Bible.  

John Beck’s recent publication, Everyday Life in Bible Times, provides
students of Scripture with a valuable resource to assist them in appreciating
and better understanding the world of those who lived and wrote the stories
of the Bible.

Beck has taught courses in Hebrew and Old Testament at various colleges
and universities for more than twenty years. He is currently an adjunct faculty
member at Jerusalem University College in Israel. His previous books include
The Land of Milk and Honey: An Introduction to the Geography of Israel; God
as Storyteller: Seeking Meaning in Biblical Narrative; A Visual Guide to Bible
Events; A Visual Guide to Gospel Events; and Understand Your Bible. I met
John (he goes by “Jack”) several years ago when I was leading a group of
Western Seminary on a study program in Jerusalem. We had a great time
discussing our common interest in biblical geography and culture and sharing
about our hobbies. With the help of his wife Marmy, Jack built his own
airplane in his garage and enjoys flying it to various wilderness areas and
national parks for backpacking trips.

Everyday Life in Bible Times consists of a collection of one hundred well
researched articles on important aspects of biblical culture including such
topics as Armor-Bearer, Birth, Bridegroom, Concubine, Crucify, Dance,
Famine, Greet, Inherit, Kiss, Lay on Hands, Lots, Name, Plow, Sadducee,
Scribe, Stranger, Thresh, Widow, Winnow and Yoke.

The stated goal of the book is “to restore clarity and vitality to those portions
of God’s Word that speak of the activities and social stations of the past.” The
articles illustrate the ways in which the biblical authors used both literal and
figurative references to communicate God’s truth. A better understanding of
these cultural institutions and images provides fresh insights that will deepen
one’s understanding of the biblical text.

The book contains over 300 color photographs, many of which were taken by
the author  during his extensive travels in the Holy Land. The articles contain
footnotes which provide additional information and references for further
study. The Scripture index provides easy access to the cultural background
of a particular biblical text.

Every student of Scripture needs at least one book on biblical backgrounds
and culture. Everyday Life in Bible Times is most well researched and up to
date resource currently available. I highly recommend that it be included in
every pastor and teacher’s library.