Social Sciences and the Old Testament

Victor H. Matthews

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Social Sciences and the Old Testament


The aim of social scientific criticism, as a subfield of biblical exegesis, is to study the biblical materials as a reflection of their cultural setting. The meaning and/or the social background of the text are thus more fully illumined by the exercise of sociological and anthropological methods and theories. The era of modern social-scientific research began in the late 19th century with the work of Karl Marx, Auguste Comte, and Herbert Spencer. Their social theories created an atmosphere of curiosity about the human condition and advanced the evolutionary perspective that had taken hold with the writing of Charles Darwin. As sociology and anthropology emerged as separate sciences, scholars such as W. Robertson Smith and Louis Wallis adapted their methods (at least comparative and functionalist perspectives) to Israelite history and culture. Despite this early start, there was a hiatus in the use of the social sciences (especially psychology, sociology, and anthropology) in the study of the Bible between 1930 and 1960 as literary, historical-critical, and archaeological approaches (the W. F. Albright School) predominated. However, in the last several decades, building on the earlier works of Max Weber and continuing with the study of Israelite origins by George Mendenhall and Norman Gottwald, social science methods have experienced a revival and burgeoned into a major subfield.

Article.  8199 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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