The Social World of the Bible

What's Here

This section is about background information that may be used to understand and defend the Bible. The world of the Bible was very different than our own, and these materials will help you understand it better.

Biblical Communication

Proverbial literature in the Bible -- some parts of the Bible, like poems and proverbs, were never meant to be taken literally; an explanation, and how critics misuse these texts by reading them literally.

Hyperbole and dramatic expression in the Bible -- the people of the Bible were much more "into" dramatic and hyperbolic expression than we are.

The Problem of Jeremiah 7:22 -- an example of these principles as applied to a specific passage.

Oral Tradition -- Over 90-95% of the people in the Biblical world were illiterate and communicated solely by word of mouth. Find out what effect this had on the way they lived and expressed themselves.

Biblical Culture

Biblical and Japanese Culture Compared -- a primer on Biblical culture using an analogy to a modern society with some similar values and expressions

The Bible and Self-Esteem -- actually, Biblical people would have had no idea what "self-esteem" was -- because they didn't need it. Find out why, here.

Guilt vs. Shame Society -- Biblical culture was one in which what we call "guilt" was unknown and the primary focus was personal honor. Some background information.

Corporate Punishment -- people of the Biblical world thought of themselves first as members of a group rather than as individuals. A case study in the story of Achan.

Ritual Purity in the Bible -- why does the Old Testament have so many laws that seem strange to us? This article explains the concept of ritual purity and how it affects our understanding of the Biblical world.

Ancient Mores: Evaluating the Bible on Its Own Terms -- general comments on "offensive" Bible passages

Background Information

The Essenes -- what were the beliefs of this first-century Jewish group compared to Christianity?

Teaching Resources

Bibliography of recommended resources for study of Biblical culture