Victor Matthews wrote The History of Bronze and Iron Age Israel as part of the Essentials of Biblical Studies series, which aims to provide supplementary textbooks that offer brief, accessible orientations to biblical studies. The following review summarizes the contents and evaluates how well Matthews executes the series’ plan. Matthews’s brief history is composed through geography, archaeology, extrabiblical literature, and critical use of the received biblical text. The book mediates between biblical minimalism and maximalism, suggesting tentative “well-argued plausibilities.” In each section, Matthews presents several plausible reconstructions along with their difficulties. This approach orients the reader toward trends in scholarship, without urging the reader to adopt a particular position.

For the period from the Middle Bronze through Iron I, Matthews understands the history presented in the biblical text as collective memory—that is, foundational stories transmitted and adapted over a lengthy period of time. While arguing that these stories contain no...

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