If you’re looking for a scholarly yet readable textbook on life in biblical Israel, I highly recommend a resource with that name: Life in Biblical Israel by Philip King and Lawrence Stager. At 430+ pages, this book gives an excellent archaeological and historical picture of what life was like for the Israelites. With glossy pages, diagrams, drawings, and colorful pictures the reader is given some wonderful insight to the customs, habits, and culture of OT Israel.
The book follows this outline: 1) Introduction – the importance of everyday life; 2) The Israelite House and Household; 3) The Means of Existence; 4) Patrimonial Kingdom; 5) Culture and Expressive Life; and 6) Religious Institutions. In other words, by reading this book, one would learn how the Israelites cooked, slept, worked, fought battles, worshiped, dressed, traded, and traveled (just to name a few). I appreciate the structure of the book – it is easy to read from front to back but also easy to use as a reference work. Below is a small excerpt on “travel” in OT Israel (to give our readers an idea of the book’s contents):
“Pedestrian travel was difficult in Palestine, because the terrain was so rugged. The Israelites had many reasons to travel – business transactions, military duty, annual pilgrim feasts (Passover, Weeks, Tabernacles), family visits, and migration in time of famine. The Bible refers frequently to messengers (mal’akim), couriers (rasim), and traders (soharim), people who travelled regularly because of their work. A day’s journey in biblical times averaged between twenty-seven and thirty-seven kilometers. Marching about thirty-two kilometers a day, the Assyrian army took a little more than two months to go from Nineveh to Lacish in 701 B.C.E. Professional armies would have traveled on foot through the Palestinian high lands only after the rainy season (p. 186).
I don’t necessarily agree with the authors’ views on the OT Scriptures and their perspective on OT historiography, but the book is still a valuable asset to have on my OT bookshelf. I’m reading it because it is interesting, but I will no doubt use it in sermon preparation as well. Again, I very much recommend this resource: Philip King and Lawrence Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001).