Dean of the College of Humanities and Public Affairs
Matthews, who earned his bachelor’s at MSU, has been a Biblical scholar for more than 30 years. He studies ancient culture and what daily life was like thousands of years ago.
We tend to filter everything through our modern scope, he said, but Biblical narratives assume that the audience shares a defined set of social understandings or customs. When we don’t know what these customs are, we must try to discover them.
“I have made good use of modern research and analytical methods in the social sciences — sociology, anthropology, psychology, communications — to evaluate the ‘human moments’ in the narratives.”
He may look for social cues such as “clothing, marriage status, power relationships, gender, speech patterns and the physical placement of the characters.”
Everyday lives can be better understood by studying the stories and artifacts people left behind.
“What did they eat? What did they wear? How did they celebrate? What were their burial practices? What kind of weapons did they use?”
We can learn these answers through written records, physical remains such as tomb paintings and grave goods, garbage heaps, building ruins and the study of both modern and ancient cultures via analogy.
One of Matthews’ most recent publications is the fourth edition of “The Cultural World of the Bible: An Illustrated Guide to Manners and Customs.” It is one of almost 20 books he has authored. He has published numerous articles as well.