Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Apologia iWitness Books

I love teaching Gess the Bible and she loves learning about it. As she gets older there are deeper and tougher questions to tackle, questions adults don't always have the answer to. How did we get Bible? Where did it come from? How do we know it is true? Apologia Educational Ministries is helping us tackle some of these issues with their iWitness book series. I was blessed to be able to review three of these books for you: Old Testament iWitness, New Testament iWitness, and iWitness Biblical Archaeology.

The iWitness book series was created as a way to get "scholarly" information into the hands of those who might not otherwise pick up a book on these topics. They are very visual and presented in an investigative format. They have notes pinned on every page instead of just text. It is trying to help you visualize how you would do things if you were really investigating the issue, piecing information together bit by bit until you come to the final conclusion. It's like a rough draft for the scholarly book, with only the pertinent information left for you to view.

There are also beautiful illustrations on each page. Some are for decoration but many depict images of an actual artifact that you are reading about. You might see a piece of the Dead Sea scrolls, a tablet with Egyptian hieroglyphics, or works of art depicting the historical figure you are discussing.  They will have labels on them so you know exactly what they are and how they are relevant to the notes on the page you just read.

While reading like an investigation it does not start with the most recent history and work its way back to the event. This series starts at the beginning and works its way to recent history. They are also fairly small around 70 pages give or take. They are sturdier than a trade back, but smaller than a text book. Remember, the purpose is to get them into the hands of those who are not interested in large text books so this is strategic. Let me share a little bit about each one.

The Old Testament iWitness was the most fascinating for me because it was the book I had the least amount of information on. I have studied about the New Testament canon and am always reading up on archeological evidence for the Bible. While all three books still shared information I did not know, this is the one I was most interested in.

We discovered lots of information and learned new terms.  While I had heard of the Septuagint, Torah, Tanakh, and Talmud I was now clear on which one was which! New to me were things like Neviim, Ketuviim, and genizach.

You learn about the manuscripts, their copying techniques, and canon criteria. They go through each segment of the Old Testament, the Torah, the Prophets, Wisdom, History books and more including the Apocrypha. They share who wrote what when and the basic outline of what each book covered. They even touch on some archaeology and the New Testament. My favorite part was the Timeline at the end.

The New Testament iWitness was interesting too. I knew about some of the major councils and was aware that these did not decide what books went into the New Testament but rather just confirmed them. However, I was able to learn about it in more detail. I actually did not realize that apostles used hymns and creeds in their writings. They also included quotes from the early church Fathers that backed up their understanding of what was considered Scripture. Reading what Clement of Rome wrote about Matthew, the writer of the gospel, and mention him as someone he actually knew moved me. 

This book covers many other details like copying methods, differences in the copies, rejected books, and textual criticism which was a term I had never heard about before. That is the method that you use to determine which of all of our varied copies of the NT are the most original. I always thought the oldest made the most sense, but they share others methods that also make sense too. 

I believe iWitness Biblical Archaeology was Gess's favorite. I think she is still a bit young to be thinking about where the Bible came from but looking at actual artifacts was fun for her. The funnest part of this book for all of us was learning about the other cultures stories of a world wide flood account. The fact that there are so many confirm there was an actual event to tie it back to. To not only hear the stories but see artifacts proving their existence was really cool.

This book is more than just saying, "here is an artifact that proves an event of the Bible." It also provides history and background information that helps you understand the true significance of each thing, place, or event. It covers many interesting facts including proof of the Exodus, the existence of the house of David, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even talks about the Shroud of Turin.

These books were fun and visual. I do like the way he made it investigative and had notes clipped on each page instead of  just text. It certainly did not look like a text book at all. However, it was almost a bit too much. To make it look fancy they used several types of font throughout the book and most of them made it more difficult to read. My daughter, who has special needs, struggled reading most of them, so we let her read the typed tags that marked what the photo on the page was for and we read the rest. But even for me it was sometimes too much strain. I would have liked more consistency and easier to read fonts.

Otherwise we really enjoyed them and learned a lot from them. The reading level on these books is for ages 11 and up. I think they are great for students of any age who want to know more about these subjects. People who are already well versed on the topics will love having these as a tool to share with others. Students who know nothing will walk away feeling more educated in these areas and hopefully have a desire to learn more. Having some knowledge will make them feel less threatened when they open the more scholarly books. Yet even if they never do, they learn enough here to have a basic background in each topic. I think these are great for older kids, teens, and even adults. I know many adults who would get a lot out of these.

The Old Testament iWitness, New Testament iWitness, and iWitness Biblical Archaeology books sell for $14.00 each. To learn more about these books visit the Apologia Educational Ministries website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about them by clicking on the banner below.

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