Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apologia iWitness books - a Crew Review

Apologia Educational Ministries has recently added three more titles to their Worldview Curriculum offerings. Arlene (age 14) and I were privileged to get to review all three books for the Schoolhouse Review Crew. The three books are: iWitness Biblical Archaeology, Old Testament iWitness, and New Testament iWitness. Each title retails for $14, and each book runs about 60 pages.

Christian Worldview

These three titles are each quite unique, but first I’ll give you our overall thoughts on these latest offerings. These softcover books measure 6 by 9 inches, so they’re a great portable size, whether you want to read them on the couch, or slip them into your purse of book bag to take in the car. The layout of the pages resemble a field journal or scrapbook. The premise is that the books present the evidence, and invite you to follow the trail to understand it better. 

For the most part, we liked the overall layout style, but at times, especially in the Old Testament book, it almost became overwhelming. In the other two titles, the inclusion of photos of both artifacts and places, maps, and historic paintings does a solid job of presenting a 2D scrapbook. The issue we had with the Old Testament book was that with all of the non-traditional typefaces used for the text, plus pictures of Hebrew scrolls and Latin text, it sometimes made it difficult to stay focused on just one part of the page. If you have a child who has problems tracking across the page, or with handwriting-looking typefaces, you will need to read these books to them, not with them. The scrapbook/ journal theme includes sections of type set at a 15-20 degree angle off of the horizon, like scraps glued on a page. I think this might make it more difficult for many younger readers to stay focused.

The reading level for these books is about age 11 and up, however, there will be parts where your older children, and even some adults, may struggle initially with putting all the pieces together. These three titles were written and designed by Doug Powell. This is the first time we had read anything by Mr. Powell, and our overall experience was good.

Since each book is so unique, I want to spend time on each book individually. 

First up is Old Testament iWitness. This was our least favorite of the three titles. While overall it is not a bad book, there were a few points with this book that we struggled to reconcile with the quality and Scriptural focus we have found in other books from Apologia’s Worldview Curriculum titles. On this title, I would highly recommend you read through the whole book before reading it with your children. Maybe what bothered me won’t bother you, and then it will be no big deal, but at least you won’t be taken by surprise. The first thing was a minor annoyance, and wouldn’t keep me from recommending the book. . . but it seems strange, so I’m noting it. This book’s title is: Old Testament iWitness, and while it does give a lot of information about both the Christian Old Testament, and the Hebrew Scriptures, or “Hebrew Bible,” it can’t seem to come to a focusing conclusion on the Old Testament. In trying to spend adequate time explaining the differences between the Christian OT and the Hebrew scriptures, it seems to spend more time on the Hebrew Scriptures than it does on the Old Testament. It would be better if it had one more section, some sort of wrap-up similar to the last two-page spread in the New Testament iWitness book. Instead, it ends with a two-page spread of the timeline of Creation through Jesus. 

I want to remind you of what was mentioned earlier about this title being visually overwhelming. Even I had trouble staying focused on some of the pages that were all or almost all text and photos of  Hebrew and Latin manuscripts. I think it would be easier to read if they added in a few more pages and spread out the photos of text, or just left some of them out. The fact that the pages are not numbered makes it somewhat difficult for your child to come ask you a question about a particular section if they forget and close the book without a book marker.

The third thing that bothered me about the Old Testament iWitness book is enough to keep me from personally recommending it to you. This may or may not matter to you, so please read this carefully. I take issue with what is presented in the last section on the ‘Torah’ pages. To me, it makes it sound as if they are doubting the Plenary Inspiration of Moses’ books. If you don’t know what this Plenary Inspiration is, do a quick web search (of more than one site) of the term and then jump back over here. This bothered me in how it was presented, because I am concerned that it might lead some children and younger Christians to not understand how all of the Scriptures are “God-breathed.” Here is the text that bothered me:

“The traditional view that Moses wrote Genesis does not mean he didn’t use stories from other cultures or wasn’t inspired. Most of the time the Holy Spirit did not dictate words to Moses, but gave him a message and protected Moses from error as he wrote the books in his own words and decided what material to use for the parts of history that happened before his time. Some things could only come from the spirit, such as the creation account. others might have come from different histories or even Jewish writings that existed before Moses but have since been lost.”

I can understand that the book is supposed to be written to lead the reader along a trail to the conclusion. What I can’t understand is why we would plant a seed of doubt about whether or not all of what Moses wrote was inspired (or borrowed.) The Jews have plenty of their own history for God to have inspired Moses to write about. This just really bothered me. Like I stated before, it may not bother you.

Fear not, there are two other titles we reviewed, and we really liked both of them - a lot!

New Testament iWitness is a jem of a book with a lot of answers. Just before the books were to arrive, Arlene had asked me how we got the books in the Canon of Scripture. I could only remember two of the qualifications, but this book covered the whole process in detail. Enough detail to understand how the Canon was formed, not so much that you get lost in it. Besides answering a lot of our questions in an easy-to-follow format, this book is richly filled with artwork. There are just so many great examples of … I forget the actual term form Art History class, so let’s just call it early Christian Art. Visually this was my favorite book. Woodcuts, tapestries, illuminated Scriptures, frescos, paintings, stained glass, they’re all in here.

This book also includes a few graphics to help illustrate points such as the number of copies still in existence of ancient writings. This book covers how the books in the New Testament were selected, and how they were reaffirmed throughout the ages by various church fathers, and even quoted by secular sources. I found this book well-thought out, well-laid out, and well received. Arlene and I talked quite a bit about how God has preserved His word though out the ages. The only concern Arlene had about this book was that there are a couple of layouts where the text goes from  a (note shape) at the top-right corner of the page to another (paper shape) in the bottom left corner. She said that she’s so used to starting with whatever is most-left on the page that she forgot to start at the top. This is a minor thing, just be sure to read along with your younger children, or ones who have a hard time staying focused so they track across the page correctly.

Besides the non-traditional typefaces used in the other titles, this one has quite a bit of typewriter font, making it easier to read. I loved that this book came to a conclusion! I also appreciated the note at the end that we have 99.5% of the original text (to a great degree of certainty.) This is what we need to be looking for in our Christian Worldview books, ones that point our children to the Bible as an authority, and come alongside us as parents to reinforce what we believe and are teaching in our homes. I would definitely recommend this book!

The third book we received for this review, iWitness Biblical Archaeology was Arlene’s favorite. I really appreciated the introduction where it reminds the reader that archaeological find don’t prove the Bible is true, but they can help us trust the claims of Scripture. Besides, they’re really cool! This book is really laid out like a field journal. It includes photos of archaeological find, places, and tools used for digs. It includes maps, and both recent and historic photographs of archaeologists and dig sites. I think it is fun how each time an archaeological find is shown there is a little “cataloguing” paper tag that tells when when and where it was found… and if it’s on display in a museum, that is also listed. 

When I think about what great linguists it must have taken to translate something like the Weld-Blundell Prism or the Cyrus Cylinder, I have a new appreciation for those who speak multiple foreign languages. Can you imagine translating off of something that can roll? Not to mention that to me the writing just looks like a kid cut into play-doh. Great skills are used in translating!

Arlene got out the atlas a couple times to check where the locations of the archaeological finds were. If you’re looking for an interesting book for a gift for your 11 year old (or older) this would be an awesome choice. How many of your kids know about Hadrian and Constantine and what they though of Bethlehem and Jerusalem? At least now I know. Join in the fun, go order a copy for yourself!

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