Wednesday, October 15, 2014

iWitness Books from Apologia

This post may contain affiliate links - using affiliate links from Homeschool Coffee Break helps fuel this blog and our homeschool - thank you!
I am pretty excited any time I get a chance to have a look at books and resources from Apologia Educational Ministries. Recently, I had an opportunity to review not just one, but three books from Apologia - what a treat! We received iWitness Biblical Archaeology, Old Testament iWitness, and New Testament iWitness.
Apologia Review
These three books are all written and designed by Apologia's art director, Doug Powell, who holds a Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, and is also an award-winning graphic designer, an app developer, and a musician. He has authored a best-selling guide to Christian Apologetics, and contributed to the Apologetics Study Bible. So his academic credentials are impressive, to say the least. His iWitness series of books and apps, however, are designed to present the scholarly material in a visually appealing way that is attractive to readers who have interest in the topics, but don't want to pore through dry textbooks for the answers.
Each book is designed to look very much like a field journal, with photos and notes and almost a vintage scrapbook feel. The information is presented in short snippets, so it works to read a page or two at a time; and it's suitable for young readers of about upper elementary or middle school age all the way up to adults. Mr Powell says that he wrote the books to address questions he has had as a Christian, and that he has been asked by those who want to know why he is a believer. (That's what "apologetics" means, by the way! Christian apologetics is a field of theology that presents the rational basis for the faith, and defends it against objections. Every Christian should be able to do at least a little bit of apologetics and be able to explain why they are a believer, why they believe the Scriptures, and offer a reasonable defense to objections.)
Apologia Review
iWitness Biblical Archaeology - The Bible isn't a history textbook, but it does record real historical events. Archaeological discoveries show that the names, places, and events described in the Bible are very accurate. This book highlights many of these finds, including House of David and YHWH inscriptions, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and artifacts supporting the Bible's descriptions from both the Old and New Testaments. The book starts with a comparison of ancient flood stories compared to the Genesis account, and examines the claims and search efforts for the remains of Noah's ark. A couple of pages are dedicated to Egyptian chronology and how it fits with the story of the Exodus, as well as archaeological evidence that supports the Biblical story. Other artifacts and sites are pictured and described that are related to Sennacharib's siege of Jerusalem, the Jewish exile to Babylon and return to Judah, and the times and events described in the gospels and Acts.
The above picture shows one of the page spreads describing the oldest copies of text from the Old Testament. There was a lot of information about the Dead Sea Scrolls and other copies of Old (and New) Testament writings and how they are examined and compared to reassure us that the Scripture we have today is complete and accurate.
I also really enjoyed pages such as the one pictured below that showed interesting finds such as inscriptions from the temple walls in Jerusalem, inscriptions and artifacts that named people mentioned in the New Testament (Herod, Caiaphus, and Pontius Pilate), Pools of Bethesda and Siloam, and places the apostles visited during the early church age. This page shows a boat dating to the time of Jesus that was found in Galilee, and the remains of a house in Capernaum that has inscriptions that possibly identify it as the home of Peter. Fascinating!!
Apologia Review
Old Testament iWitness - First, isn't the cover of this book beautiful? I think it is. This book focuses on how the writings that we know as the Old Testament came to us - who wrote the books, how they were collected and translated and copied, and how the Old Testament canon was established. The description of the criteria for establishing the canon was especially interesting  - some things I knew already, but many that were new to me. The book described how the Hebrew canon was formed, and how it is the basis for what we call the Old Testament. Interestingly, the books are all the same, but the order and the way the books are divided is a little bit different. Each of the sections of the Hebrew Bible are explained. I found the section on the Prophets particularly interesting because it explained how the Hebrews recognized a genuine prophet, and why the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are included in the Nevi'im, or Prophets, section of the Hebrew Bible.
There is also information about the Documentary Hypothesis (which I was very confused and skeptical about when I was in college - wish I'd had this book back then!), and some fascinating background on covenants and treaties in the Near East during Old Testament times. This understanding of how the people of that time viewed these types of agreements sheds light on the deeper meanings of God's covenants made with his people. I liked the information about what was happening in the Near East during the Intertestamental Period, which of course sets up events of the New Testament!  
This book also explains the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Dead Sea Scrolls; as well as a solid explanation of what the Apocrypha is, why it's important and valuable, and why the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches take a different view on the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the canon of Scripture. At the end of the book there is a simple timeline of Old Testament history, and throughout the book, it showed where the prophets fit into the timeline of the kings of Israel and Judah. (Another thing I wished I'd understood better when I was a teenager. Pretty sure I was college age before I totally grasped that the Old Testament was NOT in chronological order from front to back!)
Apologia Review
New Testament iWitness - Although I loved all three of these books, New Testament iWitness was my clear favorite. That's because it had the most information that was new to me! Before reading, I did know quite a bit about the authors of the books of the New Testament, but still enjoyed reading that information. I also knew a fair amount of history regarding the Early Church and Apostolic Age, but there was plenty in the book to captivate my attention there as well. By reading this book, I learned a lot about how the New Testament was copied and handed down, and how the books that were canonized were chosen. 
Instead of starting with the earliest events described in the New Testament and working through chronologically, this book starts with the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (AD 393 and 397), at which  the New Testament canon was formalized, and works backwards in time from there, as if tracing the lineage of the New Testament. The criteria for that final canon is explained. Did you know that the early theologians and church fathers had slightly different writings that they quoted and relied upon as having doctrinal authority and reliability? This book explains many of these church fathers and the books they accepted and why. 
The Apostolic Age (AD 30-100) is very important in the history of Christianity and the accepted writings of the New Testament because the apostles that were with Jesus were still alive to correct any teaching that was in error. Their apostolic role was essential in preserving accurate teaching.  The pages shown below explain this, and also give a timeline of when the books of the New Testament were written.
The book also addresses the Synoptic Problem, the books that were rejected as part of the canon, and the use of hymns and creeds in the early church. These hymns and creeds were developed  to help believers learn and remember the foundational teachings of Jesus and his apostles in an easy to remember format, and many of them are included in the gospels, Acts, and epistles. 
I really like the visual on the page below, which shows a comparison of the number of copies we have of several ancient writings and time gap between the original writing and the earliest known copy of it. It makes it pretty obvious that the writings of the New Testament have abundant copies and the smallest time gap between the original and the earliest copy! Impressive!
I also learned some details about how the writings of the New Testament were copied and preserved, and how the methods compared to the copying process of the Old Testament books. The churches shared the books they had by making multiple copies and sending them to the other churches, which did the same with the books that they had. The result was that many copies are available that were made at or close to the same time. Errors were not passed down through a chain, but because there are many copies and any error would only affect one or a few of them, the errors could be more easily found. The Hebrew scribes had much stricter rules about copying the Hebrew Bible to guard against mistakes, but even without these safeguards, the books of the New Testament are amazingly accurate when different manuscripts and copies are compared. This book also details the types of differences in the copies,  the manuscript families, and describes textual criticism. 
What we liked best:
  • lots of wonderful information condensed into a form that easy to take in
  • visually rich and appealing
  • appealing to young people and adults alike
What I need to mention:
  • all the visual richness means there is a lot going on on every page. On a few pages, I didn't know where to start! I could see how it would be distracting for a young reader or someone that struggles with visual processing.
  • there are a variety of fonts and typefaces used, which contributes to the field journal look. Some are easier to read than others, and I did notice a few minor typos.
Our bottom line: I definitely requested these books for myself - these topics are of huge interest to me personally! - but these books are being put to good use in our homeschool and at church as well. After I finished reading them (a few times each!), I passed them along to Landon, and he is referring to them as he studies world history. He is currently studying the ancient history of the Near East, so all the information about archaeological finds relating to the Old Testament are pertinent right now. A little later on, he will be looking at the New Testament information as he gets to that time period. At church, I made the books available to my husband for his adult Sunday School class, which is currently doing a study on the life and ministry of Jesus, so the New Testament information is great reference material to have handy during their discussions. I plan to share the books with several youth and adults that I know would be interested, and encourage others to pick them up for themselves. What a beautiful and helpful resource for Christians! 
Apologia Review  Apologia Review  Apologia Review
Would you like to iWitness these books for yourself? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:
Check out this interview with Doug Powell on the Apologia blog: Christian Apologetics for Students and Adults
Pricing: iWitness Biblical ArchaeologyOld Testament iWitness, and New Testament iWitness are glossy paperback books (about 6x9 inches) available from Apologia for $14.00 each. Two other books in the series, Jesus iWitness and Resurrection iWitness, are also available at $20 each; these were not reviewed by the Crew at this time.
Recommended Ages: All ages, but the reading level is best suited for about age 11 and up.
You can follow Apologia on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+, and on Pinterest.
Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. Crew members reviewed all four short courses, so be sure to check out all of them! 
Click to read Crew Reviews
Crew Disclaimer

Don't miss a coffee break! Subscribe to Homeschool Coffee Break by Email!

 ©2006-2014 Homeschool Coffee Break. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

I have done my best to provide accurate pricing and links at the time this post originally appeared. Please be aware that these may change.


Post a Comment

I love comments! It's like visiting over a virtual cup of coffee.