We are huge fans of Apologia Educational Ministries. You can imagine, therefore, how excited we were to review some new books from Apologia; iWitness Biblical Archaeology, New Testament iWitness and Old Testament iWitness.
Have you ever wanted to know more about how the Bible came into existence? Many of us have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and know a little about how they authenticate not only books of the Old Testament but also their accuracy. We’ve heard of the early church fathers and about how church councils met on decisions of which ancient texts fit the guidelines for inclusion in the canon of Scripture…and which didn’t. We may even have heard a bit about archaeological finds which gave credence to history as it’s revealed in the Bible. Have you ever wondered about how to teach your children these things, or about the history of the Christian church after the canon of Scripture was considered closed? That’s a whole lot of world history, discoveries and documentation we’re talking about! I’ve never felt that I personally had a good understanding of all that, or that I knew how to teach these things to Jackson.
Apologia’s new books by Doug Powell enabled me to do just that. Each book shares historical finds, documents and archaeology which underscore the Bible, its kings, people and events. They’re written for readers aged 11 and up. And, the author presents these discoveries in a very user-friendly and fascinating way! The information is presented in bite-sized chunks in fun fonts with incredible pictures of ancient art, manuscripts, scrolls and mosaics, which makes for highly interesting reading in all of the books.
We started reading these books to closes out our morning Bible times, and we started with Old Testament iWitness. This one begins with a description of Hebrew manuscripts; how they were stored and cared for, what happened when they became torn or damaged, and the extreme accuracy with which the scribes copied them. How were the books of the Old Testament selected to be included in the canon of Scripture? Powell shares with us 4 criteria that Jews over the centuries used to determine this. We learn about the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible, and its three components; the Torah, the Nevi’im (“the Prophets”) and the Ketuvi’im (“the Writings”). The Torah is, of course, the first five books of the Tanakh, written by Moses. The Nevi’im, or the eight books of the Prophets, includes such books as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the 12 Minor Prophets. The Ketuvi’im is composed of the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, The Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), Daniel, Ezra and Chronicles. After introducing these categories to us, Powell teaches us more about each section and its importance to the Jewish people.
We also learn about the Septuagint and its importance; covenants; and specific data about the authors of each book, when they lived and why they wrote. Powell describes and defines for us the Apocrypha, the Vulgate, the Intertestamental Period and a bit about the Bible and archaeology. He even includes a timeline of what happened when in the Old Testament and during the periods of the kings of Israel and Judah, and the captivities and returns. It is a truly excellent resource, and can be a great foundation for anyone’s understanding of the Hebrew Bible.
We then delved into the next two books. Powell’s New Testament iWitness follows a similar pattern to his Old Testament iWitness. He opens with the Councils of Carthage and Hippo (A.D. 393 and 397), and makes the point that these councils didn’t “select” books for the New Testament; rather, they simply “recognized what the church had always believed in.” Powell then introduces us to the criteria for what could be recognized as Scripture, and how any book or writing considered for this had to meet each one of those criteria. We learn about early church fathers like Athanasius, Eusebius, Tertullian and others.
New Testament iWitness also discusses the hymns and creeds which were developed not only for worship, but for teaching doctrine to early believers. (Remember that many people weren’t able to read, or have their own copies of the Bible during this time.) Each of these came directly from Scripture, and Powell even shares their references with us.
Did you know that there were books considered for the New Testament, or canon, that were rejected? Early believers considered these to be useful for teaching or for encouragement, but they didn’t meet the criteria for church canon. So the church was careful to delineate between these and actual books of the Bible.
One of the most fascinating pieces of historical fact in this book is the number of surviving manuscripts of the New Testament as contrasted with other early historical documents, and over how long a time period they were written. For example, there are 5,813 copies of the New Testament written over a period of 30-60 years. The next closest document in terms of total number is Homer’s Iliad; there are 1,757 copies written over a course of 500 years. Other documents are mentioned (from Demosthenes, Plato, Pliny the elder and others) but none of them comes close to the New Testament’s total number of manuscripts or the short time period of their writings.
This book has an absolutely incredible account of historical finds that underscore the truths and realities of the people, places and events of the Bible. From Egyptian temples and chronologies, to the Gilgamesh Epic, to finds at Nineveh, to the Ishtar Gate in Babylon, the personalities, triumphs and tragedies of God’s Word are proven time and time again in archeological discoveries. Not only Old Testament histories (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) are mentioned, however; Powell shows us finds from the eras of Hadrian and Constantine. And there are many proofs of the New Testament times, with documentation of figures from Jesus’ time and following. For anyone, whether archaeological novice, Bible scholar, historian or just plain student, iWitness Biblical Archaeology is a fascinating read!
We have enjoyed learning so much from these three slim volumes. Powell’s books seem to be well-researched and well-documented; in addition to the information and photos included in each book, there is a bibliography supporting all the information he covered. Perhaps most important is the weight and validity of Scripture that all these books, and their historical data, prove. I personally found that they taught all of us crucial things about church history, archaeology, and the early Jews and Christians. These iWitness books provide both interest and excitement to a family’s historical studies or Bible times together!
iWitness Biblical Archaeology, New Testament iWitness and Old Testament iWitness are all available from Apologia Educational Ministries. Each volume costs $14.00. I truly recommend them to you, especially if you have budding Bible scholars or history buffs among your children! But even if you don’t, you’ll learn marvelous things about the Christian faith that will delight you and inspire you.