Ancient Israelites and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide

Book cover: 'Ancient Israelites and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide'
Marian Broida
Chicago Review Press
Number of pages: 
140 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Ancient Israelites and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide is not what I had expected. Because I had seen it advertised in a teacher supply store, I was anticipating lesson plans and a very "teacher-y" feel to the book. Instead, it is written as if it were for the student to read himself from front to back, much like he would read an interesting story. Covered in the text are discussions of the Philistines, Phoenicians, and the Israelites, cultures which are largely under-represented in elementary history studies.

The uncluttered pages with line drawings and black-and-white photographs focus on daily life rather than on wars, military leaders, and historically significant events. There are no review questions, suggested writing or research topics, or test materials. However, there are descriptions of the history and geography, architecture, clothing, writing, work, food, and religion of each of the three groups discussed. Also included are very simple maps, a brief summary, a timeline, and a bibliography for further reading.

The book contains long textual passages of several pages, interwoven with activity and project directions. The fairly-involved projects include sewing and adorning costumes, the building of models and ships, dye-making, and cooking. Measurements and recipes are given in standard American unit measures and in metric. These are not simple projects that my own young children could complete on their own; parental supervision and participation is definitely required. In spite of the effort needed, the projects are creative and memorable; completing a select few of them would appeal to even the most history-resistant student.

I noted, however, a few problems from the perspective of a Catholic homeschooling family. First, the majority of the history of the Israelites is derived from the Bible, but I found it difficult to reconcile the author's opinion that only parts of the Bible are reliable. A particular translation of the Bible is not referenced in the lengthy bibliography. The author notes that archeology can help to show that Biblical events really occurred, but she says that anything in the Bible about God, miracles or spiritual matters cannot be proven because that is a matter of faith. In addition, although the Bible is used as a historical reference, secular dating conventions (BCE rather than BC, and CE rather than AD) are used, adding another element of confusion. As with all secular materials, the author presents an equality amongst all religions, ancient and modern.

Secondly, there are several mentions made of child sacrifices in both the Israelite and Phoenician cultures. I think that this is unnecessary in a book intended for elementary students. The author writes (on page 44) that the Bible even mentions some Israelites sacrificing children to other gods. We know that this is meant to describe unacceptable sacrifices, but the text could be very confusing to young children.

Another confusing statement is this from page 126: "One of the greatest legacies of the Philistines was their effect on the Israelites. We might not even have the Bible. Even if we did have a Bible, it would not be the same Bible we have today."

It is difficult to find materials for younger children when studying this geographical area and time period of history. Because of that, I can recommend this book, with the qualification that the teaching parent is aware of its shortcomings. It may be best to use this book as an enrichment to a textbook or Biblical-based historical unit study rather than as the primary source of information.

Additional notes: 

This title was donated for review by Chicago Review Press

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