If you plan to study history chronologically and to incorporate the Bible into your study of history, here are some books to read in addition to the Bible. I gave book recommendations for the study of Ancient Egypt in my posts 10 Picture Books About Ancient Egypt and Books About Ancient Egypt for Older Readers. The Bible itself is enough, but if you’re looking for books to use as literature selections or for a family read aloud, here are a couple ideas.
What about other ancient civilizations?
If you’re a Thinking Mother you’ll notice many ancient civilizations missing from my list. I have intentionally only listed books from Ancient Egypt and Old Testament Israel. I have three reasons for this:
- Many homeschool catalogs include the sacred texts of other religions in their curriculum, or stories from those texts in a child’s format. I do not have my kids read sacred texts from other religions. We read the Bible. When my kids are older we learn about other religions. If my kids grow up and feel they’re lacking that knowledge, they can read the texts themselves. This is one of my firm convictions. Study the Bible and determine your own principles regarding what’s acceptable and what’s not in teaching children about other religions. Then stick to your convictions, no matter what your curriculum says about it.
- We used to read picture books about Ancient Mesopotamia, China, and other civilizations. I am not opposed to books about ancient history or archaeology. The recommendations made by homeschool catalogs in this category are not morally objectionable. However these sorts of books aren’t known for excellent prose or amazing illustrations. By all means check out books from the library and discover as many places and times as you can, but invest the bulk of your energy and resources into the very best books. Read the best books you can find over and over.
- We study Ancient Greece separately from Old Testament history. The same Persian rulers you read about in Daniel, Esther, and Ezra began the Persian Wars and battled the Greeks at Thermopylae and Salamis. There are so many resources about the Ancient Greeks that I like to spend plenty of time studying them, and I’ll list our favorite books in a separate post. You could read all of the Post-Exilic prophets while you study Ancient Greece. However, when we study Ancient Greece we read the book of Acts at the same time. Though chronologically in different time periods, Acts displays the Gospel butting up against the Greek gods and turning the world upside down. If you prefer a strictly chronological approach, that’s a good choice too.
The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia is a resource that will help you place Ancient Civilizations and events in chronological order. The book is full of illustrations that make it engaging for a wide range of ages. It also includes enough content that high school students can still profit from it. (By the way, I intentionally linked to the older version of this product.)
A Story Bible
As a family we read from the Bible every day, but I also like to add additional stories or readings from a child’s story Bible. My absolute favorite is The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. Honestly, I hate the pictures in the version I’ve linked to here. Banner of Truth published a three volume edition without any pictures of Christ. But for some reason I can’t find all three volumes online. See if you can find the three volume set used, or buy the book from Amazon and just don’t show your kids the pictures.
Catherine Vos published her excellent Bible stories in 1935. Her stories are well written, drawn directly from the Bible, and unfailingly focus on the glory of God. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 33: “God Speaks to Moses”:
“A long, long time had passed since God had spoken to any man. The last time He had spoken to man was when He had told Jacob not to be afraid to go down to Egypt.
How many years do you think had passed since then? More than four hundred years!
In those days the Bible had not been written. Fathers and mothers had to tell their children about God and how He had spoken to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Catherine was the wife of the great Princeton theologian Geerhardus Vos, and was mother of Johannes Vos – another theologian. I like to think of that mighty theologian as a three year old, snuggled on his mother’s lap, listening to her sweet voice (naturally, she had a sweet voice) telling Bible story after Bible story. She told them in the same way she learned them from her own mother, according to the dedication in her book. Never think – for even one minute – that the work you do each day is not important!
The couple who gave us these Bible story books, mighty and mature Christians, inscribed Psalm 48:12-13 in the front of our story Bible:
“Encompass Zion, count her towers, and mark her bulwarks well; consider ye her palaces, to sons her story tell.”
The most important task you have every single day is to tell your children the stories of Zion: creation, the fall, and the story of the Lord Jesus Christ as He appears in all of Scripture.
Nancy Ganz, who homeschooled her four daughters, has written the “Herein Is Love” series that includes five volumes: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Although advertised as a children’s commentary, I think they fall somewhere between a Bible story and a child’s devotional. These are anything but dry and technical writings we sometimes associate with a commentary. These are excellent, well-written, and a delight to read aloud. I admit I sometimes pull one off the shelf and read a chapter to myself when I have a question about the Pentateuch.
As Nancy Ganz writes each chapter of these commentaries, she has an eye on the entirety of Scripture. For example, when writing about Abraham in Genesis 12, she lists references from: Genesis 12, Joshua 24, Acts 7, Romans 15, Galatians 3, Hebrews 11, 1 Peter 3, and Revelation 21. If you have the eyes to see it you will also see she has woven Scripture language from all over the Bible into almost every sentence. This is an author who knows the Word of God well!
Nancy Ganz wrote these as Sunday School lessons she taught to the children in her church. There is an accompanying Teacher’s Guide available online, and hiding inside is a great treasure. In each chapter the Teacher’s Guide lists a couple of relevant Psalms from the Psalter (that’s a book with all of the Psalms in metrical format and set to music – it looks like a hymnal). Nancy Ganz belongs to a denomination that only sings Psalms in church worship, making her more familiar with the Psalms that most of us are! So whether you intend to sing Psalms, read them and connect them to the Pentateuch, or use them for memory work, this is a great resource.
I highly, highly recommend these books!
These selections are suitable for children in later elementary and up. They also make great read alouds, and with a little editing, you can read them with the whole family.
Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson is the story of a Hittite boy living in the time of the Judges, who fights with Sisera against Deborah and Barak. This book does include violence and descriptions of the worship of Baal and Moloch. If those things will offend you, skip it. But my kids and I enjoyed it every time we read it.
God King is also by Joanne Williamson. In about 700 BC, Hezekiah, King of Judah, and Taharka, Pharaoh of Egypt, battle Sennacherib outside the walls of Jerusalem. Most of the book is nothing more than fiction, but still a worthwhile read. (As an aside, I love the poem The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron. Every once in a while I go on a kick and read it to my kids over and over.)
Hadassah: The Girl Who Became Queen Esther by Tommy Tenney is adapted for children from the adult’s version. Obviously, this appeals to the girls more than the boys.
Victory on the Walls is by Frieda Clark Hyman, a Jewish (not Christian) author. This work of historical fiction portrays Nehemiah side by side with his fictional nephew, Bani. Together they return to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city walls in 444 BC.
Honestly, I get tired of historical fiction and the predictable plot lines. But some of my kids loved historical fiction. I guess it was a fun break from more difficult and fact filled reading. So I continued to include it in their reading lists. I just made sure they always knew whether they were reading fact or fiction.
You can give your children an excellent grasp of geography simply by reading about a place in a book then pulling out an atlas and finding the same place on the map. If you have a globe or world map, find Israel in its larger context. Then pull out the Bible maps and find the cities, or land forms, mentioned in the story you just read. This system works well and only takes a minute or two a day.
Then and Now Bible Maps by Rose Publishing contains full color maps that look like large-scale versions of the maps found in the back of many Bibles. Eight of the maps have a clear plastic overlay with the modern country outlines. For example, you can see at a glance that the ruins of Ur are within the modern country of Iraq. This is a good choice to use with elementary aged children.
The ESV Archaeological Study Bible has an enormous number of maps. Even if you choose not to refer to the study notes, you’ll find this edition worthwhile. There are maps scattered everywhere throughout the text. In Judges 4-5 (these chapters correspond to the story told in Hittite Warrior) there is a map showing the route Sisera’s army marched toward Mount Tabor, and the route Barak ‘s army marched from Kedesh-naphtali. On the next page is a short article about the three cities named Kedesh in the Bible and where their archeological ruins are found. The Bible is a real book and the story unfolded in real places. These maps help drive that home.
Take time to contrast fiction with fact
After you finish one of these books, take a few minutes to talk to your kids and help them distinguish fiction from fact. Read the account from the Bible. Then ask, “What facts did this book get from the Bible?” We know those are true. There may be other historical facts. In Hittite Warrior you will read about the purple dye in Tyre. They really made purple dye in Tyre. Then talk about the fictional elements the author wove in so there was enough material to make a book. Young children will really benefit from this discussion, but high school students can as well.
Another fun way to discuss these books with a high school student is to ask if they would have told the story the same way. Is this how they imagine Queen Esther or King Hezekiah? Is this how they think people acted in battle? How else could the story be told with the facts we have from the Bible?
Next week on the blog: I’ll be talking about how to use your time in the car or around the dinner table with intentionality. By using these corners of time in your day, you’ll find time to discuss books like these with your kids. It’s one more little trick to keep yourself from being overwhelmed.