Thursday, February 11, 2016

‘How to Choose a Translation’ (Online Course Review)

Holy Bible by Freaktography (Flickr)
For the average Christian who hasn’t the time, money, desire, or prerequisite learning to pursue a formal education in biblical studies or theology, there is an array of websites offering introductory courses on a variety of subjects. They vary considerably in price as well as in the quality of their content, often depending on the credentials of the developers or lack thereof. I have tried out courses on a number of platforms, but usually got bored before finishing them. For a while was the exception, but now I can add to the list. offers a few courses, including Old Testament and New Testament surveys and classes on Biblical Hebrew and Greek. Recently, it announced a free one-unit course titled How to Choose a Translation, covering some basic information about textual criticism, approaches to Bible translation, and the history of Bibles in English. I decided to try out, my first time using that platform.

The course begins with a 15-minute lecture by author J. Scott Duvall, Professor of New Testament at Ouachita Baptist University, followed by some reading material that covers the video content with some additional detail. A Cerego application offers a flash-card like game to test your memory on key facts from the lesson. Short essay questions allow you to think deeper about the ideas presented. (Your responses are even saved and available for reference in the My Grades section after you’ve completed the course, although no comments on them are provided.) Wrapping the course up is a 10-question multiple-choice assessment. The whole thing can be completed easily in a couple of hours.

Since Zondervan is known for publishing the New International Version (NIV) and the New King James Version (NKJV), you might be concerned about the course’s bias. That turned out not to be an issue. I thought the content was balanced, not designed to push the student into buying any particular translation. (I don’t feel as though my English Standard Version (ESV) was being slighted in the least.) This also carried over in how the short essay questions were worded. They tended to ask the student’s opinion about things rather than assuming he or she actually holds particular views, such as the Bible being divinely inspired. This makes the course a bit more accessible for members of different churches as well as nonbelievers. It also shows the careful thought put into designing the course, as leading questions are definitely a mark of sloppiness.

If I were to name the course’s downside, it would be the fact that its content was wholly basic, more than it needed to be. For example, there’s no discussion about the content differences among manuscript text-types, something which is often a big concern for Bible shoppers. It would’ve also been helpful to have examples of the translation approaches at work, so that their differences are made obvious to the student. However, despite these imperfections, I still think the course is worth a look-over, especially considering the price. The short answer questions to make me think more deeply about how I view translations, something which I think can be a real benefit for any student, regardless of prior familiarity with the topic.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

‘The 100 Ways Grandma Killed Me’ (Book Review)

Every generation goes through a cycle of thinking they know better than their parents and then getting annoyed when their own children think that they know better than them. This is especially true when it comes to childrearing, as scientific advancements and long-term studies result in more and more questioning of traditionally-held beliefs and practices relating to child health and psychology. A new grandparent is likely to feel hurt, annoyed, or even angry to learn that her grown child thinks that her parenting methods are outdated and perhaps harmful to the grandchild she loves. Add in a grandparent’s tendency not to be so much of a protective “parent” but rather someone who indulges and spoils the child, and there’s certain to be conflict.

One grandmother, Lucy Silver, has obviously tried to defend her actions by writing The 100 Ways Grandma Killed Me (CreateSpace, 2014), a short picture storybook about a little girl’s enjoyment of all the things her grandmother does, much to the displeasure of her parents. Grandma feeds her with a bottle made in China, gives her junkfood galore, and lets her play in activities that excite and injure her.

The underlying message seems to be, “Grandma is fun, and Mom and Dad are bores,” but sadly, it is the book that is likely to bore. 100 Ways suffers from the lack of a clear storyline and awkward poetry. The CGI-animated illustrations, created by Christina Cartwright, I just found unappealing. While this sort of book might cheer up a grandparent who feels her advice is a bit unwelcome, I don’t think the average parent will appreciate it or the average child will identify with it. (Thinking about my own grandmothers, I certainly couldn’t.) I think that a story that pitted two grandmother’s cultures and parenting styles against each other – with the child learning to love both, of course – would’ve made a more enjoyable book for the entire family. (And less offensive to the parents.) Considering Silver’s own reference to celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas, I think that would’ve worked for her own grandchildren too.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

‘Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave’ (Book Review)

I remember reading about Shyima Hall in the news: a girl kept as a family slave, literally right under everyone’s nose. It’s one thing to hear about such things happening. It’s quite another to have it so close to home. (She was in Irvine in Orange County. I was living in Tustin, an adjacent city, during the time.) Some years later, when I heard about her memoir, Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave (Simon & Schuster, 2014), I was eager to have a chance to read her side of the story.

The book begins with Shyima’s younger years in Egypt, her family plagued with financial difficulties. While the author doesn’t excuse her parents handing her over to work for another family, the book does show the reader why they probably felt they had no other choice. Kept as a slave, eight-year-old Shyima tolerated substandard living arrangements, received no education, and had no time for herself. It was work day and night. She kept track of time passed by the birthdays of her owners’ children.

When her owners decided to move to the United States, they went to a lot of trouble to make sure Shyima joined them. Shyima’s life of slavery continued over here, until someone dropped an anonymous tip about the suspicious girl to the police. Now free, Shyima’s struggles didn’t end. She faced court trials, foster family drama, and the struggle of trying to find her place in a very different culture. But in the end, you can see that she’s happy and optimistic about life and eager to educate the American public about the modern-day slave trafficking problem.

Hidden Girl is a great book, taking its reader through a whole range of emotions. Cowriter Lisa Wysocky did an excellent job keeping a very foreign and little girlish voice to the narrative. And it was encouraging for me to learn that the Orangewood Children’s Home (with which my old church had been involved) played a positive role in helping her. The book is good evidence that – even though there’s a lot of social and economic issues abroad – there are real problems here at home that need our attention too.