SBL Bible Software Shootout

Posted by on November 24, 2009 in Blog/Article Watch, Events, General | 4 comments

Last Saturday, a Bible Software Shootout session was held at the SBL Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA. Participants were (in order of appearance) Logos, SESB, BibleWorks, Accordance and Olive Tree. If you are like me, you would have loved to attend. Sadly, I couldn’t be there. Still, modern day technology does help us to get the big picture via tweets, blog posts and so on.

So, what happened? Karyn Traphagen compiled a list of tweets by people who attended the session over at Boulders 2 Bits, whereas Rick Mansfield wrote a more comprehensive post on his This Lamp blog, and, more recently, Mike Heiser gave us his take on it. We can expect to read reports by David Lang at the Accordance Blog shortly (it’s here actually), and I heard that the Olive Tree Blog will be carrying info on the session too (right here). At this point I don’t know if we will read anything from BibleWorks.

These were the five challenges each presenter had to address:

1. Give the parsing of a word and its meaning from a standard source.

2. Show all the occurrences of a word in the NT and LXX and show the Hebrew word which corresponds with the Greek in the LXX (if there is a correspondence).

3. Find all the occurrences of oi de in Matthew’s gospel followed by a finite verb within the clause.

4. I want to study a part of speech, e. g., demonstrative pronouns or interjections. How do I get all of the lemmas for that part of speech, get all the occurrences of those lemmas, and the results organized in such a way that I could write an article/monograph on that part of speech from the data?

5. I want to study the inflections of the Hebrew middle weak verb, and I want to see what the range of possible variations is for each of the conjugations (perfect, imperative, etc.) person, number, gender, and stem. This means I need to find all the middle weak verbs, find all their occurrences, and organize them in such a way that the variation of their inflections are immediately apparent. The goal of the data organization would be to allow me to write an article about the variations of the Hebrew middle weak verb.

Everybody seems to agree on the fact that all packages were able to solve the problems posed, except for Olive Tree, (but that is understandable given the current limitations of mobile devices and their OSes in certain areas). It is also acknowledged that it was stimulating to learn about the different solutions adopted by each one of the “contenders.”

And that’s the end of the agreement. If you want to know who won this shootout –where no one got hurt–, you’re out of luck. It depends on who you listen to. I’m always amazed at how sensitive this whole area of Bible software comparative reviews/presentations is. If you read the different comments and reactions to posts here and there you will soon realize that, for the most part, people tend to be rather defensive when exposed to software packages other than the one they are most familiar with, and very few dare to “think outside the box.”

If someone recorded the SBL session on video it would be great to know. Failing that, it would be nice to be able to access the content of each presentation so that everyone could draw his/her own conclusions about the pros and cons of each program. Don’t you think?

Update: Accordance handout can be downloaded from this page. Olive Tree’s presentation can also be downloaded here (PDF file).

Tony Cartledge, who attended the session, blogs on the shootout here.

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  1. Thanks for this good round up of posts on the SBL shootout. I agree with the sentiments about the defensiveness and often been bewildered by some of the comments.

    The reality of software:

    1. No software package does everything the best way. The design ethos of a product design has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Some users will be completely satisfied with one product. I think there can be very good cases for having two. I know a good handful of users who own two (and sometimes more) Bible software products and for very good reasons.

    2. When people say another product’s UI or design is rubbish, there is a certain about of this is subjective. The reason for this is that all of us in according to our skills and talents develop workflows to do certain tasks. Some software packages better than with who we are than others. I have seen people do amazing things with technically inferior software simply because it complemented the personality really well.

    I for one think the SBL shootout was pure genius. Getting developers like that in the same room will result in more cool tools as they walk away thinking about future development and enhancements. This is what it is all about. Better tools for better Bible study. I really hope they continue to have more shoot outs in the future.

  2. I would also like to see more shootouts, and I think the net is a good place to host one for everyone to see. Do you think the developers would be willing to take on the challenge? Hint, hint…

  3. Very interesting to read this post, although I wasn’t able to attend SBL. Everyone has their favourite Bible software. Mine is BibleWorks :-) However, hopefully people will spend more time actually reading and studying the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts as they do playing around with all the features of the software. We should spend our time studying the Scriptures, rather than studying Bible software.

  4. I enjoyed reading your posts, and I believe that it’s great that technology has allowed us to access the Scripture in so many ways. I have to share with you a new audio version of scripture that has really blessed me though, and I thought some of you may enjoy checking it out. THE VOICE is a fresh expression of the timeless narrative known as the Bible. Stories of God’s goodness that were told to each generation by their grandparents and leaders were recorded and assembled to form the Christian Scriptures. Too often, the passion, grit, humor, & beauty have been lost in the translation process. THE VOICE seeks to recapture what was lost. To learn more and download a free copy of the Gospel of John click here! This is a really incredible product and perfect for Christians and unbelievers. I encourage you to take the time to check it out!


  1. Blogos - God’s Word | our words | meaning, communication, & technology | following Jesus, the Word made flesh » Greek Skills Test for Bible Software - [...] contributions rather than complaining, and following up on some blog-chatter about the recent “shootout” at SBL, i’d like to …
  2. Greek Skills Test for Bible Software | BibleTech Blog - [...] contributions rather than complaining, and following up on some blog-chatter about the recent “shootout” at SBL, i’d like to …

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