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Review of Bibloi 8.0?

Torrey Seland expresses his hope that either me or somebody else will get round to reviewing the latest version of Bibloi (formerly known as Bible Windows) from Silver Mountain Software. I will gladly take up the challenge if/when my upgrade arrives. If my mind serves me right, Bible Windows was the first program of its kind to offer Internet links to different sites of interest for Bible scholars and classicists from inside the application itself. This feature is now becoming available in other software packages. A step in the right direction, as I see it.

[Ed.] The review is now available.

Philo and the New Testament

It came as a nice surprise to me that Kåre Fuglseth, co-blogger of Philo of Alexandria blog had undertaken the job to compare all the Greek words in Philo and the NT in one of his books. I was intrigued about the approach/method he had taken, since he explicitly mentioned “personal computers”, so I left him a comment. Yesterday he kindly sent me a short note in which he says: “I have used HyperCard for Macintosh. At the time it was the only program that could sort 430,000 cards (the Philonic corpus) in a Greek alphabetic order (or any order, autodefined).” So here’s a good example of how computer tools can enhance our research.

More on Interviews

I have heard back from a few of the people whom I emailed the survey. Some of them will be sending theirs in at a later date. Some others I haven’t heard from yet. Whatever the case, it is impossible to hear from everybody. So I’ve decided to share some links that may be of interest to those who like to put “faces to names”, even though sometimes there might not be any photos available! Here goes the first one:

You can find out more about Roy Brown, President of OakTree Software, by reading an online interview by Terri Lackey here, or by dowloading the PDF version (article found on pages 10-11).

Review with Sidenotes

I have posted a review* of a previous version of Accordance Bible Software. A full review of the latest version will be forthcoming. I am making this review available for the following reasons:

1. To whet your appetite 😉
2. To allow you to compare it with the newer review (coming soon…)
3. To test the sidenotes as recently discussed by Stephen C. Carlson of Hypotyposeis.

Let me know what you think about this annotation technique.

* [Ed.] This link pointed to the previous version available at BSR. The new link, of course, uses a completely different system for displaying notes.

The “Business” of Bible Software

Bob Pritchett, President/CEO of Logos Research Systems, blogs about whether Bible software should be considered just like any other business or there is something more to it. Interesting discussion, coming from someone who’s directly involved in the Bible software industry. Is competition a good thing? Well, I think so. Should Bible software companies make profit? Certainly! So what’s special about it? It seems to me that the unique feature lies in the fact that this industry should be both a business and a ministry (in the strictest sense of the Greek term DIAKONIA). If we lose the vocational nature of
Bible software, I think we’ll end up with just another (legitimate) way of making a living. I’d like to think that selling potatoes or cloths is not quite the same as selling Bible software (or teaching theology, or being involved in another full-time ministry, for that matter). Some people choose to make their products available as freeware or shareware, while others commit themselves to developing commercial Bible software. It is their choice, and I don’t see anything ethically or Biblically wrong about either approach. And once the commercial alternative is pursued, it is taken for granted that there will be some measure of competition (which is also present, BTW, among freeware/shareware applications). Having said that, from the viewpoint of Bible software users it is important to note that no single product will satisfy everyone’s needs. It is true that many of the features in most Bible software packages overlap to some degree. But it is equally true that there is some complementarity as well. Not all users have the same needs, and so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the software that best suits our personal interests and needs, whatever they might be. And this brings me to my last point: I think the price of Bible software should be reasonable enough so that people could actually afford to use more than one package. This may not be necessary for those using the software for personal study and general teaching, but it is a must for users involved in an academic study of the Scriptures.

Ideally, then, Bible software companies should strike a balance between business and ministry. Yeah, I know. It’s easy to say, but very hard to do. However, just because something is hard doesn’t mean we must give up, right?

Quotable Quote

I thought you might enjoy this quote from John J. Hughes’ Bits, Bytes & Biblical Studies (Zondervan, 1987, p. 5):

A computer can do nothing unless its task is explicitly defined not only in a logical fashion but in a way that turns every step of the task into a logical operation that the machine can perform by using its logic circuits. Computers do everything “by the book.” They never operate intuitively. They do not know how to take shortcuts. They are not creative. You cannot delegate a task to them and expect them to figure out how to do it, unless that ability has been designed into the program the computer is running. Computers are tireless, perfectly obedient, incredibly fast, and never bored, but they are stupid. They cannot even tell you the
time of day unless you have given them a program that instructs them in a step-by-step way how to do that. Computers have prodigious memories and powerful brains, but they have no minds.”

Hughes’ work has been out of print for a long time, but this little paragraph is certainly as applicable today as it was when it was first penned. I would add one thing: Computers never make mistakes, but programmers and users do! After all, making mistakes is an inherently human trait.

Microsoft Strikes Again!

I’ve recently learned of the problems Silver Mountain Software has been going through as a result of Microsoft’s pressure, er… I mean concerns. You can read all about it here. John Baima has just announced that the new Bible Windows update is now known as Bibloi 8.0. Apart from other improvements, the main new feature is the ability to import texts into the program. Users will now be able to import texts in a number of formats, including “Online Bible translations, Beta Code texts, plain text files, and texts from the Unbound Bible Project“.

Of Dangers, Pitfalls and Fallacies

One of the books I end up recommending again and again is D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (Baker, 1996 – 2nd. ed.) We can hardly deny the need for careful exegesis these days, when so much wishy-washy preaching and teaching seems to be in vogue. And I say this because Bible software is a great thing, but it needs to be handled with care. Cars are great tools, but I just saw one bumping into another on my way home today… So, watch out!

A few years ago, Terry Taylor wrote a short article on Computers in Bible Teaching: Bible Study Software, where he warned against a number of traps to be avoided by people using Bible software. More recently, David Lang has written another interesting piece along the same lines: The Dangers of Bible Software.
It may be old hat to many, but it is something worth reminding ourselves.

I can think of a few of these pitfalls to avoid off the top of my head. They relate to the use of Bible programs, but are in no way limited to it. Maybe we could build a more comprehensive list another day.

1. A very frequent thing that can happen to us when we use Bible software is that we reach a point where we can’t see the forest for the trees. Terry Taylor calls it the “tunnel-vision trap”. The need to stay in context, as David Lang also alerts us, is something we have to have clearly before us all the time. In this age of increasing
specialization we must never lose sight of the larger picture.

2. We must also carefully avoid the cut-and-paste syndrome. This reminds me of the preacher who had jotted down the following remark in his sermon notes: “Weak point. Shout louder!”. The equivalent to that would be the urge felt by some people to back up some particular point with tons of references taken from the myriads of electronic tools available nowadays (including Internet resources, of course). Terry Taylor’s “laziness trap” and “verse dumping trap” would fall under this category. An off-shoot of this syndrome is the pitfall of plagiarism. Let’s try to think things through for ourselves, and if we want to quote some interesting or witty sentence or paragraph, let’s
give credit where credit is due!

3. We have all heard that “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing”. Well, it surely can in the field of Biblical languages. There was a thread on B-Greek a while back where members discussed at great length the danger of knowing just a little Greek. Bible software grants us access to the underlying original text of any given passage like never before, but getting to know how to perform word studies and other similar exercises
will not turn us into Greek or Hebrew scholars overnight! As David Lang puts it, we must avoid the danger of becoming “gnostics” (or falling into the “Greek geek trap”, in Terry Taylor’s words).

4. Last, but not least, there’s the danger of suffering from an information indigestion. This happens when we cannot process the huge amount of information we have at our disposal, and simply pile it up. Computers can retrieve
information at great speeds, but it is up to us to analyze and reflect on it. Maybe one of our main problems is that we need time. After all, exegesis will never be an instant, ready-made, computer-generated product…

There was a quote I once read (not sure where it came from) that said: “With computers we can now misinterpret Scripture at speeds never before possible”.
Well, I think whoever said it got the point across pretty nicely. I’m not a pessimist, and I firmly believe in the advantages of using new technology, but we would do well to keep our eyes wide open in order to avoid, to the best of our ability, some of these traps in the course of our study. BTW, If you want to share more dangers and pitfalls, by all
means do!

Where to Start Reading about Bible Software (II)

As a follow-up to my previous comments on this matter, I would like to recommend another useful online reference: Your Online Guide to Bible Reference Books & Software, by John R. Kohlenberger III. It’s a more general resource, centered around Zondervan’s own resources, but worth checking out nevertheless, particularly the section on Bible Study Software.

[Ed.] The link is no longer available. Sorry about that.

Features versus Content

There’s no doubt that Bible software has become increasingly complex, with lots of “bells and whistles” that many users are likely to underuse, or misuse (or both!). This problem is here to stay, I’m afraid. And there is a very simple reason for it: either most people just don’t read the user manuals or, even worse than that, very often there is no manual to read! And I don’t mean a nice online help (that should be taken for granted), but the traditional, old-fashioned, printed manual with step-by-step instructions and lots
of screenshots. When I review software package I always value very highly the availability of a printed guide. To be able to print the help files or documents yourself is not quite the same, but it’s better than nothing. Anyway, let’s not get sidetracked!

At the heart of any Bible program there is always a more or less sophisticated electronic Bible concordance. This concordance may look and feel better, nicer or faster, but at the end of the day it’s a concordance after all! So, the point is that a concordance won’t be of much use unless we have an appropriate set of databases to concord. And here is where the quality of the contents comes into play. Companies
spend quite a bit of their resources developing neat graphical user interfaces and “wow” features (and rightly so, I hasten to add). But the key to usefulness and accuracy lies in what happens behind the scenes. To get a machine-readable text (MRT) is a relatively easy task. To tag a text is a very involved and time-consuming one.

John J. Hughes, in his milestone work Bits, Bytes & Biblical Studies (Zondervan, 1987, p. 496), defines tagging like this:

Tagging is the process of attaching descriptive codes to words. Those codes, or tags, may consist of any information – textual, morphological, syntactical, or semantic – that is to be associeated with a particular word or form.

Therefore, tags typically include anything from Strong’s or Goodrick-Kohlenberger’s numbers (in English texts), to full morphological and grammatical details (in Greek and Hebrew texts). The more information that is tagged to a given database or corpus, the
better. But more coded information also means more grunt work, and a greater chance for errors to creep in. Tagging is a very costly job, but it’s an essential part of developing good software packages.

Does this mean we have to underplay the functionality of a Bible program? Not at all! But features and sheer search power will be rendered meaningless unless we can rely on good, coded databases ready to be searched at different levels (as many levels as the number of descriptive codes available).

In sum, I believe we have a debt of gratitude with the people who are working so hard, often without proper financing or recognition, in order to develop those tagged texts that make our lives so much easier.