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February 13, 2004

Blogs on Bible Software

I am not aware of the existence of many other blogs related specifically to Bible software. Apart from the occasional reference to the subject in some people's personal blogs, I can only think of Bob Pritchett's thoughts . You might find it interesting, but he only blogs from time to time... Another blog from someone directly involved in Bible software is Brandon Staggs', although very often what he posts has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

More on New Technology for Webs and Blogs

I have followed with interest the recent technical discussion presented by Stephen C. Carlson in his blog. He replies to my previous comment on the subject, particularly my question about whether this "In-line Glossary Technique" could be used for footnotes. He suggests a somewhat different approach for publishing footnotes on the Web. Here is what he says:

Some people have suggested from time to time the use of sidenotes rather than footnotes for annotating texts on web pages. To me, it makes theoretical sense because, unlike book pages, which are taller than they are wide, browsers tend to show web pages with a greater horizontal width than its vertical height. Thus, the sides, not the foot, constitute the area of the web page with potentially the most space for notes while still being in view.

He has posted two examples: an article with footnotes and the same article with sidenotes. Since his blog doesn't have a commenting system implemented (hint, hint, hint...), I'll state here that I like the sidenotes better. It seems to me that they look more elegant (though maybe some will find the page a bit too crowded, depending on the display's resolution being used), and save us from having to click and move forward and backwards all the time. By the way, when it comes to printed books, I much rather have footnotes than endnotes. One of the links he points to is particularly useful.

February 18, 2004

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?

February 21, 2004

Concordance Compiled with the Aid of... Bible Software?

Andreas Köstenberger and Raymond Bouchoc are the authors of the fairly recent The Book Study Concordance of the Greek New Testament (Broadman & Holman, 2003). This is what the blurb of the book says:

A New Bible Study Tool and a New Venue of Academic Research. Aided by breakthroughs in computer technology, The Book Study Concordance of the Greek New Testament has compiled data in a format that has never before been available to Bible students. The result is a collection of twenty-seven concordances listing every word used in the Greek New Testament in alphabetical order book by book. Also provided are word totals, most-frequently-used words, and words set in relation to the New Testament as a whole. This is an absolutely invaluable new tool for all serious Bible students and for the scholarly community.

This mammoth work (viii/1528 pages) is based on the electronic version of NA27 developed by the Gramcord Institute. In the Preface, the authors state:

The Book Study Concordance of the Greek New Testament for the first time assembles concordances of each of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The concordance is a fresh effort, though of course standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. The textual base of the present concordance is the electronic version of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. The roots of the words were matched with their forms based on data developed and provided by the GRAMCORD Institute. In this regard we would like to acknowledge the foundational debt we owe to the previous work of the GRAMCORD Institute. The concordances themselves were generated by our own programs written to generate the concordance listings from the raw GRAMCORD data.

Since Raymond Bouchoc is research scholar for the GRAMCORD Institute, they no doubt had access to the latest version of the tagged database, but I wonder what kind of program is "our own programs", and why did they not use any of the Bible software packages currently available. Could it be that none of them had the kind of statistical features and flexibility they needed? Here is what H. Van Dyke Parunak had to say about the issue of statistical analysis in his recent review Windows Software for Bible Study (pp. 481-482):

At first glance, it seems natural to plot frequency statistics per chapter, but this approach has several weaknesses. Chapters do not necessarily correspond to the natural discourse units of the text, either in extent (a natural unit may be wider or narrower than a chapter) or in their limits (which may not correspond with those of natural units). The same can be said of fixed width windows that are sometimes used in plots of this sort (for example, plotting occurrences in windows ten verses wide). This mismatch results in a profile that distorts the actual structure of the text. A much better approach is to let the window width change dynamically with the distribution, an algorithm that could be easily implemented by any of these packages. With this refinement, plots such as these become powerful tools for visualizing the structure of texts (...) but these features are not visible with plots at the chapter level. It would be even more useful if software packages provided an option to generate a file containing, not verse references, but the index number of each hit in a search, together with the number of words per verse and per chapter, so that users could directly manipulate distributional information in a package such as Excel or Mathematica. A further refinement would be to let the user define and annotate a number of fields with each hit to capture contextual features (e.g. direct vs. indirect or human vs. divine speech, putative literary source), and provide a simple flat-file database function (sorting and searching) to help the user perform supplementary studies.

Well, if such an algorithm "could be easily implemented by any of these packages", I wonder why not a single one of them has already done so! Moreover, when I checked some of the stats given in the book against Accordance (which happens to include that particular database and has a pretty good statistical analysis feature) I soon came across a few discrepancies in the numbers. So, I would definitely like to know a little bit more about the tools and methodology followed by Köstenberger and Bouchoc. Their book is a welcome addition to the field of Greek reference tools, but I think some more information is in order if peer-review is to be pursued consistently.

Michigan-Claremont Electronic BHS Available Online

This was posted by Christopher V. Kimball to the B-Hebrew list:

A transcription of the Michigan-Claremont electronic text of the BHS Tanach (from the Oxford Text Archive) to XML with Unicode characters is now available It's viewable by any modern browser, i.e. Netscape 7.1, Mozilla 1.6, Mozilla FireFox 0.8, or Internet Explorer 6.0. A choice of SBL Hebrew or Ezra SIL fonts is available. Font sizes from 100% to 400% of normal are selectable. The texts are in XML format with XMLSchema validation. They may be downloaded for off-line viewing or for machine processing through a ZIP file, of less than 2 Megabytes. It's free and can be distributed freely for any non-commercial purpose. Suggestions and corrections are encouraged.

Great resource. Check it out!

March 1, 2004

New Dictionary Developed with the Help of Bible Software

The new Diccionario Griego-Español del Nuevo Testamento. Análisis semántico de los vocablos (DGENT) - Greek-Spanish Dictionary of the New Testament. Semantic Analysis of the Vocabulary - is an on-going project developed by the University of Córdoba (Spain), under the leadership of Jesús Peláez, who took over from the late Juan Mateos. So far, two fascicles have been published (I, 2000; II, 2003), and the team doing the research is using Accordance Bible Software as one of its basic tools. More information (in Spanish) can be found here and here. A review of this work by Moisés Silva will appear in Biblica shortly. Here is a quick and dirty translation of the first part of the Introduction:

As stated in the subtitle, this Dictionary presents the semantic analyses of the terms included in the NT, following closely the Vollständige Konkordanz zum griechischen Neuen Testament by K. Aland (Berlin-New York, 1983). When these studies are finished, the Dictionary will be published in one volume, and it will comprise a synthesis of the analyses with the addition of grammatical data (verbal forms, among other items), information about the date and use of the terms in the Greek language and, sometimes, bibliographic references.
The studies appearing in this work are larger and richer in contet than the lemmas of the future dictionary, since in them lexemes are categorized and semantically analyzed, broader explanations are given, and the examples are more numerous and all passages where each term appears are generally cited.
The contributions of the present work to the analysis of the terms are varied. First of all, the number of semantic classes is completed by adding their Determination, which is of the utmost importance in order to explain a good number of linguistic phenomena. For the first time, lexemes are categorized each according to their predominant semantic class, thus identifying their primary semantic traits, quite separately from the grammatical category they belong to. Also for the first time, the semantic formula of the lexemes is established, which allows us to understand their structure, and the semic development of the elements of the formula is carried out, establishing thereby all their semantic content and distinguishing each lexeme from others of similar meaning.
As for the glosses of the lexemes and sememes, this Dictionary follows the path initiated by Louw-Nida, distinguishing between the definition of a lexeme and its possible translations, but it goes one step further than these authors in that it builds the definition in the preceding semic developments.
Finally, another novely is to be found in the identification of those contextual factors that give rise to the different sememes.

Fascicle 3 (covering the rest of letter alpha) is scheduled for publication in late 2005. A truly remarkable project, certainly not for the faint-hearted, that makes wide use of the powerful features of Bible software.

March 2, 2004

Results of Survey about Competition in Bible Software

A couple of weeks ago, Bob Pritchett blogged about the business side of Bible software. He included a survey with questions on what people felt was fair in competing with other companies. The results are now available for all to see.

March 9, 2004

On inductive Bible study

I've just come across this blog dealing with different aspects of inductive Bible study. Last entry is from May 2004, but you may be interested in some of the information. The author seems to be a software engineer.

March 16, 2004

Online Tutorial

Yale University Divinity School Library has an interesting website with a Bible Reference Tools Tutorial which offers interesting introductory information about most of the reference works that are usually available in different Bible software packages. Some examples are taken from BibleWorks and Libronix Digital Library System -- not necessarily the latest versions! --, but it makes good reading irrespective of the software you may be using. I recommend this link because I've noticed that some people don't really know how to make full use of concordances, lexicons, etc., and that is absolutely crucial if we want to study and do research with Bible software adequately. The more we know about the tools of our "trade", the better.

March 18, 2004

Strong's Numbers

The issue of whether or not Strong's numbers, or other similar schemes, are helpful for those who are not versed in the original languages has been hotly debated. The potential for misuse is probably very high, but there are also a number of advantages associated with its correct use. David Lang has just posted an informative article about the practical use of these numbers in Bible software, from a Mac perspective. Except for the test cases, everything else should be relevant to users of Bible software packages for Windows.

The purpose of all these numbering systems (Strong's, revised Strong's, or Goodrick-Kohlenberger's) is to allow the user who has no familiarity with Greek and Hebrew to carry out some research on the underlying original terms behind some English translations of the Bible. We keep coming back to the well-known and often discussed "a little knowledge of Greek or Hebrew is a dangerous thing", but I'm afraid that just about anything can become a source of exegetical fallacies (e.g., the popular use made by some modern preachers of the Amplified Bible -- a.k.a. the totality-transfer fallacy). So, I guess the bottom line is this: any system or method is as good as the people who use it. We probably need to stress the importance of a good solid preparation in the field of the humanities -- including classical languages and a fair amount of critical thinking. This, I think, is woefully lacking in most churches and seminaries today.

April 2, 2004

Blog about BW 6

Kevin Purcell has a blog entry focusing on what he calls a "mini review" of BibleWorks 6.

[Ed.] Sorry, link no longer active.

April 6, 2004

Project Watch: The New Testament Hyper-concordance

I thank Sean Boisen for bringing this project to my attention. There's a lot of interesting stuff on his site, which I feel tempted to blog about, but today I'd just like to stick to the New Testament Hyper-concordance. In his Blogos he describes the project thus:

The basic idea is to navigate the space of Scripture directly using words. Most Scripture websites have a search box where you enter a word to find verses that use that word. For example, searching the English Standard Version New Testament for the word "pots" finds two verses, Mark 7:4 and Revelation 2:27 (you need to use the advanced search and select "Exact matches only"). From the standpoint of connecting information, this provides a link from a single word to one or more verses of Scripture.

Taking this idea one step further, given the text of the verse, you can just embed a hyperlink from the word in question to other verses, preserving the context. Now here's where the idea takes off: instead of just hyperlinking one word, suppose every word is hyperlinked? This more tightly connects the information and gets you directly from the context of one verse to another with similar content (because of similar words). With some special processing to index the words, every word can link to a list of verses, each word of which is in turn hyperlinked to others, each word of which ... you get the idea.

Here's an example from the page for "Scripture" (the links are live into Hyper-concordance):

2Tim.3.16
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching , for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

The word "scripture" isn't hyper-linked ([Ed.] It is now), since that would take you back where you already are. This is the only occurrence of the words "reproof" and "correction" in the New Testament, so there's no benefit in linking these: you'd only get to the same verse. The other unlinked words are high-frequency function words: they could be linked, but there would be little added value, and it would take a lot more space (the entire hyper-concordance as static HTML only amounts to about 30Mb).

Inflected verbs and plural nouns are linked to their base forms (in this example, "inspired" -> "inspire", "training" -> "train"). Most other Scripture search engines i've seen either match exactly (treating "inspired" and "inspire" as two different words), match substrings (for "pot", this has the peculiar result of matching "spots" and "Mesopotamia"!), or match from the beginning of the word ("pot" matches "pots", "potter", etc.). I wanted to try to do a better job about matching the real dictionary form of words...

The output looks really nice, as you can see for yourself if you click on the hyperlinks found in the verse above. I like his general approach, and since it is an open-source project, you can actually access the code, check his scripts, modify his baseforms lists (with sections on past tenses, regular plurals, irregular plurals, -ing forms, and irregular pasts), his list of stopwords, or even choose a different version (instead of the original RSV). The author welcomes suggestions and bug reports, which he hopes to fix in future versions.

One of the things that I found particularly interesting was his explanation of some of the linguistic issues he had to wrestle with in the course of his work. Although we are dealing here with an English version of the Bible, therefore a language with a rather limited amount of inflection, this is a good test case for the kinds of issues scholars have to face when they "tag" Hebrew or Greek texts. Sean tells of the list he created in order to map inflected forms and plurals to their bases (root o dictionary forms), and how complex this turned out to be. Apart from clear oversights (like keeping "child" and "children" as two separate forms), there is a whole philosophical framework that precedes the actual tagging of the text. I'll have more to blog about this issue one of these days, but suffice it to say here that it is very important to make explicit what our presuppositions are.

Whatever course we decide to take, certain searches will be clearly word-based, while others will have to be based on related meanings (technically speaking, semantic domains). This dilemma is a very simple example of the creative tension that exists between form and meaning, between morphology and function. It is very clear to me that a single database cannot be all things to all people. Maybe we should stop asking for the impossible (i.e., absolute consistency in tagging) and start considering alternatives like multi-level tagging and specialized databases for specific types of uses. IMO, this is the way to go. Admittedly, this would be a quantum leap for Bible software, but a very necessary and stimulating one. Rubén dixit ;-)

April 7, 2004

Project Watch: Semantically-Annotated New Testament (SemANT)

Another of Sean Boisen's projects is called The SemANT Project, which he describes as "an ambitious vision to translate the New Testament into a formal meaning representation language based on open Internet standards, producing a sharable resource that supports automated processing and integration with other resources." Blogging about the "The Vision of a Semantic New Testament" he says, among other things, the following:

For example, suppose you want to search for Bible verses that address the sin of pride. Your only option is to imagine the various words that might express that concept in a particular translation. "pride" is an obvious choice: the adjectival version "proud" requires a little more thought. You'll probably need a thesaurus to come up with other synonyms like "haughty", "conceited", or "arrogant" (but don't forget "arrogance"). Only those with substantial Biblical experience are likely to think of figurative expressions like "puffed up". If you use the Message translation, you'll need to include "head" for 1 Timothy 3:6: "He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head ...": but of course, including a general word like this will bring in many other verses that have nothing to do with pride. On top of all this, any such search will mistakenly include a different sense of pride referring to legitimate pleasure in others: "I have great pride in you" (2 Cor 7:4, ESV).

The goal of the Semantically-Annotated New Testament Project (SemANT) is this:

To annotate the New Testament with a formal semantic representation based on open Internet standards, producing a sharable resource that supports practical applications like meaning-based automated processing and integration with other resources.

Admittedly, it is a truly ambitious project, not likely to see the light anytime soon. But there are already a few tools available that can be used by those interested in New Testament Semantic studies. Let's see:

First, there are two electronic resources worth noting: Friberg's Morphology (Analytical Greek New Testament) and its associated Greek Lexicon, available with BibleWorks, Bibloi, Libronix Digital Library System, QuickVerse, and WORDSearch, and Louw-Nida's Lexicon (Greek-English Lexicon of the NT: Based on Semantic Domains), included in the aforementioned programs (except for QuickVerse) and also in Accordance and PC Study Bible. Friberg's work follows a functional (rather than a formal) analysis. In my opinion is has been treated unfairly by adherents to a strictly formal analysis, but it can be really useful if handled with care. As for Louw-Nida, it was a ground-breaking endeavor that has already become a classic in its own right. This lexicon allows one to see "words" grouped according to the various meanings they display in different NT contexts. Those meanings are classified by "domains".

Secondly, there are certain electronic tools in some Bible software packages that can take advantage of the contents of the resources mentioned in the paragraph above. One very welcome addition is the ability to work with lists of words/hits returned by any given search. These lists can then be managed in different ways, but one of the most interesting uses is when you are able to build a custom list (with synonyms, antonyms, semantic families or what have you) and plug it back into an earlier or a new search argument (sort of like searching your search results and fine-tuning them). Another very powerful features is the option included in the Advanced Search Engine of BibleWorks to build search queries based on all or part of the items contained in Louw-Nida's domain. Suppose you want to use domain #22 (Trouble, Hardship, Relief, Favorable Circumstances), section D (Difficult, Hard). You would select any number of words (from 22.29 to 22.34), run the search and get all the verses in context with the appropriate word highlighted. By doing this, one single search is all you need to compile a significant number of terms that share a somewhat related meaning. Always remember that your results will be as good as the tagging and categorization of the texts used! And this holds true for both printed and electronic tools.

As you can see, the number of resources and the different ways these are electronically processed, is still relatively small. I have no doubt we are bound to see dramatic improvements in this area in the months/years ahead. In fact I would be extremely disappointed if we didn't, but don't hold your breath just yet. This is a mid-term race. It is costly, in terms of man-hours and moneys, but hopefully we'll get there!

April 20, 2004

Gospel Statistics on Matthew and Luke

If you are into the whole field of statistics, you won't want to miss Stephen Carlson's blog entries on Lukanisms and Mattheanisms. It's interesting reading, but one has to be very careful when it comes to interpreting the data. IMO, the use of distinctive or frequent words to try to establish literary dependence is problematic, at best. It would be nice to know what "tool of the trade" Stephen made use of in order to collect the data... hint, hint...

April 23, 2004

Greek and Hebrew Unicode

Both Jim Davila on PaleoJudaica.com and Mark Goodacre on NT Gateway Weblog comment on the latest Tyndale Tech Emails by David Instone-Brewer. His notes on the use of Greek and Hebrew Unicode fonts for both Mac and PC are worth checking out. Jim Davila aptly points out that Macs seem to be lagging behind on the whole issue of Unicode (although Mac OS X renders it beautifully), and I share his disappointment. However, my own experience is that many of the Greek and Hebrew Unicode fonts I've used on my PC leave a lot to be desired in comparison with similar True Type fonts. Perhaps it's just me! Anyway, I guess we'll see an increase in use and some dramatic improvements as Unicode becomes a de facto standard.

UPDATE (April 24): There have been some misunderstandings about Unicode and Mac OS X. I did say that Unicode fonts are rendered "beautifully", and I had Apple's Safari (the web browser) in mind. I still think that Macs lag behind as far as Unicode goes, but that does not mean that it cannot handle it. Furthermore, the problems and shortcomings are due to certain programs (i.e., Internet Explorer, Word...), and not to the OS as such. Hope this makes things a little clearer. If you have the right word processor you should be okay. Of course, "right" means different things to different people ;-)

For more info, see what Paul Nikkel has to say in his entry Mac OS and unicode fonts on deinde.

May 12, 2004

Project Watch: Postmodern Bible Commentary

I found out about it through Hypertext and Publication in Biblical Studies, an article written by Tim Bulkeley and posted to the SBL Forum. Thank you to fellow bloggers Torrey Seland, Mark Goodacre, and Jim Davila for pointing me to the new articles.

Tim's piece is well worth reading. Here is an excerpt from his conclusion:

(...) the ubiquity of many electronic media has to date had little impact on our professional writing (...) By contrast the gradual move from text to hypertext introduces huge potential changes. The broad hypertext universes of Libronix and other Memex-like systems will enable a new and potentially more comprehensive context for writing and reading as links to reference works and journal articles become more than footnoted appendages that the reader requires significant commitment to follow. In doing this these systems mitigate, but do not solve the problem of exponentially increasing information. On the other hand the accessible hypertext of the Amos commentary, and the Hypertext Bible Commentary & Encyclopaedia project springing from it, offer a new way for the guild to address and interact with our wider public, and also suggest new forms for the ways we present our ideas to each other.

The project he refers to is the Postmodern Bible Commentary, which is defined as "Bible study online - interactive commentary for serious Bible study including over 1000 sound & picture files. The Amos commentary is the trial prototype for a series of commentaries covering the whole Bible text. Written by established scholars - a new resource for online biblical studies."

So far, the book of Amos is the only one available, but the project certainly looks promising. Check it out and you'll see how powerful hyperlinking can be, and how it can change the traditional layout of a Bible commentary.

May 13, 2004

Article Watch: When Speed Trumps Substance

In this article, subtitled A Dozen Problems with Internet-based Research, Robert Velarde discusses the relationship between traditional, book-based research methods and the increasing use of Internet-based research techniques. In particular, he points out a dozen problem areas we may find when trying to use the net for study and research purposes. It is a sober call for balance and realistic expectations that should help us keep focused on the pros and cons of using modern-day computer technology. As an example, here is a little bit of what he has to say on search engines:

9. Online search engines are not the be-all and end-all of research. All the world's information is not available on the Internet. I don't know that there is anything more to say on this point, as it speaks for itself. Quite simply, there is a great deal of information that is not available online. What some may term the "Googlefication" of society gives the impression that anything can be found via an online search engine. By the way, I do not mean to deride Google specifically here, but I use its searching service as an example because of its high-profile and market recognition. Google is a useful tool, when kept in perspective. As Price observes in his article noted in point three above, "I'm starting to get the feeling that for others [non-librarians], the masses so to speak, finding the answer to a question does mean simply going to one site, entering a few words, and waiting for a link to 'the answer' to magically appear."

Hum... Interesting reading if you ask me.

May 15, 2004

Talking about Accordance for Macintosh

Mark Goodacre comments on a short review of Accordance 6.1.2 appeared on the Biblical Studies Bulletin newsletter. The review itself is very brief and general. Perhaps we should coin another term to establish some sort of difference between Reviews and reviews. Anyway, Mark's assessment of the concluding remarks of the review ("The good news for PC owners is that a free Mac emulator is available to enable them to join the Accordance party. But there's a better way: simply get a Mac and say goodbye to computer worms and viruses!") is what caught my attention. I reproduce it here in full:

And say goodbye to a few other things too, like right-clicking your mouse! I am one of those who is always a little taken aback by the sheer passion some have for Accordance and the Mac. I can't say that I am convinced that Accordance is so obviously superior to the Gramcord PC alternative. When we bought Gramcord for Windows for use here in Birmingham, I wondered whether it would be preferable instead to purchase Accordance and get an emulator to run it, but it was not clear to me that this represented any substantial advantage over Gramcord for Windows. I feel a bit like an unbeliever looking in when I hear the Mac devotees celebrating the wonder of Accordance. It is probably something we PC users simply will never understand unless we convert. And let's face it, that's not going to happen.

Leaving aside any "platform wars", I think there are a number of facts that can be asserted with a reasonable degree of objectivity:

1. The Mac equivalent to a mouse right-click is a Control-click. Having said that, many Mac users work with a two or three-button mouse, and therefore know perfectly well what right-clicking and context menus are like. Admittedly, context menus are underused (or not used at all) in a number of Macintosh applications, Accordance being one of them. This may change quickly with the increasing popularity of Mac OS X. Whatever the case, different platforms have different ways of accessing features and menus, but they are there. You just have to change your mindset.

2. Accordance is not the only program that is "obviously" superior to Gramcord PC. Other software packages for Windows currently offer more and better features (e.g., BibleWorks or even Libronix -- despite the fact that it is only at version 2.1 in the development cycle). We'll have to wait and see what the next 32-bit incarnation of Gramcord for Windows will have to offer.

3. I'm not sure if conversion is the right word to use here, but as early as 1994, Umberto Eco, talking about the "war" between PCs and Mac computer -- which he explained in terms of a religious war --, likened the MS-DOS based IBM-compatible PCs to Protestantism (of a Calvinistic brand!) and Macintosh computers to Catholicism. Windows, he asserted, was a sort of mid-way reformation, patterned after the Anglican schism. According to his definition, I guess I am a real "syncretist", since I consistently use them all (among others!). Anyway, experience tells us that there are "conversions" (i.e., the so called switchers), and that there are also those who are happy to take the emulation track in order to see what's on the other side of the fence.

4. The key, IMO, is to have some first-hand, unbiased, exposure to what's available. That applies to Accordance and to any other Bible program. But beyond that, different applications will meet the needs of different people. Make a list of your needs (or those of your organization), and then decide based on the facts, without closing any doors a priori. Well, that's what I did, and I don't regret it!

May 21, 2004

Blogwatch: My Blog @ anduril.ca

Ken Ristau lets me know that he has started a new blog. In his own words, "Future updates to the site will be posted here in my blog, alongside my other random thoughts on news, politics, biblical studies, Bible software, movies, etc." Welcome on board! Notice that he has also opened a forum for the discussion of these subjects.

May 25, 2004

Simple Parallel Bible

This is how the website itself describes it:

The Simple Parallel Bible is a search and lookup tool that can be easily added to any PHP/MySQL website. It lets you link to multiple passages, in parallel (for side-by-side comparison) or in a list, with a single link, without leaving your website.

This can be very useful, and you don't even need to host the database locally. If you want to write a passage on your site, simply point to the external link. For instance, to open John 1:1-18 you would write this code: http://jesus.com.au/demo/bible/index.php?q=john+1.1-18. The result would be John 1:1-18. But there's more. You could also point your readers to a parallel passage, like The Parable of Salt (pericope #218 in Aland's Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 15th ed.) -- a list view of the same passage would look like this -- or to a Bible search for verses in the New Testament than contain the term forgiven (in this particular case it will also match "forgiveness"). Please note that the only version currently available is the World English Bible, nevertheless, it can be a useful tool.

May 26, 2004

Javascript Applets

Further to my entry on the Simple Parallel Bible, I found this morning that Sean Boisen of Blogos includes a post about another useful tool that can be easily added to any website. By means of little scripts called favelets you can perform Bible word searches, passage searches, dictionary searches or whatever you like. Here is a short summary of how it works (but read the whole article!):

Favelets are applets (mini applications) in javascript that run from the Favorites list in Internet Explorer: Favorites + applets = favelets. They're cool because they add functionality to your browser environment, which (let's face it) is where most of the action is these days.(...)

Because of the New Testament Names project, i'm a regular user of the word search features on the ESV website, as i look up some semi-obscure name to learn and record information about it (like Ephraim, which i initially mistook for a reference to the OT figure of the same name). But i got tired of finding the page, typing in the word, using the pull-down to select New Testament only, select just whole word matching .... click click click click click!

Favelets to the rescue! Here's how it works:

  • Drag (don't click) this link to the Links section of your browsers toolbar. It will complain that it might not be safe: you'll have to decide if you trust me :-)
  • ESV NT word search
  • Select (highlight) a word in your browser that you want to look up (like this one: content)
  • Click on the favelet
  • A new browser window will open up, with the URL constructed to do a search on that word in the New Testament only, whole word matching, text only.

I have tried it myself and it works fine. Nice tip, Sean!

May 28, 2004

Bible.cc Parallel Bible

Here is another tool that can be used from a web page. It shows any given passage in 7 different translations (World English Bible, American Standard Version, Bible in Basic English, Darby's Translation, King James Version, Webster's Bible, and Young's Literal Translation), with further links to 10 additional (copyrighted) versions. You just have to use the format http://bible.cc/book/chapter-verse.htm and voila! Here is an example from John 1:1. Unfortunately, you can only point to a single verse at a time. For more info on current details and future projects, including a search feature, look here.

June 2, 2004

Bible Software and Bibliographies

Mark Goodacre notes some of the articles published in the Denver Journal. The first one he mentions is New Testament Exegesis Bibliography, compiled by C. L. Blomberg and William W. Klein. Fairly standard list, with lots of good books. But my question is: why isn't there a single reference to any Bible software, multimedia software, courseware or such like? Does this mean that there is no single software tool that deserves to be recommended? It baffles me that this should still happen in 2004. Come on, ladies and gentlemen! there are currently some excellent applications that scholars and students should not only know about, but use extensively.

Update (a few hours later...): Mark left a comment, which he repeats in an update to his original post, where he aptly points out something I failed to mention: Internet resources. These are increasingly becoming a vital part of any research project. I guess the whole point of this thread is that we should wave to a good number of people and say: "Hey, welcome to the 21st Century!"

More... David Lang emails me with some helpful observations: "I think many people shy away from citing electronic resources in their research because they're unsure how to do it. For example, how do you specify a page number in a footnote or bibliographic citation if you're dealing with an electronic resource?" Well, a simple Google search returned a number of useful links on citing electronic and online resources. The Columbia Guide to Online Style seems to be a good one, although there are a number of them. Also, let's remember that many high-end Bible software packages include different bibliographic formats that users can just copy and paste. As for the comment that "even if a student or scholar properly cites an electronic resource, most of that student's professors or that scholar's peers may not KNOW the conventions for citing electronic resources, and so may regard such sources of information to be less credible or more difficult to verify than good, old-fashioned books", I think that's exactly the point I was trying to make. Many people have not made the "switch" to electronic-based research yet, and it's about time we all did. Beginnings are always difficult, and standardized citing conventions may still be in a state of flux, but we have to hang in there. I believe we have to encourage the use of digital tools, and apply to them the same critical thinking approach we should use when we work with any other sources.

June 7, 2004

SBL Forum Review

This month's SBL Forum includes a review of Logos Bible Software Series X written by Frank Ritchel Ames. The review majors on features and content of academic interest. There is one comment, though, that I cannot agree with. He says that "The software will run on faster Macintosh platforms using a PC emulation program such as Microsoft Virtual PC." I have not tried Virtual PC on a faster Mac, but all the reports I have read indicate that Libronix will run painfully slow even on a high-end Macintosh. If by "running" one means having a cup of coffee between one click and the next one, then I concur: it does run ;-)

June 9, 2004

Use of Blogs in Theology and Biblical Studies

This may be considered off-topic by some, but since this blog falls into the general category of Biblical Studies, and given the fact that I am the blogger, and I decide what's on-topic and what is not ;-), here it goes.

Jim West, over at Biblical Theology comments on a new blog called U of London Bachelor of Divinity: Davide's Notes.

Apparently it was started recently (April 20) by Davide, a BD student at the University of London. He sums up the purpose of his blog with the following sentence: "This blog is meant to jot down notes on theology and various reflections related to my Bachelor of Divinity studies. Expect no coherence, no originality, no spectacular insights, and so on." Bravo, Davide! I commend you for taking the trouble to blog on your studies. I think this is one of the great things about weblogs, and something sorely missed by people who embark on non-residential courses. The University of London External Programme, with which I am well acquainted, offers an excellent Bachelor of Divinity syllabus (IMHO it was even better when Greek was compulsory!).

I've been very pleased to learn about Davide's interests, and how he is debating with himself (and his readers!), what subjects he should sit next academic year. I take it that he's just completed Intertestamental Studies and Philosophy of Religion this year. I wish him well, and humbly suggest that he consider taking New Testament with Greek Texts (rather than English)... Sorry, couldn't resist!

In conclusion, I think blogs like this one are a very interesting development in the field of Biblical Studies. Up until fairly recently, external students enrolled at the University of London, particularly those living outside Great Britain, did not have much chance to exchange opinions, share news and links, and encourage and be encouraged by fellow students. Now all that has changed. Maybe not everybody is aware yet, but the fact is that the Internet has potentially revolutionize the way we learn, study and live. But you know that already. That's why you are reading this blog... My goodness, I'm preaching to the choir again!

(...a few minutes later...) Oops! I must have missed a more recent post where Davide says he's changed his mind and finally decided to take Greek and Hebrew. Good for him!

June 21, 2004

Online Septuagint

In his Philo of Alexandria Blog, Torrey Seland points to an online version of Alfred Rahlfs Septuagint (just the text, no critical apparatus), which is displayed in parallel columns alongside different French and English translations (mostly Brenton, but some KJV and RSV as well). The Unicode Greek font is very nice, and the interface easy to use.

July 20, 2004

David DeSilva on Bible Software

In his recent book (An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. InterVarsity Press/Apollos: 2004), David A. DeSilva includes a section called "A note about Bible software" (pp. 710-713). His comments are set within the context of a larger section on "Word Studies and Lexical Analysis", which according to the "socio-rhetorical interpretation" paradigm adopted by the author (p. 23) belong to the inner texture of the text.

After a few caveats where some of the most common exegetical fallacies are mentioned (e.g., word = concept fallacy - my term; is there a better name for it? -, etymological fallacy, and a few others), he presents what he terms "merely an introduction to the use of computer-assisted research in the study of the Greek New Testament" (p. 710, n. w). The list of Bible software programs includes BibleWorks, Logos Digital Library System - Scholar's Library, Bibloi (formerly known as Bible Windows), and Gramcord for Windows.

His comments throughout seem to indicate that he particularly likes the first two (i.e., BibleWorks and Scholar's Library). Mention is also made of Thesaurus Linguae Graece (TLG) and Perseus Project (p. 709, n. u).

Among the advantages DeSilva finds in using Bible software are the following:
a) Costs less than print versions of the same resources
b) It is easier to perform all kinds of searches with it
c) Renders print concordances superfluous
d) Facilitates comparative study of texts
e) Helps students read the Bible in the original languages
f) Integrates a dearth of research tools into a single, user-friendly environment
g) Saves time that can be (might I add "should be"?) invested in reflecting on the Bible text itself
h) Makes possible to carry out complex lexical searches involving two or more words
i) In the case of advanced students, allows them to search for grammatical constructions (he cites the example of PISTIS followed by a noun in the genitive case - p. 712)
j) Students with limited knowledge of Greek can gain access to the original language text with the aid of an interlinear Bible (he does not mention the ability to work with Strong's numbers)

The only disadvantage he points out explicitly is that the learning curve can be quite high, particularly in the case of the more complex and advanced packages, though the tutorials and help available in some cases are very useful.

All in all, an interesting read. I find the stance taken by the author quite stimulating, though I haven't read the whole book yet - almost 1,000 pages! - only the section reviewed here.

July 23, 2004

Doing Business or Ministry?

David Lang has written an insightful piece on the dichotomy between "business" and "ministry" in Bible software development. Interestingly enough, he is not the first developer to bring this subject up in recent months (see here). This, in itself, is a good sign, IMO.

David mentions some of the strengths and weaknesses of either model or approach, and my first reaction is always the same: anything that includes the word "Bible" in it is bound to be more than just business. I tend to look at this issue more in terms of striking the right balance than as a real "dichotomy." To think that "Bible" cannot possibly be associated with the term "business" gives rise to a good number of misconceptions. As he puts it:

To be frank, I've seen the ministry label used to justify everything from shoddy workmanship to cut-throat competition to copyright infringement to failure to pay royalties to poor user support to practices which I think border on being deceptive. Thus, it's not always so easy to conclude that "business" equals bad while "ministry" equals good.

The article also deals with the price of Bible software and the subjective perception of "affordability."

Finally, there is also one thing I can personally relate to, and that is what the author calls "the challenge of self-definition." Often times I am asked the question "Why are you not in ministry?" (read pastoral/teaching ministry) and "What do you do for a living instead?" In my experience, I have a much harder time trying to answer the first question, because it is based on a false premise. My answer is simply that I still am in ministry. Ministry of a different sort, but ministry after all!

July 26, 2004

Recent Referral

I must confess I'm not into the habit of checking where visitors come from on a regular basis. However, I just did today, only to find out that David A. Black has mentioned this little corner of cyberspace in his blog. I liked the little teaser he posted, which goes like this (sorry, I couldn't spot any permanent link):

Not all Bible software is created equal. You can review the latest cybernetic Scripture helps here.

Incidentally, I have read quite a few of his books - some authored and some edited by him -, while still others are on my waiting list (which, I hasten to add, is a rather long one!). Anyway, I'm glad he referred to my site, and I'm also happy I came across his site.

August 11, 2004

Torah with DH markings

This is from the latest B-Hebrew Digest (posted by Christopher V. Kimball):

A trial version of a site showing the Hebrew text of the Torah with markings of the Documentary Hypothesis is available at:

http://users.ntplx.net/~kimball/DH/Tanach.xml

The site is compatible with the Unicode/XML Tanach from the Westminister Leningrad Codex (WLC) currently available at:

http://users.ntplx.net/~kimball/Tanach/Tanach.xml

Comments are solicited to improve this resource.


UPDATE (December 9, 2005): The current url is:

http://www.cvkimball.com/Tanach/Tanach.xml

September 8, 2004

Project Watch: Online Parallel Bible

John Isett, director of Online Parallel Bible Project emails me to let me know that the site has been significantly updated since I last blogged about it. Two more versions have been added: JPS Old Testament and Weymouth New Testament. Navigating the site is easier, and the new chain link tool (a comprehensive word list compiled from 12 versions and containing approximately 500,000 entries) available for every verse is quite handy. More enhancements will be added soon.

September 13, 2004

Article Watch: Studying the Bible for free

The August 2004 issue of Stimulus, The New Zealand journal of Christian thought and practice, edited by blogger Tim Bulkeley, includes a Bible software review written by Michael Hanson (Studying the Bible for free). In it, Hanson, who is Dean of Studies at Carey Baptist College in Auckland, compares three freeware programs (Sword, e-Sword, and Online Bible) and surveys three other Internet-based Bible study tools (The Bible Tool, The Blue Letter Bible, and Crosswalk Online Study Bible). Here's an excerpt taken from his concluding remarks:

All of the tools tested are very good. They all have strengths and weakness but none disappoint (...) Over the next couple of years expect to see major developments in the web-based tools. These will be refined and additional features added. As more and more users get high-speed internet access these tools will grow in popularity. Are these free Bible study tool worth using? Most definitely. Will these tools provide the average student of the Bible what they need? Without a doubt. Will these Bible study tools provide the tools for serious students of the Bible? Probably not yet!

It is worth downloading the PDF file (follow link above) and reading the whole article.