Review of e-Sword for Windows  
   
  Version: 7.7.7  
  Developer: Rick Meyers  
  Holger Szesnat  
Overall Rating:  7.6
User Interface: Searching:
Ease of Use Features:
Help & Support: Modules:
Customization: Original Languages:
Speed: Price:

October 10, 2005

A review written by Holger Szesnat, Lecturer, Eastern Region Ministry Course, UK. Copyright © 2005-2009 by the author. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce any part of this document without obtaining permission from the author.

1. Introduction

e-Sword was created by Rick Meyers in 2000 as a free Bible programme running on Windows 98 OS (or better). Later a version for Pocket PC was developed as well. The programmes are freeware, but not open source. The Windows version tested in this review is 7.7.7 (released in July 2005), on a machine running Windows XP. According to user comments in a various support fora (eg. the WINE forum), it is possible to run it on Linux as well, using the WINE application; however, this is neither officially supported nor advertised. The official programme website, http://www.e-sword.net, claimed 3.000.000 downloads of e-Sword for Windows by August 2005, a third of which apparently took place in the previous 12 months.

I wish to begin by stating the most important conclusion: e-Sword is a great programme for the general user. There are drawbacks and limitations, of course, but on the whole this programme is very helpful.

2. Installation

Installation seems quite easy and straightforward. The setup file (17MB) worked fine on my Windows XP system, installing the programme with the base module (Authorised / King James version with integrated Strong's numbers, together with Strong's numbers 'dictionary'). All further modules (versions, dictionaries, commentaries, etc.) have to be downloaded individually, and installed in essentially the same manner, which should enable most users, even those with limited computer skills, to install this programme without problems. I did once encounter problems installing the programme on a laptop running Windows XP which had not run OS upgrades for a year, but once I fixed that, it installed and worked without further trouble.

Programme updates may be downloaded at a later stage; they tend to weigh in at about 7 MB. Users with dial-up accounts may find the initial 17MB file difficult to download, but since it may be freely distributed, some people burn e-Sword on CD's and distribute them freely; that is certainly how I do it with my students in order to encourage them to make use of it straightaway. For a small donation, it is also possible to purchase a CD with the programme from the programme writer.

3. Basic interface features

The standard interface (fig. 1) offers a reasonably clear view of the resources on offer in the programme: there is a text-based menu system at the top, underneath which follow a number of useful shortcut icons. A slim panel on the far left shows which 'book' and chapter one is currently looking at. The panel in the centre shows the Biblical text(s); a panel to the right offers commentaries; and a further panel at the bottom shows dictionaries and related tools. This interface is customisable; for example, one can maximise the Biblical text window, or the dictionary window, or the commentary window.


Fig. 1 User interface.

4. Bible Display

4.1. General

BibleTexts are displayed in the central panel; different versions are indicated by convenient 'tabs' offering abbreviated version titles (hovering the mouse over them provides the full name; the 'Bible' menu at the top also sometimes offers more detailed information about the version currently in use - if the version module writer included it!).

The text is rigidly structured in chapters and verses; moving from a verse at the end of one chapter to the beginning of another is therefore a little cumbersome. Bible versions may be displayed individually (as in fig. 1); in comparison with each other (fig. 2); or in synoptic fashion (up to four versions in parallel display; fig. 6). Displayed texts may be highlighted to aid linked annotation in connection with the user comments feature.


Fig. 2 Comparison of individual verse in different versions.

4.2. Greek / Hebrew texts

It is possible to use Greek (fig. 3) and Hebrew texts (fig. 4) with e-Sword, although - not surprisingly - the programme website itself offers only older text editions that are in the public domain, such as various forms of the Textus Receptus and Westcott-Hort for the NT, and a consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible text, albeit of undisclosed provenance (perhaps the Aleppo Codex text, which appears to be in the public domain?).


Fig. 3 Greek NT (textus receptus) with variants, including Alexandrinus.


Fig. 4 Hebrew Bible text.

Some of the unofficial user fora provide links to the Nestle-Aland text (26th ed.), but the legality of this is once again not clear to me. It would appear that the programme uses unicode fonts, though I did not see any explicit information about this (I only found out about this by trial and error). However, the programme allows for easy font changes. For example, in the partial screenshots displayed in fig. 3 and 4., I used Georgia and Courier New respectively.

5. Searching

Searching the Biblical texts is done with a simple search interface, which effectively allows for Boolean AND / OR / NOT searches for words and phrases, including partial matches and various wildcard options described in the help menu. The search can also be restricted to a specified range of books, as long as they are in canonical sequence (the modern Protestant canonical sequence, that is). The complexity of searches is limited by the fact that one cannot search across verse boundaries (see fig. 5).


Fig. 5 Search interface.

It is somewhat more difficult to search the Hebrew and Greek texts (ie. texts which are not using Latin characters). Neither the programme website nor the supporting documentation seems to indicate how one might search Greek or Hebrew texts; though of course it is possible that I missed it. The only way to do at least some sort of search of Greek and Hebrew words is to use the context menus that pop up when one right-clicks a word in the version in question: this allows the user to search the highlighted word or phrase.

A certain amount of manipulation of the search text thus created in the the pop-up search interface did allow for simple searches with partial matches. Incidentally, versions with integrated Strong's numbers also enable the user to search self-same numbers; this is discussed in detail in the extensive PDF-based user manual available on the programme website (written by B Gordon and J Struwig).

On the whole, therefore, searches of the Greek and Hebrew texts should be treated with caution.

Readers who are perhaps a trifle disappointed by this limited support for Greek and Hebrew ought to bear in mind that this programme was written for the general user; after all, the Grodon/Struwig user manual feels obliged to point out (p.27):

"The first important thing to remember when using this function [i.e. Strong's numbers] is to know that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek."

Searches seemed quite fast on my machine (Pentium 4, 2.4GHz, 512Mb RAM); for example, the search shown in fig. 5 took just a fraction of a second.

Users can see the results in the small result fields in the user interface, which display the verses found; however, clicking on the 'Accept' button will remove the search interface, and a small drop-down menu just above the Bible text panel (see fig. 1) will display the search results. This enables the user to read the verse(s) in context. It is also possible to print out or copy/paste search results into another programme, such as word-processing software.

6. Programme Highlights

In my view, e-Sword has four particularly useful aspects, which I would like to emphasise here.

6. 1. Parallel display of versions

From the point of view of a teacher of Biblical Studies, perhaps the most useful feature is the ability of e-Sword to display up to four versions parallel to each other, which aids a close reading of the text (fig. 6). It is also possible to print this 'synoptic' arrangement. It is chiefly on account of this feature (sometimes not even available on cheaper commercial programmes) that I currently recommend this programme to my entry-level students.


Fig. 6 Parallel display.

6.2. Customisation

It is fairly easy to create one's own comments ('study notes') and link them to a particular verse, and indeed additional texts such as 'topic notes'. Thus one can add to the number of 'sidebar' texts available on the programme website and various unofficial user fora. For example, it took only a few minutes to create a 'topic note' with the English text of the "Barmen Declaration" (fig. 7).


Fig. 7 User-produced topic notes.

6.3. General ease of use

In comparison with other free software, and of course in comparison with complex professional Bible software (Accordance; BibleWorks; etc.), e-Sword is relatively easy to use, which recommends it to the general, non-specialist user. Most of the basic user functions are quite intuitive, and the help functions / training manual / demonstration videos take care of issues that are not quite so straightforward.

6.4. Integration with Microsoft Word

I found the provision of a number of macros which integrate e-Sword into Word by means of four simple icons a rather helpful feature: it allows users to make use of the basic tools of e-Sword (in particular: displaying individual verses or verse ranges within a particular chapter; searching of versions) without the need to open e-Sword next to Word. Although I generally do not use Word myself if I can help it, I am sure that other users will regard this as a useful add-on.

7. Limitations / drawbacks

Few things come to mind in respect of e-Sword's drawbacks. The large file size is one; some freeware alternatives are quite a lot 'slimmer' which helps when downloading with a dial-up account.  Occasional trouble with getting the right fonts to work is another issue; a bit of trial and error testing is required at times. The two more serious drawbacks discussed further below, however, apply to almost all freeware Bible software.

7.1. Lack of access to copyright-limited versions

Freeware Bible programmes all share a basic limitation: the lack of access to copyright-limited versions, such as the NIV or the NRSV. Apparently the programme creator tried to negotiate with the copyright holders to make these versions available (including a fee to be paid to the copyright holders), but as yet to no avail.

Some of the unofficial user fora discuss the legality of making these versions available since many of these versions are, technically speaking, freely available through various internet sites. From a purely technical point of view, it is not too difficult to convert these texts into e-Sword format. For example, the unofficial Bible Import Tool for e-Sword, which is available on some user fora (eg. http://www.dnspad.com/olate/), creates e-Sword modules for various versions (including the NIV and NRSV) in this fashion. However, the legality of this process is disputed.

7.2. Lack of comments on nature of texts offered

A further problem is the lack of advice given on the nature of some of the resources offered. For example, I could not find any information about the age / edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) offered for e-Sword, which seems inappropriate for a book of such venerable age - not to mention potentially confusing given that a revised version was published in 1979 (ed. Bromley). What is offered for e-Sword is of course the original edition of 1915, which is in the public domain. For the professional user, this is perhaps obvious, but since the programme is clearly not written for (or by) scholars, this does constitute a certain drawback.

Similarly, there is little information on some of the Greek and Hebrew texts offered, and I am not entirely certain about their accuracy, that is, how accurately they represent the printed text they are supposed to derive from. Users should accordingly treat them with some caution. Of course, this is necessary with any text, though perhaps more so with freely available electronic texts.

8. Additional Tools

E-Sword offers a number of additional tools: dictionaries; commentaries, a graphics viewer for maps and the like; an integrated STEP reader; personal note taking with an integrated, customisable spell-checker and thesaurus (for US-American English), and more: in fact, more than I could reasonably discuss here. In what follows, I will briefly comment on the three main features.

8.1. Dictionaries and Commentaries

E-Sword offers the usual range (usual, that is, for freeware / open source Bible software) of public-domain dictionaries for easy integration into the programme, such as: Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions; Easton's Bible Dictionary; the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; Strong's Bible Dictionary; Thayer's Greek Definitions; Noah Webster's Dictionary of American English (1828). Commentaries include the Geneva Bible Translation Notes; Keil & Delitzsch' Commentary on the Old Testament; Matthew Henry's Commentary; Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament; Scofield's Reference Notes; and John Wesley's Notes on the Bible.


Fig. 8 Note on Erastus in Rom 16:23.

All of these resources are at least about a 100 years old, but given the limitations imposed by copyright, this is probably as good as it gets. Both dictionaries and commentaries are linked to the Bible versions, so that they will usually display appropriate texts when a particular verse is shown, or a relevant word is highlighted. Dictionaries and commentaries can be searched, printed, and copied /pasted.

8.2. Graphics Viewer

A nice feature is the integrated graphics viewer, combined with a variety of maps and pictures: for example, American Bible Society Maps; Gustave Doré New Testament Woodcuts; and NASA satellite images of the Mediterranean. The graphics viewer works as a separate 'pop up' programme window which allows zooming in and out, copying /pasting, and printing.


Fig. 9 Graphic viewer.

9. User Support

As is frequently the case with freeware or open source software, there is considerable user support, especially by means of unofficial user fora. However, the programme creator himself has written a short help file which explains the basic functions, as well as a number of training videos. There is also a link to a very useful, comprehensive user manual (PDF; 100+pp; written by Barry Gordon and Johan Struwig) on the programme website.

10. Conclusion

In my view, e-Sword is a highly useful tool for the study of the Biblical texts; I would currently rate it as the best free Bible software available for Windows OS. From the perspective of the teacher of Biblical Studies, the ease of installation and use, coupled with the programme's ability to show up to four Bible versions in parallel display, makes it a very useful tool for exegesis - that is why I try to introduce all my new entry-level students to it. After all, there are a number of inexpensive commercial programmes which are not as useful as e-Sword, so one must congratulate the author of the programme on his efforts.

e-Sword does not have the capabilities of professional tools like Accordance or BibleWorks, but that is hardly a useful comparison. If I want to do serious work with Biblical texts, I will of course continue to use and recommend professional software. However, for the user with little or no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, e-Sword is a great programme. Viewed from that perspective, the lack of immediate access to important recent versions such as the NRSV is its most serious drawback (see the comments under 'Limitations' above).

As with most Bible software, the theological context of e-Sword seems to be conservative evangelical. For those who do not share such theological views, this imposes certain further limitations (for example, resources like dictionaries and commentaries offered here are invariably theologically conservative, and often rather dated – but then, that is the nature of most public domain texts of this kind). The user fora in particular tend to get sidetracked at times by doctrinal discussions which users with different theological convictions may find exasperating. Having said that, the fact that users of other theological persuasions are not providing their own theological tools for e-Sword can hardly be seen as the fault of the makers of this programme. After all, the programme does enable users to produce their own Bible modules, commentaries, and so on.

On the whole, a very good programme for the general user; it would be even better if it acknowledged (and, where possible, addressed) its limitations, and if it managed to get permission to use versions like the NRSV, it would be near perfect for ordinary use.

Appendix: Useful Links


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