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Finding Needles in Biblical Haystack

by Yves Duhoux 

From the "Times Higher Education Supplement" (London), July 27, 2001.

The Bible is a precious book. Precious, but bulky: usually more than 1,000 pages. So, it is not easy to track down the sources of biblical quotations - where does "chariots of fire" come from? - let alone to identify passages on a particular theme: not only a moral or social one, such as peace or marriage, but more mundane ones, such as vegetables or shoes. Of course, many printed Bibles offer a list of the main themes, with a selection of the most important quotations.

There are also dictionaries, encyclopedias, monographs and journals specialising in biblical studies. But not everyone seriously interested in biblical research has either the space or the resources for a library. Maybe the answer is to buy a biblical CD, aided by a website, such as BibleWorks.

BibleWorks 4.0 is the latest in a series of CDs (upgrades for users of earlier versions are available). Here is a list of just some of its contents: the Hebrew, Greek and Latin texts of the Old Testament (hereafter OT); the Greek and Latin texts of the New Testament (hereafter NT), with their different editions (Nestle-Aland and half a dozen others); an exceptional choice of translations, including some 20 English ones (the King James Version, The English Bible in Basic English, The New Living Translation and so on) and translations into Albanian, Catalan, Creole, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese - about 60 modern languages are represented.

A wonderful feature is that original texts and translations may be associated at the user's wish. Suppose you want to compare three different translations with the original Greek text of St John's Gospel? They appear together onscreen. Even better, whenever the cursor moves over a Greek or Hebrew word, its meaning appears in a window, along with its grammatical parsing. This provides something like a home teacher of biblical Greek and Hebrew.

What about dictionaries? Reference tools such as Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon (abridged), B. M. Newman's Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, Whitaker's Revised Hebrew-English Lexicon, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, are at one's disposal. There are encyclopedias, too, but of so venerable an age - the Easton Bible Dictionary (1897), the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915), and so on - that they should be supplemented by more recent ones.

Search requests in BibleWorks are answered almost instantly. I looked for "justice" in the OT and the NT (in the New King James Version). In less than a second, 129 references appeared on the screen in sorted order, with "justice" written in red. Then I looked for "love of God" and in 0.22 seconds 12 references came up, all of them in the NT - none in the OT (no surprise there). What about "fear of God"? In 0.28 seconds I found eight references; this time there were five in the OT and three in the NT. And if you try something more complicated, such as looking for an association of two words in the same verse, the results are equally quick. For instance, "fear of God" with "eyes" produced two references in 0.17 seconds, and "oil" and "bone(s)" produced one reference in 0.16 seconds. All this was done not on a PC, for which BibleWorks is intended, but on my Apple Macintosh, which inevitably reduced BibleWorks's speed. With a PC, the references would have been found even faster.

What if one tries more complicated queries? For instance, let us find in the Greek NT all the forms of "Jesus" in the vocative. Within 0.11 seconds, BibleWorks gives you ten references. With "Paul" instead of "Jesus": tworeferences in 0.05 seconds. You can also find all the imperatives in the Greek NT - 1,222 of them - in 3.35 seconds; 615 aorist imperatives in 1.87 seconds; 557 aorist imperatives in the second person in 1.70 seconds; and 263 aorist imperatives in the second person plural only, in 1.15 seconds.

If instead you want to explore a semantic field, for instance all the Greek words or phrases expressing the notion of "time" in the NT, with one click the Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains gives the answer: 208 references.

Are the results of these searches correct? When I tested another biblical CD, Accordance, about two years ago, the number of mistakes was too high to be acceptable. I put BibleWorks 4.0 through the same tests as Accordance.

There is no doubt that BibleWorks 4.0 is much more reliable than Accordance. Of course, there are mistakes - how could it be otherwise, when the Greek text of the Bible contains more than 700,000 words, many of them with complicated parsings (first person singular, indicative present active and so on)? There are errors in BibleWorks, but few, and they are constantly corrected because BibleWorks regularly updates its databases.

Registered users may download patches with corrections free from its website (http://www.bibleworks.com); there have been frequent updates during 2001. This crucial feature is lacking from Accordance.

Is BibleWorks easy to use? Some training is necessary but good instructional videos are included on the two CDs. There is also online help and a 271-page user manual. There is also an efficient email help desk. This marvel is not cheap, but you still get more than you pay for. 

Yves Duhoux teaches ancient Greek language and the history of Oriental scripts at the Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

 

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