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Software Review

James D. Dvorak

Strong Black Coffee, May 4, 2009.
[http://jd.jdvorak.org/pt/blog/default.aspx?id=307&t=Review-of-BibleWorks-8&s=false]

Software Review

BibleWorks 8. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC, 2009. Software. $349. http://www.BibleWorks.com.

For as long as I have been a BibleWorks user—over ten years now—it has been apparent to me that this software’s creators, designers, and developers have a keenly-focused purpose: to provide a computer-based exegetical tool that not only “speeds up” but also truly enhances text-focused biblical study. BibleWorks 8 represents a tremendous advance in the fulfillment of that mission.

There are too many features in BW8 to review them all, so I have chosen to review briefly the software based on six criteria: (1) quantity and quality of resources packaged with the software (not including add-on modules); (2) search and research capabilities; (3) extensibility; (4) interactivity; (5) mobility; and (6) price.

1. Quantity and Quality of Resources

The first criterion is probably the most subjective because ultimately it has to do with why a person wants or needs to purchase Bible software. Further, it not only concerns quantity, but also quality. Thus, usually when someone asks me to review Bible software or to help them choose Bible software, I respond by asking, ‘What do you want to do with it?’ For this review, I will approach this criterion from the perspective of a person looking for Bible software to aid in studying the Bible in its original languages, which is primarily how I use the software.

BW8 comes packed with many resources that fill a critical role in studying the Bible in its original languages. As with previous versions, the software comes with the standard texts used in Biblical studies, viz., 4th edition of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Rahlfs’s Septuagint, and the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies 4th edition Greek New Testament. BW8 contains other important texts for critical study; here is a short list: Peshitta and Targumim; Scrivner’s/Stephanus Textus Receptus; Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament; Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament with critical apparatus; Greek and Latin Apostolic Fathers; Works of Josephus (English and Latin); Works of Philo (Greek and English). New additions in BW8 include: Delitzsch Hebrew New Testament, Old Syriac Sinaiticus manuscript, Old Syriac Curetonian manuscript, a number of Targumim (lemmatized and linked to the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in Greek (morphologically tagged), and a proofed and corrected Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament.

In terms of lexical and grammatical resources, BW8 is loaded with the standards, as well as a few extras (again, see the Web site for full list): Holladay’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament; Brown-Driver-Briggs (abridged and unabridged); Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar; Conybeare and Stock Grammar of the Septuagint; Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon; Gingrich/Danker Shorter Lexicon (full BDAG lexicon is available as an ‘unlockable’ module); and Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. Each of these resources is completely searchable (more below) and users may set their
preferred Hebrew and Greek lexica as default resources for quick searches and mouse-over lookups.

Since BW5, BibleWorks has added a significant number of resources to their system that either are or are quickly becoming ‘standard’ resources in Biblical studies. There are still a few gaps I wish would be filled. For example, BDAG lexicon ought not be an add-on module; it should be wrapped into the full program, even if it means paying a bit more for the software. Further, BibleWorks should remove those resources which are becoming obsolete (e.g., Matthew Henry’s commentary). That said, any one of these resources can be disabled so as not to ‘clutter up’ the program (or take up disk space).

BW8 also comes with other helpful tools for students of Biblical languages. For example, there is a flash card module which allows cards to be imported, exported, or printed. Further, users can record their own pronunciations or import pronunciations to be associated with each card. Additionally, users can purchase add-on modules to extend BibleWorks (e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls English translation bundle of both biblical and sectarian texts). Many modules that cost extra for BW7 are now included in the base package of the software (e.g. Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Waltke and O’Connor’s An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax and Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament).

There are many other resources included in BW8 which are useful to scholars and students alike. Space does not allow a full list here; see the BibleWorks Web site for a full list.

2. Search and Research Capabilities

In my opinion, search ability is the chief component of any Bible software (it is second in my list only because one must first have quality resources to search [see above]). People, particularly Biblical scholars and students, purchase Bible software to help them do research, so having a robust, yet easy-to-use search mechanism, as well as other helpful research tools is a must. BW8 does not disappoint in this regard.

In early versions of BibleWorks, the search engine was powerful, allowing all kinds of searches from very simple lexical searches to very sophisticated morphological searches. However, in those early versions, the more sophisticated searches required learning special search codes, which made the tool more difficult to use and less user-friendly. For example, if I wanted to find all verses with article-noun-kai/-noun phrases, I would have entered the following into the command line: ‘*@d* *@n* kai *@n*, which would return 140 hits in 136 verses.

Things began to change with BW6 and the introduction of the graphical search engine (GSE, formerly ASE). While there were still some kinks to be worked out (and there was still a learning curve), more sophisticated searches became much easier. The same search is much easier to ‘assemble’ in the GSE, a thumbnail of which you can see to the right (click the image for a larger view). There is still a small learning curve for using the GSE, but, like BW7, BW8 comes with context-sensitive help, written tutorials, video tutorials, and plenty of sample searches that enable the user to learn to use the tool rather quickly. And, if you are still stumped, BibleWorks has started a series of forums on their Web site where you can find help (and give it, too!).

As mentioned, BW8 can perform simple or complex searches. I will give an example of each. Let’s say I am reading Matthew’s Gospel, and I come across a form I do not recognize, like e0punqa/neto in Mt. 2.4. Instead of pulling my reader’s lexicon off my shelf (and dusting it off!), I can very easily find out the lexical form of the item and how many times in appears in the LXX and NT—and all that by clicking my mouse a few times! Once I have pulled up the verse in BW8, I can hover my cursor over the lexical item in question and an information window pops up and displays the lexical form of the item, a simple one or two word definition, and the parsing information. So, without even clicking my mouse, I’ve learned that the form is an imperfect indicative verb, deponent, third person singular from punqa/nomai, ‘inquire, ask, investigate, learn’. To find all places in the LXX and NT where the same form appears, I simply double-click the word, and in less than a second I have the following list of verse references displayed in my search results pane (along with the searched term highlighted among a bit of context from each verse): 2 Chr. 31.9; 2 Macc. 3.9; 3 Macc. 1.13; 5.18, 27; Dan. 2.15; Mt. 2.4; Lk. 15.26; 18.36; Acts 21.33; 23.19. If I wanted to find every instance in the LXX and NT where this term appeared in any form, I would right-click the word, and select ‘Search on lemma.’ In 0.06 seconds, I have the following verse references (and a bit of context) in my search results pane: Gen. 25.22; 2 Chr. 31.9; 32.31; 1 Es. 6.10; Est. 3.13; 6.4; 2 Macc. 3.9; 3 Macc. 1.13; 5.18, 27; 4 Macc. 9.27; 11.13; Dan. 2.15; Mt. 2.4; Lk. 15.26; 18.36; Jn 4.52; 13.24; Acts 4.7; 10.18, 29; 21.33; 23.19-20, 34. I can also search for the term in the lexicons from the context menu (right-click) or view a summary of this term in all the pertinent resources (see image above), which even shows the Hebrew word(s) standing behind the use of this term in the LXX.

There are many other ways you can customize your searches in BW8 and thereby harness the power of the search engine. These include: creating inclusion/exclusion lists; setting search limits (by book or custom limits); include/exclude Hebrew vowel pointing or Greek accents/ breathing marks in search; and more.

3. Extensibility

BibleWorks began including ‘connections’ to Web-based resources in previous versions, but it seems that with BW7 the concept of extensibility was taken more seriously, though more work needed to be done in this area. Attention was given to features of extensibility in BW8 culminating with the introduction of ERMIE (External Resources Manager). ERMIE is a cataloging tool that provides the ability to organize and quickly access resources stored on one’s computer, network, or the World Wide Web. BibleWorks describes ERMIE as functioning similarly to the bookmark feature in an Internet browser, but with the added ability to organize files located on your computer. One can create multiple catalog files and change catalog files according to your study needs. One can also share catalog files with other BibleWorks users and import other catalog files into their own ERMIE catalog. For example, I subscribe to a number of online biblical studies journals from which I download articles in PDF format. Using ERMIE, I am able to organize and access those articles on a just-in-time basis.

As in BW7, BW8 contains links to important online databases such as Perseus and TLG. The latter site is subscription-based and requires a log in. I have access through my institutional library, which uses a proxy server for authentication. Because BibleWorks allows users to customize the embedded URLs used to link to these sources, I was able to acquire the appropriate URL from the library and insert it into BibleWorks so that when I choose to search a term in TLG, I am directed to the resource via the library’s proxy server. This exemplifies the kind of power that can be added to a tool through even the simplest extensibility options.

As with previous version of BibleWorks, one can create, compile, and share custom versions and modules. While I have not personally created any custom versions or modules, I have benefitted from many others who have. Many of these are available for free from “The BibleWorks Blog” (http://bibleworks.oldinthenew.org/).

4. Interactivity

In my review of BW7, I gave it a 7.5 or 8 on a 10-point scale (10 being the best) for its interactivity. With BW8, I would raise the rating to an 8 or 8.5. I believe that what I wrote about BW7 still applies to BW8:

…if you really want to use the tools and resources to their fullest functional potential, you really need to read the manual packaged with the software. As an alternative, you can watch a number of excellent screen video demonstrations for step-by-step instructions. Any software—bible software or not—will have its own set of challenges for different users because software is created to accomplish tasks that range from really simple to extremely complex. And, much like humans get frustrated when trying to make sense of utterances spoken in a language foreign to them, so too users will get a bit frustrated trying to use the more complex tools built in to a software package without first ‘learning its language’. To extend the metaphor even further: there are no shortcuts in learning a language, and there are no shortcuts in learning to use this (or any) software. It takes time and use to become competent and comfortable with it.

BW8 includes a few improvements on the user interface introduced with BW7. My favorites include the addition of a few helpful tabs in the analysis window. For example, the Resources Summary tab, which is a Window that displays a summary of available information related to Greek and Hebrew words under the mouse cursor in the Browse Window. It includes a list of abbreviated Lexicon entries as well as a list of locations where the current verses is cited. The Resource Summary Tab contains three types of information:

  • If the word under the cursor has an entry in one or more Lexicons, you will see a lexical entry for each lexicon, along with the first line of the entry for the word. If you click on the entry the full lexicon will be opened in the Lexicon Browser Window at the entry in question.
  • If the current verse is referenced in any of the indexed resources, you will see an entry for each reference. Clicking on the entry will open the lexicon or book in question at the place where the verse is referenced. Note that looking up a reference from the Summary Tab will open up separate lexicon browsers for OT references and NT references, but once either lexicon browser window is opened, looking up entries in other lexicons of the same language will simply replace the first entry with the new entry. This minimizes the number of Lexicon Windows opened.
  • For morphological versions shortcuts are often given to grammatical references where the particular morphology is discussed. For example, if you place the mouse cursor over a Greek verb that is in the aorist tense, the Summary Tab will contain references to places where grammars discuss the aorist tense.
  • In addition to the Resource Summary tab, BW8 adds the following:
  • The new Words and Context Tabs show the most common words in the pericope, book, or chapter, plus list all the words found in your search.
  • The new Browse Tab contains the Bible display text synchronized to the Browse Window for easier view of the context of your study verse.
  • The new Search Statistics Tab displays an updated search statistics window that enables statistics for verses and shows statistics for the OT, NT, and Apocrypha as different colors.
  • The Phrase Matching Tool finds all verses containing phrases similar to the ones contained in the search verse.
  • The Related Verses Tool finds all verses containing some of the same words contained in the search verse.
  • The new Cross-Reference Tab shows cross-references for the Browse Window verse. The tab can display a variety of included cross-reference databases and enables you to build your own cross-reference database and share it with others.

5. Mobility

In my review of BW7, I noted that this was an area where BibleWorks perhaps needs to give attention, and I still believe this is the case. A few years ago, I asked the company if they would be coming out with a ‘pocket’ version of BW that would run on my handheld. The response I received indicated that they had not thought about the potential of moving into this arena. Most people know that it is possible for decent Bible software to run on a handheld, even if the offering is a ‘trimmed down’ version. For example, I have the Nestle-Aland text with Gramcord Lite installed on my current handheld (see www.OliveTree.com or www.Gramcord.org) and there are similar tools available for the Hebrew Bible. Obviously, I do not do hard-core exegesis on my PDA, but I do use it at church (sometimes even when I am preaching) and have on many occasions been in conversations about biblical matters where I have been able to look at a text in Greek or do some minor searches.

Several factors make this area an important one to contemplate seriously. First, devices are getting smaller and more powerful. My current handheld has more processing power than the desktop computer I had just a few years ago. Moreover, advances in solid-state storage (SD Cards, CF Cards, memory sticks, etc.) are creating more storage space at lower cost. Second, technologies like telephony, email, and other types of office computing are converging and finding a comfortable home on mobile devices (witness the convergence of PDAs and mobile phones). I am not suggesting that laptops (or desktops) are going away any time soon, but I do think people are becoming more used to using their mobile devices to perform important tasks. Further, many Christian business people read the Bible—or even prepare their bible school lessons—on their mobile devices while at the local coffee shop waiting for their next meeting. Third, handheld devices are making an impact in the world of education. While laptops hold the lion’s share of the education market, handhelds do hold a considerable share. I know that BibleWorks is serious about breaking into the education market with their software, so they should at least consider the possibilities. In addition to the user’s favorite version of the Bible, the flash card module and grammar helps leap to mind as potential educational tools on a handheld.

6. Price

Not too much needs to be said about the price of BW7. In fact, at $349 USD (retail), BW8 is extremely competitively priced. What I refer to as the ‘What-You-Get-To-What-You-Pay’ ratio is clearly in the consumer’s favor. Add-on modules start at $15 USD and climb from there. For the most part, the modules are reasonably priced, but due to constraints imposed by publishers some of them are a bit pricey. For example, one can add Blass, DeBrunner, and Funk’s Greek grammar for a reasonable $55 USD. Adding Baur, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker’s lexicon, however, will set a buyer back $150 USD.

Summary

There are too many features in BW8 to review them all, so I have chosen to review the software based on six criteria: (1) quantity and quality of resources packaged with the software (not including add-on modules); (2) search and research capabilities; (3) extensibility; (4) interactivity; (5) mobility; and (6) price. In sum, with the exception of mobility, BW8 is an excellent Bible research software on all fronts. It boasts of excellent resources and extremely powerful searching capabilities. Additionally, there are a number of super learning aids that come standard in the package. The user can extend the capabilities of the program by adding custom external links. The interface, though still somewhat ‘crowded’, has been markedly improved from previous versions, and with a little help from the manual and instructional videos users can quickly become comfortable getting around. Finally, the retail price of $349 USD is, in my opinion, less than could have been charged for the product (but don’t tell them!), though a few of the add-on modules are, perhaps, a bit overpriced.

James D. Dvorak earned his B.A. in Bible from OC in 1995, his M. Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School  in 2001, his M.A. in Education and Human Development from The George Washington University in 2004. He is a Ph.D. Candidate at McMaster Divinity College in Christian Theology, specializing in Hellenistic Greek and Linguistics.

 

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