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THE FOREFRONT OF BIBLICAL SOFTWARE

Paul Foster

The Expository Times
September 2013 124: 592-593

For about two decades various bible software programs have been available. The range of texts, the additional reference works included, and the power of analytical and morphological tools have all improved at an exponential rate. Perhaps even more importantly the ease with which such packages can be used means that they are no longer a supplement to shelves of lexica, concordances and grammars, instead they have become the first port of call for those engaged in serious biblical research.

The Bibleworks 7 package was reviewed in this journal several years ago. The eighth version was an incremental improvement on its predecessor. However, with this new ninth version there is a quantum leap in the power and functionality in the updated package. Upon opening the new version, the first thing those familiar with older version will notice is the option to display a fourth column. This provides a second analysis window that allows a number of options. It is possible to customize searches permitting the researcher to set the most relevant parameters. However, as somebody with a keen interest in manuscripts, the most stunning advance is to be found by using the manuscript tab. Selecting a verse such as Luke 4.18 in the top pane of the fourth column one finds a horizontal line synopsis of selected printed texts and manuscripts. The Robinson and Pierpont edition of the Majority text is supplied, as are electronic versions of Nestlé-Aland 27/UBS 4, and the Westcott Hort text. Underneath the display of these modern editions are transcriptions of several important manuscripts. These include Codex Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Bezae, Washingtonianus, 1141 (for the Paulines, where extant, Boernerianus is also available). In the lower pane one also has access to the manuscript images. As a teaching tool this is invaluable, and I have already utilised this in classes on textual criticism, collation and preparation of an edition of a manuscript, and advanced reading of the Greek NT. It is difficult to imagine returning to an era where such resources were not readily available.

Also available in the fourth column, under the verse tab are a range of critical tools. These include the critical apparatus from Tischendorf’s Editio Octava Critica Maior, the critical apparatus of the Center for New Testament Textual Studies (CNTTS), Metzger’s Textual Commentary, among others. While those with developed skills in biblical languages may benefit most from these tools, there are also many benefits for those beginning study of the biblical languages. The package contains vocabulary flashcards (electronic, audio, and printable), along with the presentation of various paradigms. However, what is of greater benefit from a pedagogical stance is for the user (at whatever level) to engage in learner-led learning. Students can supplement their in-class learning through self-paced discovery. Questions that have arisen in class through discussion that have come about simply because of the exploration of the non-threatening environment available on the BibleWorks platform have highlighted areas of misunderstanding, or allowed for a deeper appreciation of some point of language acquisition.

In addition, the map tools are extensive and are another feature that is easy to use. These are readily transferable into the classroom setting, via programs such as powerpoint. The maps include electronic versions of printed Bible Atlases, and access to detailed satellite maps. Such cartographic images can be customized with reference to specific time periods or sites. In terms of the original language texts available these include various Hebrew texts, Syriac Peshitta, Old Syriac Curetonian and Sinaiticus, and Aramaic Targums. Apart from Greek texts already mentioned one has access to Ralhlf’s Septuagint, the Apostolic Fathers, the works of Philo and Josephus – among much else. In Latin the text of the Vulgate is included. Although perhaps not of as much interest to scholars, there are also forty modern languages represented with multiple versions of the bible in those languages.

Given these veritable riches it is perhaps churlish to say what one would like in addition to these features. However, it may be helpful for the developers to have a scholarly wish list. It would be wonderful if the manuscript resources in the fourth window were to grow with the addition of more manuscript transcriptions and images. An electronic text of the non-canonical or apocryphal NT would be a welcomed addition, perhaps the relatively straightforward recent edition compiled by Ehrman and Pleše would be an easy starting point. Finally it would enrich the original language power of the software to include Coptic versions of biblical texts, and to have access to the Nag Hammadi texts in the Coptic. Maybe those things are planned for BibleWorks 10 or 11?

One question that must be asked is whether the package is value for money. Surely that question is relatively simple to answer. Both in absolute and comparative terms it would be difficult to find a research tool that offered a better return on one’s investment. The sheer power of the search engines, the rapid access to multiple original language texts, and the ability to customize searches make BibleWorks 9 superb value for money. There is also the comparative question to be answered. Having just consulted the websites of two leading competitors for academic bible software, the first offers a range of packages. The starter package comes with no original language tools, so that is not a fair comparison. The gold package contains many original language texts and tools, but costs over $1500 (and the premium portfolio package is nearly $5000). Admittedly these packages offer access to electronic versions of more recent commentaries and other scholarly books. Another company offers a more modularised approach to selling its products. Its starter package without significant access to original language texts and tools is only $49.00, its ultimate version, which among other things does contain the Greek text of the apocryphal gospels retails at $1999. BibleWorks 9 can now be run on an Apple Mac without emulator software, although an emulator gives slightly faster performance.

For power, for price, for pleasure of use, choosing bible software has almost become a one-horse race. The advances achieved in this latest version of BibleWorks are breath-taking, for scholars and students alike. Both research and learning have been made easier, and classroom presentations can be more dynamic simply with the click of a mouse. Above all, using this package is a lot of fun. For any serious scholar or student of scripture, BibleWorks 9 is an essential tool, one that will be used daily, and one that will enrich and enhance the study of the biblical texts.

Paul Foster is Senior Lecturer of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology
School of Divinity at University of Edinburgh.

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