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BibleWorks 5: A Review

by Dr. Frank Ritchel Ames

Religious Studies News of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 2001

BibleWorks is a powerful analytical concordance that is easy to use and hard to outgrow. The Windows-based software allows one to read, search, and compare biblical texts in original languages and in modern translations, to analyze grammatical forms, and to consult a helpful set of lexicons and reference works. Using BibleWorks, the biblical scholar can quickly find a linguistic needle in a textual haystack.

The program includes text-only and grammatically tagged versions of the Hebrew Bible (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 4th corrected ed. with pointing and accenting), Septuagint (Rahlfs, 1935 ed. with Apocrypha and variants), and Greek New Testament (Nestle-Aland, 27th ed./UBS 4th ed.). A combined morphological database refines the analysis and facilitates comparative study of the Septuagint and Greek New Testament. One also finds editions of the Greek New Testament by Stephanus, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, Scrivener, and Robinson and Pierpont. The program also includes translations of the Bible in 24 modern languages, with English, French, German, and Spanish well represented. Among the many English translations in the program are the KJV (1611/1769), NRSV, NIV, NASB (1977/1995), NKJV, NAB, NJB, and JPSV (1917/1985).

In addition to these texts and translations, users have access to an assortment of fully indexed Hebrew and Greek lexicons: Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (complete and unabridged); Harris, Archer, and Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains; Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament; Newman, A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament; Friberg, Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament; and Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon (abridged). The program also provides access to several other tools such as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915), Metzger's Outline of the Bible, and an editable timeline that displays chronological events.

All texts, translations, and reference works are indexed and can either be browsed or searched; search results can be printed, exported to a file, or copied to either a standard word processor or the program's built-in text editor, which conveniently supports not only English and Greek but right-to-left typing in Hebrew. Attractive TrueType and Postscript fonts for Hebrew and Greek are provided.

BibleWorks has a fast and powerful search engine. Results from simple searches are returned instantaneously, and even the most complex searches are completed quickly. A complex search that would take hours when done manually is finished in few moments with BibleWorks. The program allows one to search on a single word ("logos"), a set of words ("logos" and "theos"), or a string of words ("ho logos tou theou"). Standard Boolean operators are used to limit searches, which may be made very specific. It is possible to limit word searches to a range of texts, to require a particular order or proximity, to give morphological parameters, and to specify that certain words in the search string must agree in gender, number, case, etc. Grammatical tagging in the databases is extensive, and one may even include vowel points and accent marks in the search.

Constructing a complex search can be challenging if it involves a long string of Boolean operators and morphology codes on a command line.
BibleWorks solves this problem through the use of a Command Line Assistant that provides the user with a form where the user types in terms and defines their relationship by use of a dropdown menu (e.g., "all of these words in any order" or "all of these words in this order"). Another tool, the Advanced Search Engine, allows the user to develop a highly complex search by typing terms into word boxes and then drawing arrows to connect the boxes and define their relationships.

The BibleWorks search engine is powerful, and its extraordinary features may seem daunting to new users. Beginners, however, should not be intimidated by the capabilities of the program or frustrated by its complexities. BibleWorks comes with well-designed interfaces for novice, intermediate, and advanced users. When the program first runs, the user is asked to select beginner, standard, or power mode, and the appropriate interface loads. Beginner mode presents an uncluttered screen that has windows for viewing texts, listing verses, and taking notes. Three command buttons also appear: Search, Lookup, and Copy. Click on one of the buttons and a guide box appears on the screen. To search for verses, look up a text, or copy something to a word processor, one simply fills in the blanks and follows the instructions. The results appear immediately. In standard and power modes, menus and command lines replace the three buttons of the beginner mode. The program allows the user to shift between modes at any time, and the software can be configured in other ways to suit the precise needs of the user. Users can even save and recall various configurations suited to different tasks and can add their own translation of the Bible to the database.

One of the most impressive features of BibleWorks is its auto-info window: whenever a user moves the mouse over a Hebrew or Greek word on the screen, grammatical information and dictionary entry for the word are instantly displayed. Those learning the languages and reading difficult passages will find this extremely helpful. Other noteworthy features are the parallel display and synopsis windows, which allow easy comparison of versions and texts.

Novice users who are familiar with other Windows-based programs will be able to use BibleWorks in the beginner mode without reading the manual, but intermediate and advanced users will want to read the manual and will consult it often. The manual is one of the best software guides that I have seen. The manual includes step-by-step instructions, useful models for complex searches, keyboard maps for foreign languages, and helpful explanations of advanced features. The instructions found in the printed version are also available in the program via the Help menu, and the program comes with four hours of video instruction. Program and database updates are regularly posted on the Internet and can be installed automatically by the program. Excellent support is available from the publisher via phone, e-mail, and the web, and the publisher sponsors an active listserv. The publisher, one will discover, is remarkably responsive to suggestions and to the needs of users.

The program would be strengthened by the addition of key reference works, though this is not a major criticism. BibleWorks, unlike Logos, does not seek to deliver a large library of electronic books; the strength of BibleWorks is its powerful search engine. Nonetheless, the addition of a more recent Hebrew lexicon would serve users well. Similarly, New Testament scholars would benefit from the addition of BAGD. I would like to see Today's English Version added to the list of translations.

BibleWorks may not be the only software that a Bible scholar will want to use, but many will find it useful, and many will consider it indispensable. I do, and I recommend it.

BibleWorks runs on IBM-compatible systems running Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, or XP, and requires a minimum of 32 MB RAM and 200 MB of hard drive space. To load all databases onto the hard drive, 1.4 GB is needed. A CD drive is required to install the program, and a sound card and Internet connection are recommended.

A single-user license costs $299.95; an upgrade from an earlier version is $150. The product may be returned for a refund within 90 days if the user is not satisfied.

Frank Ritchel Ames (Ph.D., Denver/Iliff) is Professor of Biblical Studies at Colorado Christian University.


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