Review of BibleWorks 9
by Ched Spellman
June 16, 2015
I bought a copy of BibleWorks 6 when I began seminary in 2005.
Layout and Workflow
This intuitive design reflects the process involved in the task of exegesis. First, you locate your text, next you examine it, and then you use tools to begin further analysis of specific textual features. These separate “sandboxes” are connected, but they also maintain their edges in order to allow you to hone in on the particular data you need to access.
For example, the Search window displays your search term and a list of the “hits” that your search generates. Clicking one any one of these references automatically adjusts what you see in the Browse window but does not alter your Analysis window.
The Analysis window syncs with whatever you’re pointing to in the Browse window. The text under review is located in the middle of the screen, with the search column to the left, and the given resources to the right. The Browse window also clearly displays the text (either the primary text or a series of comparative translations/versions).
The windows themselves are also adjustable. So, if I would like to quickly see the sentence context of my search results, I can make the Search window wider. Then, if I’m accessing a resource, I can do the reverse and increase the space of the Analysis window. This is particularly helpful when accessing a lengthy lexicon entry (e.g., in BDAG or HALOT) or viewing a manuscript image.
These small structural features make BW9 easy for me to use, and they also create a helpful workflow when I’m studying a passage at length.
User Experience on a Mac
Back in ’05 , my laptop had 18 gigs of space, and because it didn't have enough juice to run the program, I had to install BW6 on an external hard drive (and I duct-taped the hard-drive to the back of the screen, like a boss). So, when I switched to a Macbook in ’08, the scales came off of my eyes and I didn’t have to schedule my lunch hour in order to turn on my computer. One of the biggest drawbacks, though, was leaving BW6 behind.
All this to say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the Mac option for BW9. The “mac installer” was easy to install, and it runs directly from my Mac operating system. It’s not perfect: It’s clearly not native Mac software, and this creates some quirky features (e.g., x-ing out of the program actually closes the program, “right click” doesn’t work the same way, etc). However, for as long as I’ve been using it, my computer hasn’t frozen up, the program hasn’t shut down, and it functions in the same way that it does on my PC.
Though it’s not a native application, it does have the same features and feel of the full program. Sometimes the “mac version” of given software feels like a stripped down version of the real deal. However, the program feels and functions virtually identical. As they mention, "The interface is the same as the Windows version of BibleWorks so in a classroom setting with Windows and Mac users students and instructors will all have the same program interface." At this point, their developers say that the Mac option for BW9 has roughly 98% of the features/functionality of the Windows version .
For sure, the ability to run the full program on my Mac without the hijinks of cross-platform issues is one of the primary reasons I’m sticking with BibleWorks and now recommend it across the board. I hope they continue to develop and provide support for the Mac version of the program. Being able to utilize BW9 from my Macbook means that I will use the software more frequently and can now recommend the software with fewer reservations.
A Few of my Favorite Features
After noting the general layout, conception, and workflow of BW9 (and its usability on a Mac), I want to conclude with a rundown of a few of my favorite features in the program.
Another important recent development is the wealth of manuscript evidence now available to historians of the biblical canon. Discovery of ancient manuscripts and artifacts is ongoing. The growing number of extant manuscripts that have been discovered in the last century has enhanced historiographical reconstructions of the history of canon formation. As Hurtado notes, ‘Christian manuscripts from the second and third centuries witness strongly to the rich and diverse fund of texts produced, read, copied, and circulated among Christians’. Further, there has been a concomitant recognition that these manuscripts have a story to tell and have a tangible bearing on questions of canon formation.In light of this, one of the new features available in BW9 that I’m most excited about is the “BibleWorks Manuscript Project” (“Mss” tab in the Analysis Window). In this tab, you have access to high quality images of some of the most significant Greek codex manuscripts of the biblical canon (OT + NT).
For example, Codex Sinaiticus (Codex א), Codex Vaticanus (Codex B), and Codex Alexandrinus (Codex A) are all available . What is more, the transcriptions of many of these manuscripts are integrated and synced to the rest of the program (the BW team plans to keep developing the amount and accuracy of this data).
So, when you study a particular passage, BW9 automatically locates the transcription and the exact location of the verse under review on the manuscript image itself.
The manuscript image can be viewed within the analysis window or can be accessed by itself in a pop-out window.
Most of these images have been made available for some time online, but the ability to access these images and manuscripts within the BibleWorks ecosystem is very helpful. Because of this feature, students, pastors, and scholars can study some of the most significant manuscript copies of the biblical text that are available as part of their normal exegetical study. I’m now able to see these images and access these texts on demand and on a daily basis. What a remarkable gift.
Potential for Vocabulary Building
Some of the improved features present the produce of BW’s exegetical engines in a format that makes vocabulary building and familiarity with the biblical languages easy and intuitive. In addition to tools like the “vocabulary builder” that allows you to customize vocabulary lists according to usage frequency, passages, books, or larger selected sections, the “use tab” is also helpful in this regard.
The "use tab" displays the instances of a selected word within the context of the current biblical book.
The simple display allows for a lightning fast “book level” picture of how an author uses a particular word in a particular writing. This feature has the added potential of helping interpreters keep word studies firmly rooted in usage (where they belong!).
BW9 allows me to look at words, phrases, and sentences in a variety of ways and angles. These vocabulary tools are serious aids in the serious task of becoming saturated in the biblical languages and knowing your Bible better.
Ched Spellman is an Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.