by Mark Vitalis Hoffman
Teaching Theology & Religion
As a seminary teacher of biblical studies, I almost daily use BibleWorks 7 (BW7) and Logos Bible Software 3, the two leading programs for Windows-based systems for work with original Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, and Latin texts alongside modern English Bible versions. Both are mature products and currently reflect a convergence of the best features of each. Both impose significant – though not confusing – learning curves if one is to use them efficiently and tap into their full capabilities. Both offer adequate resources, including videos, to help learn the programs. Both allow (and really require) some customization by the user, but Logos feels like a more “polished” and consistent program. While this can be a strength, it often means that the Logos user will need to walk through a few more steps to accomplish a task than would be necessary by directly using the command line input of BW7.
As for differences, the Logos interface can be set up in a number of ways to help the user navigate through a variety of windows of biblical text or related information, but BW7 uses a plainer, more utilitarian panel approach that assumes the user will progress through searching for a text, browsing the text results, and analyzing aspects of that text. More importantly, there is a distinct difference in overall approach. BW7 focuses on the verse or even a single word of a biblical text and links outward to related resources. Logos, on the other hand, is conceived as a library management system that includes both biblical texts and a large collection of other digital resources. Such functionality requires a comparatively fast and memory-rich system to work well, for Logos not only looks across the books of one’s digital library but also can look deep into each book – down to the individual word level – and perform sophisticated searches and associations. That library, however, is only as good as the books that are in it. The Silver collection reviewed here includes more than 520 titles and provides a fine assortment of biblical resources, but many focus on other areas such as leadership or pastoral ministry. Quite a few of the books are self-described as “classic” or reflect a “conservative” or “evangelical” perspective.
By licensing the Libronix Digital Library System upon which Logos is based to other publishers, Logos users can purchase additional collections such as the Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible (the only way to obtain critical editions of the Greek and Hebrew testaments), the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and a long list of other resources from a variety of prominent publishing houses. Many recent course textbooks in the fields of religion and theology have been published with accompanying CD-ROM, and most likely it comes in the Libronix format. Logos, therefore, is a great way to enhance the ability to find information and to integrate referenced biblical texts. BW7’s focus is clearly on doing biblical textual work, and it provides excellent resources for such work along with the option of purchasing additional lexical, grammatical, or ancient language modules. BW7 does, however, come with a long list of non-English Bible versions in twenty-two modern languages, Bibles that would have to be purchased separately with Logos.
What these differences mean in terms of actual experience is, first, that Logos attempts to preserve digitally as much as possible the layout of the physical book counterpart, while BW7 presents text more straightforwardly. Second, Logos initially works more like a library catalogue than a textual research tool as BW7 does.
Three examples will illustrate how the programs work.
Beyond the benefits for individual research, I have concluded that facility in the use of Bible software can significantly help students obtain long-term proficiency with the Greek and Hebrew texts. To that end, I regularly use BW7 or Logos in the classroom with a projection system both to demonstrate how to use the programs and to illustrate how one can productively employ such tools in exegetical work. The capability to have such programs at the ready is particularly helpful for collaborative student problem solving since the software can easily provide the texts or information required.
In addition to the kind of exercises described in the previous paragraph, I have used the sentence diagramming modules (both programs have editors to create one’s own diagrams; BW7 includes diagrams for almost the whole New Testament, and Logos now includes syntactically analyzed texts of both the Old Testament and New Testament), synoptic tools which allow for a variety of types of parallel passages to be displayed, and the maps that come with each. (The maps in BW7 are particularly instructive and illuminating.) In addition to exegetical work, both programs can be employed for learning Greek or Hebrew. BW7’s flashcard module even comes with editable files coordinated with various grammars, and its adaptable “Copy Center” is particularly useful in generating interleaved texts. Logos has a slightly different way of displaying parallel versions, but it can export this and any other view in both TXT and HTML. By creating such interleaved views, students can compare English versions and then explain differences with reference to the underlying original language text. The capabilities of Bible software have actually encouraged me to rethink my approach to language instruction. Rather than focusing on memorizing vocabulary and forms, the analysis provided by the software allows me to emphasize instead the grammatical and interpretive significance.
This brief review only begins to touch upon the capabilities of the programs. My descriptions should illustrate how Logos is the more comprehensive program for doing biblically related research, but BW7 is the more efficient tool for focused work on biblical text. There are tradeoffs with each, and I usually have both programs running. Logos will cost more (though significant academic discounts are available), and one should compare the various collections offered. The Original Languages Library ($415.95) provides a good starting point that is more comparable to BW7 while the Gold collection ($1379.95) offers some outstanding additional resources that are well worth the difference in price from the Silver collection. For what it intends and so capably accomplishes, BW7 is a tremendous value, but there is nothing like Logos for working with a digital, biblical library.
For further information on these programs, I have collected links to web resources at: www.gettysburgsem.org/mhoffman/other/bw7&logos.htm
Mark Vitalis Hoffman is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.