Computers promise to revolutionize how we study the Bible. The last decade has witnessed the development of a variety of Bible-related programs—simple games for children, vocabulary drills for students of Hebrew and Greek, sermon preparation, sophisticated concordances, lectionary software, computer-assisted learning, church management software, multilingual Greek and Hebrew word processors and much more.
Here we present a brief overview of some of the computer programs and resources that can enhance Bible study. By no means is this article comprehensive or exhaustive, either in terms of the types of programs and resources covered or in terms of the specific programs and resources mentioned. But it does outline programs and resources in sufficient detail so that the interested Bible student can match what he or she wants to do with what is available to do it. If we have been successful you at least will be armed with the right questions to ask.
Many Christian and Jewish computer-user groups have formed across the country. Some of these groups publish newsletters, operate computer bulletin boards where members exchange information and programs on their computer terminals, and sponsor workshops, conferences and software fairs. Computer publications such as Bits & Bytes Review (6230 Iowa Ave., Whitefish, MT 59937 (406) 862–7280), which I edit, or Church Bytes (562 Brightleaf Sq. #9, 905 West Main St., Durham, NC 27701), Christian Computing Magazine (Hewlen, Inc., P.O. Box 439, Belton, MO 64012; (816) 331–3881) and The Hebrew Users’ Group Newsletter (c/o Berkeley Hillel Foundation, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704; (415) 845–7793) often include information about Bible-oriented user groups. These publications also include reviews of Bible-related computer resources. The most comprehensive and current listing of Bible-related computer products is the Hermeneutika Catalog (P.O. Box 98563, Seattle, WA 98198; (800) 55BIBLE).
The most comprehensive source of detailed information about Bible-related computer resources is my Bits, Bytes, and Biblical Studies: A Resource Guide for the Use of Computers in Biblical and Classical Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987, 643 pp.; Zondervan Electronic Publishing, 1415 Lake Drive, SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506; (800) 727–7759). This now somewhat dated reference work includes reviews of many 063programs, as well as extensive bibliographies and comparative charts. Also helpful is lan Lancashire and Willard McCarty, eds., The Humanities Computing Yearbook 1988 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988, 396 pp.) and subsequent volumes.
Seven types of programs and resources for computer-assisted Bible study are available: (1) Bible concording programs, (2) grammatical concording programs, (3) CD-ROM resources, (4) electronic Bibles, (5) Greek and Hebrew fonts, (6) machine-readable Biblical texts and (7) computer-assisted language-learning programs. Let’s consider each briefly.
Bible Concording Programs
For personal Bible study, concording programs are the most interesting, useful and rewarding of the various types of Bible software currently available. Bible concording programs allow users to search for particular words and phrases within the Biblical text. A typical Bible concording program includes an indexed version of the Biblical text and a “search engine” that allows users to search and concord the text in various ways.
At one time or another, most Bible readers have used a printed concordance to look up all the occurrences of a word in the Bible. Perhaps you have used Young’s or Strong’s or Cruden’s or the concordance in the back of your Bible. In addition to a reliable Bible dictionary, an exhaustive concordance—one that lists every occurrence of every word in the Bible—is an indispensable tool for researching thoroughly Biblical themes and topics.
But using a printed concordance can be a tedious process. A concording program is faster, more accurate, more flexible and a more powerful way to study the Bible than using a printed concordance. For example, by the time you could find the listing for Lord in a printed concordance, one of the top-end concording programs could have located and displayed the 6,462 verses where this term occurs 7,484 times. (Verse- and word-frequency information in this and the following paragraphs is based on the New International Version of the Bible.)
A printed concordance only displays a brief context for the occurrence of each word. Users must manually look up each verse that contains the search term to see its complete context. Some concording programs allow users—at the touch of a key—to display several verses or more of context for each verse that contains the search construction, and some concording programs display the searched word or phrase in the context of the whole Bible, rather than in the context of just a few verses.
To look for all the occurrences of a phrase in a printed concordance can be a daunting undertaking. To locate all the references to son of man, for example, requires looking up all the references to son (2,331 occurrences in 1,751 verses) or all the references to man (2,079 occurrences in 1,894 verses) and then finding the references to son of man (185 occurrences in 182 verses). Not many students of the Bible will take the time to scan through 2,079 references to man to locate the 185 references to son of man. And even the most careful students are likely to miss references when scanning a printed concordance. Concording programs capable of exact-phrase searches, however, can locate all 185 occurrences of son of man in a few seconds and display them in context.
Looking for a set of terms in a printed concordance is an even more formidable task than looking for a phrase. For example, imagine that you are doing an in-depth study of the concept of “righteousness.” In part, such a study would require that you look up all the occurrences of right (460 occurrences), righteous (303 occurrences), righteously (2 occurrences), righteousness (239 occurrences), rightful (1 occurrence), rightfully (1 occurrence), rightly (3 occurrences) and rights (18 occurrences). Looking up 1,027 occurrences of eight words is a lot of work. Programs that permit “wild-card” searches, however, can locate the 941 verses that contain these terms in a single search taking only a few seconds. For example, in some Bible concording programs the search construction right* would locate all the words that begin with right. The “*” is a wild-card character that represents any number of characters added onto right. Sophisticated programs can also use wild cards to represent the beginning of a word (for example, *power would locate power and overpower).
Some concording programs allow users to search for combinations of words 065by using logical connectors such as and, or and not. For example, the search construction (Abraham AND Sarah) NOT (Isaac OR Rebekah) locates the 16 verses that contain Abraham and Sarah but that do not contain either Isaac or Rebekah. The construction (Abraham OR Sarah) NOT (Isaac AND Rebekah) locates the 230 verses that contain Abraham or Sarah or both and that also may include Isaac or Rebekah but not both Isaac and Rebekah. The construction (Abraham OR Sarah) NOT ((Isaac AND Rebekah) OR (Isaac OR Rebekah)) locates the 165 verses that contain Abraham or Sarah or both but not Isaac or Rebekah.
Most concording programs allow users to transfer verses or sets of verses to a separate file. This makes it easy to save the results of a search, to incorporate selected portions of the Bible in word processing documents and to print sections of the Biblical text for handouts and other purposes. Many programs allow users to edit the results of a search by deleting and adding verses and by adding annotations.
Many programs allow users to display different ranges of text (for example, several verses or even entire books of the Bible), or different translations, in separate windows on the screen at the same time, facilitating the comparative study of texts.
Concording programs encourage serious Bible study, while making it fun! Currently, over two dozen concording programs are available for IBM PC, Macintosh, Apple II, Commodore, Amiga and other computers.
Most concording programs require a hard disk; they search indexed versions of the Biblical text.1 Concording programs that use floppy disks search the text sequentially. This requires users to insert floppy disk after floppy disk each time a search is run. This is an irksome and time-consuming process. By searching an indexed version of the Bible on a hard disk, concording programs do not have to search sequentially through the Bible to find all the occurrences of a search construction. For example, instead of having to read verse-by-verse from Genesis through Revelation to locate all the occurrences of Lord, a concording program that searches an indexed version of the text simply looks up the word Lord in its index to locate all the verses where 066Lord occurs and then displays those verses on the screen.
Grammatical Concording Program
GRAMCORDTM, which stands for GRAMmatical ConCORDance, is one of the oldest and most useful of all the Bible-related programs.2 GRAMCORD allows users to concord any grammatical construction in the Greek New Testament. For example, GRAMCORD can locate and display all genitive absolutes, all future participles, all articular infinitives, all first-class conditions and all masculine, plural, accusative, comparative adjectives. In addition to being able to concord whole classes of grammatical objects, GRAMCORD can concord parts of speech, simple inflections, words and complex grammatical constructions.
The GRAMCORD package also includes GRAMBLDTM, a menu-driven method of building GRAMCORD search constructions; PARSER PLUSTM, which provides an instant grammatical description of every word in the Greek New Testament; GRAMSEARCHTM, a Greek word-search program, and GRAMGREEK/NA26TM, which translates references such as “^JN 1–3” into properly accented Greek.
A CD-ROM (Compact Disk Read Only Memory) is a plastic disk, 4.75-inches in diameter, which can hold up to 550 megabytes of information—text, graphics and sound. If you have an audio CD player, you already are familiar with the CD format. Like audio CDs, CD-ROMs contain information only on one side; and like audio CDs, CD-ROMs require a special player. Unlike audio CD players, which are available for as little as $100, the least expensive CD-ROM player is about $500. By definition, CD-ROMs can be read from but not written to.
CDWordTM is an interesting example of a CD-ROM based Bible-study resource.3 It includes the full texts of 16 Bible translations and reference works. Its texts and graphics are joined by “links,” known in computer parlance as hypertext. A link allows users to jump from one place in one text or graphic to a related place in another text or graphic. For example, in CDWord you can move directly from a Bible verse, to a commentary on that verse, to a dictionary article about a word in the verse, to a map or chart that is related to the verse. In addition to its hypertext links, CDWord includes a sophisticated search capability that allows users to search the Biblical texts and translations, as well as the reference tools. CDWord allows users to “cut and paste” any information, to save that information in disk files and to print from within the program.
At least two companies—Selectronics and Franklin—produce hand-held electronic Bibles. An electronic Bible is a hand-sized, special-purpose, battery-operated computer that includes a keyboard, a screen, the text of the Bible and a search program. The Selectronics product contains the full text of the New International Version (including marginal notes); the Franklin electronic Bible uses the King James Version.
The search programs that are built into these products allow users to locate all the occurrences of any word, phrase or group of words; to use multiple “bookmarks” to mark passages for instant reference; and to look up any verse.
Greek and Hebrew Fonts
Advanced students of the Bible often need to print words in Hebrew and Greek with their word processing programs. Macintosh computer users can do this easily by purchasing Greek and Hebrew fonts and installing them into their system.
For IBM users, however, being able to work with Hebrew and Greek is more difficult. IBM users who work with WordPerfect 5.0 or 5.1 and who would like to be able to enter, edit, display and print fully accented Greek and properly pointed Hebrew have available ScriptureFontsTM, a WordPerfect add-on.
Machine-Readable Biblical Texts
A machine-readable text (MRT) is any text that can be displayed on a computer. There are numerous archives of MRTs. Two of the best known are Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS) and the Center for the Computer Analysis of Texts (CCAT) at the University of Pennsylvania. OUCS has machine-readable texts in Greek, Hebrew and dozens of other languages. A printed catalogue is available. CCAT primarily offers machine-readable versions of Biblical materials, for example: Septuagint, Hebrew Bible, Greek New Testament and Revised Standard Version. OUCS makes copies of texts available on disk for modest fees. You can write to CCAT for a list of approved vendors who sell its texts.
The largest repository of Hebrew texts is the Global Jewish Database/Responsa Project. This 64-million-word, 360-megabyte database includes the standard editions of approximately 50,000 rabbinic Responsa (questions and answers) from over 250 individual collections that were written over thirteen centuries by rabbis scattered throughout Europe, Asia and the Far East; the vocalized and cantillated Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible; the Babylonian Talmud; midrashic literature; medieval commentaries; Maimonides’ Code; and 068works of modern Jewish literature. For an in-depth review of the Global Jewish Database, see Bits & Bytes Review, June 1987, pp. 7–12.
The largest repository of Greek texts is the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) Project. This 60-million-word, 500-megabyte database includes the standard scholarly edition of each of the 18,411 separate works of the approximately 3,000 Greek authors who wrote from the time of Homer (c. 750 B.C.) to 600 A.D.—a period of approximately 1,350 years. These texts are available on a single CD-ROM. For an in-depth review of the TLG Project and database, see Bits & Bytes Review, June 1987, pp. 1–6. For detailed information about dozens of machine-readable texts and text archives, see Bits, Bytes, & Biblical Studies, pp. 491–616.
Computer-Assisted Language-Learning Programs
Computer-assisted language-learning (CALL) programs are designed to assist users in learning to read, write or speak a foreign language. Although many CALL programs are available for modern languages such as German and French, few CALL programs are available for Biblical Hebrew and even fewer for Koine Greek.
The best Greek and Hebrew vocabulary drill programs I have seen are MEMCARDS: Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary SoftwareTM and MEMCARDS: Biblical Greek Vocabulary SoftwareTM Both of these programs allow users to drill randomly on user-selected sets of words, record the results of drills, randomly re-ask missed words, edit words and definitions and create their own custom word sets.4
What’s in the Future
Contemporary Bible-study computer products look sophisticated compared to yesterday’s book-bound resources. But when placed in the context of current computer trends—hypertext, CD-ROM, increasing digitilization of text and graphics, increasing power of hardware, decreasing costs—Bible-related products may seem unsophisticated.
The future of Bible-related computer products is a function of technology, vision, funding and marketing. Affordable technologies are emerging that will allow visionary software designers to create revolutionary Bible-related products for academic and lay users. Whether there are visionary software designers who can secure adequate funding to design, create and market new products, and whether the public can be educated to buy and use these products and the hardware to run them on, will determine the nature of future Bible-related programs. But, meanwhile, there is much available to enhance Bible study that takes us beyond the limitations of the printed page.
Keeping Up with Computers
We are certain that many readers have added computer software to their Bible-study tools. And many more will do so as information spreads about what such programs can accomplish. (Watch for archaeological applications of computers in a forthcoming BAR.)
We will be starting a new department in these pages: Computer Corner will be a place for readers to share information about interesting applications. Whether you are a scholar or a home Bible student, send your contribution (please keep it to one, double-spaced page) to: BAR Computer Corner, Biblical Archaeology Society, 3000 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20008.
Computers promise to revolutionize how we study the Bible. The last decade has witnessed the development of a variety of Bible-related programs—simple games for children, vocabulary drills for students of Hebrew and Greek, sermon preparation, sophisticated concordances, lectionary software, computer-assisted learning, church management software, multilingual Greek and Hebrew word processors and much more. Here we present a brief overview of some of the computer programs and resources that can enhance Bible study. By no means is this article comprehensive or exhaustive, either in terms of the types of programs and resources covered or in terms of the specific programs […]