Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tyndale Launches Online STEP Bible Study Resource

Tyndale House Cambridge Launches Beta-version of Scripture Tools for Every Person (STEP), a new free Bible study resource


Tyndale just released their STEP online Bible resource. From their announcement:
Today the STEP development team of Tyndale House Cambridge launched the Beta-test version of a new free Bible study resource at www.StepBible.org.

STEP software is designed especially for teachers and preachers who don’t have access to resources such as Tyndale House Library, which specialises in the biblical text, interpretation, languages and biblical historical background and is a leading research institution for Biblical Studies.

The web-based program, which will soon also be downloadable for PCs and Macs, will aid users who lack resources, or who have to rely only on smartphones or outmoded computers.
Be sure to read the announcement page for more info about this project and how it developed. You will see that this is a product of many volunteers and contributors, and the primary focus is to make it downloadable for persons in the Majority World. "Ten language interfaces are available and another 83 are ready for volunteers to work on."
Here are some of my initial impressions of this online beta version.

TEXTS:
Ancient texts available include:
  • Hebrew: Leningrad, Aleppo - All have vocabulary encoded and some have extra grammatical coding and interlinear capability.
  • Samaritan Pentateuch: with Hebrew MT, with MT & DSS, with DSS, (and in KJV English)
  • LXX Greek: Orthodox LXX, Rahlf's LXX (and Brenton's English)
  • NT Greek: Orthodox NT, Byzantine, Elzevir TR, TR, Tregelles, SBLGNT, Westcott-Hort w/ NA & UBS variants
  • Syriac NT Peshitta: in Syriac and with Etheridge and Murdoch English translations
  • Latin: Jerome's Vulgate, Sixti, Clementine, (and Douay-Rheims English)
Modern texts include a wide variety of non-English versions, but among the English versions are: AKJV, ASV, BBE, ESV, JPS (OT), KJV with Apocrypha, Lexham, Tyndale, WEB, and Young's. Of these, the KJV and ESV are most useful because they are capable of the 'sympathetic' highlighting of Greek or Hebrew, and the KJV additionally has grammatical information for every word.

DISPLAY: It took me a while to figure out how to manage the display features. I ended up choosing a two-panel display and keeping the right in sync with the left. (The sync did not work well for me.) With most panes, you also have the option of choosing a Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced view. You can set up a display like I have pictured above. Note the capability of sympathetic highlighting. Clicking on a word in any language will popup original language information on that word. With the Advanced view option, you can set up text to be viewed as interlinear or interleaved. Cf. the graphic below. Note that hovering your mouse over a highlighted chapter:verse reference will pop up vocabulary data for every word in that verse. Using the Advanced option for that popup will not only give the basic Strong's information but also include LSJ data as well. With the KJV, you can also enable grammatical coding. I could not figure out its coloring scheme, but there is full English grammatical analysis of every word provided.
Pointed Hebrew and marked Greek did display nicely, but the text critical marks of the SBLGNT did not show up correctly.
Navigation to texts and selection of options is intuitive, but a bit clunky. (E.g., you can type a passage reference to get there directly, but using the dropdown boxes takes some clicking and scrolling.)
I did try viewing the web page on a smartphone browser, but it was a frustrating experience. The menu bars and center column take up quite a bit of screen room leaving little space for the text.


SEARCH: Searches can be conducted from the text (click on a word and in the popup, you have the option of searching for the same word or all related words) or from a search pane. You can conduct your usual passage, text, or subject searches, but you can also conduct Greek/Hebrew searches using Unicode. Doing a Greek search, you can choose to search multiple versions, so that means you can search the LXX and Greek NT simultaneously. I was getting inconsistent results determining whether the search ignores diacritical marks. There are no diacriticals in the LXX or BYZ versions (so no problems), but STEP can sometimes search the SBLGNT--which does have diacritical marks--using unmarked Unicode Greek entries. With the Text Search, you cannot search for Greek lemmas, so it helps to use an asterisk wild character to get results. The Advanced Text Search in Advanced mode allows for English double queries with something like a 'fuzzy' search capability. (E.g., a search for "Include spellings similar to run" returns hits with run, sun, ran, runs, Nun... Perhaps the most interesting and useful capability is the Original Word Search. You can search for "words meaning" and start typing an English word. A drop down list of Greek and Hebrew words will appear, and you can choose from the list or choose all. Note my example of a search for "test" and the Hebrew/Greek results it displays. The results can be grouped by Scripture order, lemma, or original spelling. Very nice! (Note that all of this searching capability seems to be enabled by use of Strong's numbers and definitions.)


SUMMARY: There are still some beta-version issues to be worked out, but this is a useful web resource. I found the display to be a bit cumbersome, but it has some nice features to display multiple versions and languages. One of the best features is the ability to do an original language word search from the English and discover all sorts of related words. It's great that this is available online, but remember that it is intended to be a downloadable resource, especially for those in the Majority World who might not be able to afford or have access to a major software program. For now, STEP is mostly restricted to biblical texts with no associated resources other than lexical and grammatical info. For an online Bible resource, I still think that the NET Bible Study Environment offers a better selection of texts, especially the NET Bible with all its notes. The interface is a bit cleaner and does not use popup windows. There are many more 'social' options on the NET Bible site, but it doesn't have the search capabilities of the STEP Bible site.

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