Monday, September 29, 2008 Largest Database of Jewish Literature

According to this description on AltSearchEngines, was founded in order to preserve old American Hebrew books that are out of print and / or circulation. The site has since expanded to include all religious Jewish books ever printed. HebrewBooks is fully searchable (which is why it’s appearing here), currently has over 15,000 .pdf’s on file, and all documents are viewable, text-searchable, and printable for free. Text-searchable meaning the .pdf’s (most of them) have text recognition and users can search for specific words or phrases in each file. Another option offered is to view the text online without downloading the actual .pdf file.

For a quick demonstration about how to use the site, click here. The search engine only recognizes Hebrew, but in case you don’t have Hebrew software installed, there’s a virtual keyboard to enable a search.

The collection began with 2000 works of American Authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and now reaches back to the 17th and into the 21st, ranging from Bible and Babylonian Talmud commentary, philosophical treatises, and modern responsa literature. The Society has also made the entire collection available on a single high capacity external computer hard disk.
UPDATE: Jim Darlack at his Old in the New blog reports on the availability of Blackman's, 6 volume, Mishnah and Commentary which includes Hebrew text, English translation and notes. He also notes that you should check out their collection of English texts. I'll note just a couple: Joseph Schwartz' Geography and History of Palestine from 1850 and the 5 volumes of Glick's Hebrew/English Ein Yaakov: Agada of the Babylonian Talmud which makes for some fun reading. (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review of Accordance 8 on a PC

As a longtime Windows guy who kind of knows what he is doing on a PC, I'm not quite sure what to make of those PC/Mac commercials. As a teacher at a seminary, in years past, I've hardly had any students who use Macs, so I didn't feel I was doing much of an injustice by simply pointing them to Accordance Bible software and letting them figure it out on their own. After all, if Macs are so great, they shouldn't need my help...

Well, this year, with a somewhat younger average age in our incoming class, I'm faced with nearly a third of them using Macs. So, I realized it would help if I knew what they would (or not) be able to do with the Accordance software. After a 90 minute online tutorial by David Lang, Helen Brown of Accordance graciously has sent me an evaluation copy of Accordance 7.4, Scholar's Collection Core Bundle. (Actually, I downloaded and installed the Accordance 8.0 program, but pre-OS X Mac systems and Mac emulations require the 7.4 CD instead of the 8.0 DVD.) For the sake of other intrepid PC sorts who want to use Accordance, I'll document setup steps and my experiences in two parts. I'll start here with the setup which actually involves two separate processes: installing a Mac Emulator and then installing the Accordance program.

To read the rest of the review on my experiences setting up Accordance on a PC, read it HERE.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Logos just announced the beta release of an online Bible site: According to the announcement:

Why another Bible site? What makes different? Here are a few reasons we think will soon become your first choice for searching the Bible on the web.
  • Efficient UI: Its unique user interface allows you to do more—more quickly and more conveniently—without having to continually load new pages and without losing your place. (1) Search results and Bible text are side by side. (2) Both use infinite scrolling. (3) Switching to a different version is seamless; your location and search results are instantly mapped over.
  • Incredible Speed: It’s blazingly fast. Searches are instantaneous, and pages load in a flash.
  • Smart Searching: It uses cutting-edge fuzzy searching technology so you can search the Bible more like you search the web. Search results are prioritized so you get the best hits first.
  • Seamless Integration: WBSA, RefTagger, and will all be tightly integrated into a growing family of websites allowing you to have a more connected Bible study experience—both on and off the web.
Some quick observations:
  • There are lots of translations available and switching between them is quick. Translations include: NIV, ESV, NLT, NKJV, KJV, NIRV, TNIV, Westcott-Hort GNT, Darvby, ASV, Apocrypha of OT, Tischendorf GNT, Textus Receptus of Stephanus / Elzevir / Scrivner, Cambridge Paragraph, KJV Apocrypha, YLT, Arabic, Clementine Vulgate, Byzantine GNT, and more including some languages like Spanish, German, and Maori.
  • It's nice to have the Greek versions available. They are searchable, but you will need to type in Unicode Greek, and the texts are not morphologically tagged. (For working with the Greek NT online, your best choice is still The Resurgence Greek Project / Zhubert.)
  • Searching is very fast. I also like the 'fuzzy' searching capability. I searched for "parable and kingdom" in the TNIV, and it returned passages like Luke 8:9-10 where each word occurs in a different verse and Matthew 13:51-53 where the word "parable" does not occur at all, but Jesus is using a brief parable to talk about the kingdom.
  • I look forward to their promised integration of this site with the RefTagger tool (which you should have noticed at work in the biblical references in the previous bullet when you hover over them) and with their "What Does the Bible Say About..." site, another tool which I have integrated into this blog at the very bottom of the page.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's New: Accordance, BibleWorks, Logos

A bunch of updates on each of these major programs:

Accordance: I had posted previously about how I evaluate Bible software, and I included a set of typical tasks that I want my software to be able to do. David Lang responded with two excellent posts here and here showing off Accordance capabilities at accomplishing such work.

BibleWorks: Michael Hanel and Jim Darlack have been busy getting the BibleWorks blog reset at the new site. A number of new, user-created resources (largely thanks to Pasquale Amicarelli) have been added: Von Soden's NT, a number of older Hebrew grammars, Barclay's translation of the Talmud, Ms. B of Sirach in English, and more. Michael also found a very helpful introduction to BW7 posted on the Yale Divinity Library site.

Logos continues to add to their collection of digital resources. Here is a helpful post by Phil Gons on commentaries which includes a pointer to the excellent BestCommentaries site. There have also been helpful posts on searching collections and using the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary.

Catching up...

Trying to catch up on a bunch of stuff that's accumulated in my reader...

The Bible Style Guide is a reference text designed specifically for those working within the media industry. It provides a crash course in the Bible for busy journalists, broadcasters and bloggers.
Packed with useful facts and figures, it includes handy overviews of issues that often hit the headlines, as well as terms that are often misunderstood. Whether you’re covering Creationism or Zionism, or want to know your apostle from your epistle, The Bible Style Guide is here to help you get started.
  • Mobile Computing, OliveTree BibleReader4: Some interesting observations noted and linked on this post. There are challenges for those companies trying to create Bible software for a variety of all the mobile platforms out there. OliveTree has released a beta of BibleReader4 for the Blackberry, and they have been working on iPhone apps too. OliveTree has also set up a Twittering service to keep updated. Our IT department at my seminary has also gone to Twittering to keep everyone updated on systems issues, but I'm still not a Twittering or Plurking fan... The latest CCMag issue has an article reflecting on the importance of iPhone and Google Android phones in the coming years.
And finally, just for fun, check out igod, an artificial intelligence site. (HT: lingamish) Here's what I found out:

Stuff for the Mac

I'm a PC kind of guy, but I'm trying to stay aware of what's going on in the Mac world as it relates to tools useful for biblical studies. Today I defer to someone who actually knows what they are doing with a Mac. Check out this post on My Favorite Mac Software by Susan Pigott, an OT professor. She doesn't mention any Bible software, but she does describe a number of programs related to library management and word processing. Especially note the Bookpedia program she describes. I've posted quite a few times about library management stuff. I'm using Zotero mostly, but the Libra program (free, but now orphaned apparently without further plans for development) lets me easily post some of my collections. (E.g., some of my books on the parables or my music collection [the cheesy stuff is my wife's, and I haven't included my fine collection of LPs yet...])

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The best English Bible translation...

Yeah, right... As repeatedly illustrated on the Better Bibles Blog or in a helpful post like this, there is no such thing as one, best English Bible translation. One must always keep in mind intention and audience when evaluating versions. I do, however, have a few questions that help me sort out which versions I prefer and use. I explain things more fully HERE and provide some specific examples, but here's the summary with some reflections.

  • What original language text is being used? For the Old Testament, I at least start with the Masoretic text as provided by something like the BHS (or forthcoming BHQ). Text critical issues are something of a factor, but the bigger issue is--at least for Christians--the relation of the Hebrew to its translation in the Greek Septuagint (or other early Greek versions). Yes, the Greek Bible was the Scripture for the early Christians, and yes, it is indispensable for understanding some of the NT uses of Scripture, but my English translation should be based on the Hebrew. It is my responsibility, then, to see how the Hebrew Scripture is being interpreted in the Septuagint and by the early Christians and to determine how it all fits together. As for the NT, I am aware of all the issues involved, but I end up wanting an English version based on the eclectic, reconstructed Greek rather than the Textus Receptus. I still want to know what the TR reads, but I treat it as part of the history of Xn interpretation of the text.
  • Who is doing the translating? Committee or individual? Explicitly Christian or denominational or ecumenical? Personally, I want a 'flat' reading that requires me (rather than decides for me) what is going on theologically in a text. I want to see what others are doing with the text, but for a base text, give me a ecumenical, committee edited translation.
  • What is the translation philosophy? This is the hardest to define and is most related to the occasion. I like to have a sense of what is going on in the underlying Greek/Hebrew, but whereas more literal may be more helpful for study, a somewhat more dynamic translation is better for reading. For a base text, I want something in the middle. I can also add that inclusive language awareness is important for me. Yes, it can cause all sorts of awkward grammatical gymnastics, and I dislike the switches from singulars to generic plurals, but for a general purpose translation that would be read in church, I think inclusive language is important.
  • What is the intended audience? Here is another example of why one version doesn't work for all. I would recommend different versions for a young child, for public reading in a congregation, or for adult Bible study.
So... I end up using the NRSV and the NET Bible most often as the base texts with which I work. Ultimately, as for English versions, I state on this page where I recommend to my seminary students:
Students need a range of English Bible translations.

  • For a more literal translation, use the NASB.
  • For a more balanced translation, use the NRSV (or the TNIV or REB).
  • For a more dynamic translation, use the GNT=TEV or NLT or CEV or The Message.
  • Because of its venerable tradition and familiar wording and because its underlying Greek New Testament uses the Majority Text, use the KJV.
  • For its useful text notes, use the NET.
  • Recommended but not required: For insight into what the Latin Vulgate renders, use the Douay-Rheims translation.
I actually use all these and more (e.g., NIV, NJB, God'sWord, ESV...), but nothing beats engagement with the original language texts themselves. My English translation should help me read those texts, but it should also leave me with the challenging of interpreting the text.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How do I evaluate Bible software?

Rubén Gómez at BSR forced me to this! Coming to my own defense, I think I have been transparent about my approach to evaluating Bible software (e.g., here), but I no doubt could stand to be more explicit. So, how do I evaluate Bible software?

I don't have a long list of criteria , and I primarily take a functional approach. My basic question is this: What is the best way for my students and me to accomplish biblical text tasks/research that we do on a regular basis? Of course answering that question is complicated by a host of underlying conditions.

Value: I've been teased for focusing so often on FREE stuff on this blog, but I will admit that value is an important category for me. This is somewhat of a subjective criterion, and it is not simply a matter of accumulating content in a package. It is important, however, for at least a couple reasons:

  • Most of my seminary students are already racking up big student loans, and becoming a worker in the church (and this really includes seminary profs too) is not the road to riches. How can they most reasonably obtain the ministry tools they will need?
  • Everything has a cost. I'm always trying to temper my perceived needs (for more hard/software) with the real needs in the world around me. How much a year am I spending on tech stuff? How much a year am I donating to relieve hunger and suffering in the world? There is also the cost of time. If the software is so buggy, complicated or slow that it becomes a time sink, then it has less value to me.
Quality content is important for me as well. I have been fully explicit about what I consider minimal resource needs for my students here. Basically I am looking for reliable original language texts (text critical versions is a plus) that are well and reliably tagged. Students should have good lexicons that provide more than simply a gloss. There should be a variety and range of English translations. Additional resources that augment the study of biblical texts include commentaries and topical dictionaries, extra-biblical literature (e.g., Apostolic Fathers, Pseudepigraphal works, Philo, Josephus, etc.), and atlases. The more these are linked and integrated, the better help they are.

Ease of use is critical. I'm sort of a techy/geeky sort (surprise!) and can intuit or deduct my way through most software, but a know a lot of my students have dropped money in Bible software... and then never figured out how to use it. Training resources are good, but clear and obvious ways of getting to the desired results that don't require any instruction are better. Ease of use thus includes things like interface, management of resources, consistency of application, ability to organize and save commonly used resources, speed and responsiveness of application, and customization.

Everything about Bible software can pretty much be grouped under those three headings of value, quality content, and ease of use. The next question, then, is what are the typical tasks that the software should be able to handle. Here are some examples.
  1. Sometimes I want to scan a large chunk of text. (Read Mark 16.) Sometimes I want to focus on a single verse. (Compare Mark 16.6 in Greek and a number of versions.) Sometimes just a word. (Analyze the word ἠγέρθη.) Sometimes I want to compare this text with similar passages. (I.e., synoptic parallels) The software should let me make such changes in focus quickly, easily, and consistently.
  2. Let's study that word ἠγέρθη. What does the lemma mean? (Here's where a good lexicon is needed.) What is its grammatical form here? What does it mean in the passive as it is here? (What is a "divine passive," and does it apply here?) How do various translations render it? What are possible synonyms? How is it similar to / different from ἀνίστημι? (Can I have a graph comparing the use of these two words?) How is ἐγείρω / ἠγέρθη used elsewhere in Mark?
  3. Still in Mark 16.6, what is known about Nazareth? Find it on a map. (On a map in the program or linked out to an online map.) Where else is it mentioned in Mark, the NT, the Bible, the extra-biblical literature?
  4. How can I notate and save the work I've done? What are the options for marking up the text? For making my own notes that are attached to the text? For exporting text to a word processor?
  5. What other issues should I be aware of relating to Mark 16.6? Are there text critical issues? Do scholars note anything special?
There are other types of exercises (especially dealing with OT in NT stuff and comparison of Hebrew/Greek), but thoroughly answering all those questions would give a good insight into how (easily) the Bible software works, the resources available, and their success at returning quality results. That's how I evaluate Bible software.

UPDATE: 2008.09.18: David Lang has done a nice job on the Accordance blog demonstrating how he uses Accordance for working at some of the typical tasks I describe.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Book download: Souter's A Pocket Lexicon of the Greek New Testament

I've posted previously about books that were worth downloading off the various public domain book repositories. Here's another one to add to the list: Alexander Souter's A Pocket Lexicon of the Greek New Testament of 1917. It is a true text scan, so you can search for English words with reliable success. (The scan doesn't know Greek, so you can't really search for Greek.) Here's the link at Internet Archive. (BTW, it is not available on Google Books.)
I thought to look for it because it is included with the new Westcott and Hort The Greek New Testament with Dictionary reviewed at RBL.

Greek Legacy Fonts to Unicode Converters

Please see the UPDATED version of this post.
 Everyone should really be using Unicode for Greek fonts now, but there are still a few publishers who request Greek be rendered in one of the older legacy fonts. You may also have some older documents with non-Unicode Greek fonts, and you want to convert them to Unicode. The problem with the older TrueType fonts (e.g., Sgreek, SPIonic, Graeca, etc.) is that they each have their own character encoding, so there is no single way to convert these fonts to Unicode. What's the solution? I have gathered all the Greek font converters of which I am aware. Many of them allow conversion to/from Unicode. Note that it is possible to convert from a legacy font to Unicode back to a different legacy font if necessary.
Also note that most of the converters are Microsoft Word macros or templates. If you try to convert a file that has footnotes with Greek, the footnotes might not get converted.
Let me know if I missed any.

Greek Transcoder (Word document template) - excellent, free converter; handles the following fonts

  • Beta Code (Betaread)
  • GreekKeys (Athenian, Bosporos, Kadmos, Xanthippe)
  • Ismini
  • LaserGreek (GraecaII, GraecaUBS, GreekSansII, GreekSansLS, Hellenica, Odyssea _/F/UBS, Payne, Payne Condensed, SymbolGreekII, UncialII)
  • Paulina Greek
  • SGreek (SGRead, SGreek, SgreekFixed)
  • SPIonic (SPIonic, Tadzoatrekei, Takeros, Talaurinos)
  • SuperGreek (Achille, Graeca, GreekSans, SSuperGreek, SuperGreek, SymbolGreek, UncialLS)
  • Vilnius University (Anacreon, Attica, Corinthus, Corinthus Lector, Grecs du roi, Greek Old Face V, Greek Grotesque, Hellenica, Hierapolis, Milan Greek V, Odyssea)
  • WinGreek and Son of WinGreek (Aisa, Angaros, Athenian, Grammata, Grecs du roi WG, Greek, Greek Garamond, Greek Old Face _/C, Korinthus, Milan Greek, Standard Greek)
  • Unicode

Galaxie BibleScript (Word macro/template)
  • Use the Windows Installer to Galaxie Greek/Hebrew fonts and Word template
  • Involves a two-step process converting legacy fonts to Galaxie fonts and then to Unicode
  • Greek fonts handled: Alexandria, Koine, Gideon, Mounce, Bwgrkl, SymbolGreekP, Graeca, WinGreek, GraecaII, SuperGreek, Sgreek (also Hebraica/II, Bwhebb, SuperHebrew, Shebrew)
BibleWorks BWGRKL > Unicode (Word macro)

Sgreek (from Silver Mountain; used in BibleWindows>Bibloi)

  • Bibloi 8.0 includes a Unicode Type Assistant for Sgreek ><>
SIL (Word template)

  • IPA93 legacy fonts (Doulos, Sophia, Manuscript) ><>
  • Check here
Meander's Nod (online)

  • GreekKeys (Athenian, Attika, Sparta, Salamis)
  • WinGreek
  • Bosporus(GreekKeys format)
  • Kadmos (GreekKeys format)
  • ISO 8859-7 (Modern Greek)
  • Beta Code
  • > Unicode, Beta Code, GreekKeys, WinGreek
Logos: Graeca/GraecaII > Unicode (within Logos program converting Word docs)

Multikey (Word macro)

  • Aisa
  • Logos Gramma
  • Athenian
  • OldGreekSerif
  • WinGreek
  • WP Greek Century
  • WP GreekTimes Ancient
  • MgPolAplaM
  • TimesTenGreekP
  • Kadmos
  • Grk

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's the point of Bible software?

I did a presentation on Bible software yesterday for our first year students. We really encourage them to buy Accordance, BibleWorks, or Logos if possible. After seeing some of the nifty things one can do with the software, one of my students emailed me regarding Bible software in general:

Primarily, although they each seem to do very cool things with word stats, etc., I'm curious how applicable anything beyond basic original source exegesis would be in a congregational setting? I guess I came away with the feeling that its great to have those resources, particularly if one plans to do any scholarly research, writing or education, but a typical congregation may not been interested in all of the additional data, nor would the congregational setting afford the time for such extensive work. Perhaps I'm being too narrow-minded?
Here was my quick reply:
While you are at seminary, you are going to need Bible software (or else a library of Bible reference works) to conduct the kind of research we will require of you. We require this research, because we think it is indispensable for coming to understand and engage the biblical text. Every translation is interpretation, and we believe that it is important for you to struggle with the interpretation and not simply leave it up to others.

Yes, the statistical stuff is pretty esoteric on its own, but it is important because it provides one glimpse into various authors concerns, interests, vocabulary, theological emphasis, etc. The better you see how an author works at the grammatical/lexical level, the better you will understand the author’s narrative and theology. And the better you understand how the biblical authors were working in their settings, hopefully the better equipped you will be to express the faith in your own congregational setting.

Further, as you said, this stuff would be great for anyone planning on doing “scholarly research, writing, or education.” Working in a congregational setting, you are indeed going to be expected to write and educate, and hopefully you will be able to do it with integrity based on your understanding of the text. As for time to do this? A major benefit of Bible software is that it can help you make more efficient use of your time in the text and make it possible for you to do this as part of your weekly routine. I think every church professional should be spending regular time in Scripture as part of your standard care and feeding of the spirit! Congregations have the right to expect that their leaders are faithful interpreters of the text and not simply sharing what they think apart from any Scriptural/theological reflection.
What else would you say to respond to my student's question?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Digital Vocabulary Flashcards for Greek/Hebrew

Danny Zacharias over at deinde has been very busy not only locating and organizing digital flashcard programs but also creating his own data sets. He's been posting separate blogs for various grammars so people can leave comments more easily, but you can see his accumulated work HERE. He reports datasets for Greek grammars by Stevens, Mounce, Croy, Black, and Duff as well as ones based on passage/frequency. For each of these, he lists resources (both free or for purchase) for Mac, PC, Palm, PocketPC, iPhone/iPod.
I can add a few other options to his list. First, some of the Bible software programs have flashcard resources.

  • BibleWorks has free, user-created vocab files (scroll down to the vocabulary section) for Greek grammars by Mounce, Baugh, Black, and Croy and for Aramaic by Johns along with a few others. If you buy Futato's Hebrew, it comes with vocab lists too. Davis' Greek is part of the base package and includes vocab lists as well. There is a flashcard feature you can use within the program (which includes sound files using Erasmian or modern Greek), and you can also print out vocab review sheets as well as standard front/back vocab cards.
  • Logos has a ton of free vocab lists available for Greek grammars by Mounce, Swetnam, Machen an others; for Hebrew grammars by Weingreen, Futato, Seow, Kelley, Lambdin, and others along with some Aramaic (Greenspahn, Johns) and Akkadian (Caplice). You can use the lists generated to print out standard front/back vocab cards.
  • Accordance can be used to create vocab lists, but it does not have a built in flashcard program or flashcard creator.
Some other programs to check:
  • Mark Goodacre at NTGateway lists Wordbase (Greek-English Hangman!) and QuickMem Greek (with vocab based on Metzger's Lexical Aids) among others.
  • VocabWorks - A free program (requires Internet Explorer) that is quite nice. It has a test editor and a number of styles of tests (standard, matching, multiple choice, pictorial). There are free vocab sets in Greek for Dobson, Mounce, Wenham, and a number of other based on vocab features. There are a few for Hebrew/Aramaic based on passages. You can also get a start on Meroitic, Ugaritic, and Middle Egyptian!
  • The CrossWire Bible Society offers a free FlashCards program that runs as a Java app. It has an editor but comes with datasets for Greek (Black, Mounce, parsings, frequencies) and Hebrew (Wegner, parsing, frequencies).
  • Valodas - A free program for Windows/Linux/Mac that can be used to create your own dictionary or download one of the many dual-language ones already available for free. Quality varies, and most are aimed toward modern usage (not biblical)... The Latin/English is pretty good. The Greek, not so much. No Hebrew.