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BibleWorks, Version 6.0

Dr. Moisés Silva

Westminster Theological Journal
Vol. 66, No. 2 (Fall 2004)

When first exposed to BibleWorks (hereafter BW) almost a decade ago, I remember being both astonished by the power of this program and perplexed by its idiosyncrasies. BW allowed for an extraordinarily wide range of searches, both simple and insanely complex, executing them at speeds that seemed simply absurd. At the same time, the interface struck me as almost alien and cluttered, with far too many items on the button bar (most of the icons meant nothing to me), and with an overwhelming number of options. It was all quite intimidating, and I treaded slowly and carefully.

But that was then, and this is now. Over time, I have become accustomed to the program's peculiarities. More important, BW itself has undergone a significant evolution. With the release of version 4 some years ago, the program reached a level of elegance and maturity that was difficult to match, and the introduction of version 5 in 2001 had to surpass the expectations of any reasonable person. But even that could not have prepared most users for what was in store. I have been playing with the latest version now for five months, and my jaw still drops several times a week. People with arrhythmia should definitely consult their doctor before they start clicking on the BW screen.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The program, for example, still looks "busy" and intimidating-and those button bar icons continue to trip me up. To some extent, this is what one inevitably pays for such a large number of resources and options. The company, to be sure, has come a long way in the process of simplifying things. There is now a beginner's interface for searches: it consists of only three buttons that bring up simple dialog windows (they have also added an intermediate-level interface, which helps the user transition to "power mode" and its command line). Again, the menu has been streamlined so that now (usually) it does not take long to find what you're looking for.

But more needs to be done. Even the programmers find it difficult to use consistent terminology: what is called "Version Notes" in the View Menu is called "Tr Notes" in the status window, and the label "Font Maps" in the Tools Menu becomes "Keyboard Key Maps" elsewhere (in the floating descriptions over the button bar icons). This latter discrepancy contributed to a mildly frustrating experience I had recently. Having geriatrically forgotten the key for a particular Hebrew character, I looked for a diagram of the Hebrew keyboard, but I hadn't used the diagram for quite a while and now I couldn't find it. First I clicked on what seemed the obvious place: an icon on the button bar that has the picture of a keyboard (the floating description even says "Display Keyboard"!), but this brought up the option to change keyboard layouts. Then under the Tools Menu, I clicked on "Keyboard Layouts," but of course that brought up the same option. It took me a while to realize that what I needed under the Tools Menu was "Font Maps," hardly an obvious description. Then I discovered (or rediscovered) the corresponding button bar icon, which, as mentioned above, has the floating description, "Keyboard Key Maps." Part of the problem is that the icon in question consists of the Greek letter alpha inside a gray square, and there happen to be two other icons that consist of the same letter (one inside a white square, the other one by itself) but that have completely different functions. Foiled again by the button bar! Admittedly, users whose brains are functioning properly would figure the whole thing out much quicker than I did, but even so .

On the other hand, BW goes beyond the call of duty in assisting the user. A second CD contains more than two hours of video that provide effective step-by-step instruction. The online help (which can optionally be displayed in HTML style) is thorough, clear, and context-sensitive. Moreover, the program comes with a printed user manual that basically reproduces the online help. This manual has more mistakes than it ought to: most of them are trivial, but some cause confusion (e.g., on p. 139 "Reference List Manager" should be "Verse List Manager"), and still others are substantial (e.g., the screen shot on p. 127 is inaccurate, and the one on p. 148 does not correspond to the description of it on p. 133). Nevertheless, considering that user manuals these days are almost nonexistent, having an actual book to look at is a great advantage. In addition to all this, direct help from the BW support staff is second to none (more below).

In attempting to describe the material included in the program, one can easily feel overwhelmed. Besides, not many users are in desperate need of all ninety-three versions that are part of the basic package (such as Albanian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, etc., etc.). This package includes the various lexicons and other helps that are now common fare in most Bible programs (such as BDB, the intermediate Liddell-Scott, Louw-Nida, etc.). Remarkably, however, it also includes Tischendorf's NT Graece (8th ed., with full apparatus and hyperlinks to the meaning of symbols!), all the works of Josephus (Greek text morphologically tagged plus Whiston's translation), several targumic texts from the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon project (also morphologically tagged), Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, Burton's Moods and Tenses, and other valuable works.

Users willing to pay the extra money can also have access to BDAG, HALOT, the sectarian texts from Qumran (morphologically tagged!), the Waltke-O'Connor Hebrew Syntax, Wallace's Greek Grammar beyond the Basics, and Futato's Beginning Biblical Hebrew. Those who have already emptied their wallets purchasing the printed editions of these works will no doubt agonize over whether or not to give up their weekly Big Mac for a couple of years. But consider this: Suppose you are working on 1 Pet 1:10, which speaks about the prophets' having prophesied tēs eis hymas charis, and you wonder if BDAG gives a rendering of the preposition in this particular verse. Trying to find this reference in the printed edition is a sure recipe for a headache. With BW, you right-click on the Greek text (the right button of the mouse is pure joy with this program) and then click on Lexical and Grammatical Help, which brings up a list of every relevant reference in the various works included with the program. Here you find out that BDAG includes seven references to 1 Pet 1:10, including one in the article for eis. A single click on the relevant line brings up BDAG at exactly the right point in that article, and you find out that the phrase there is translated "the grace meant for you." If you are interested in other similar uses, just click on the NT references mentioned by BDAG in that section, and BW immediately takes you to those passages. Can a Big Mac be tastier than that?

Let me make things more difficult for you. You know that the Hebrew verb 'bl means "to mourn," but you are curious whether the same meaning can be otherwise expressed. Bring up HALOT and search on the English word mourn. This operation (being a nonindexed linear search) takes longer than the usual searches in BW, but you soon find that "mourn" is a HALOT gloss also for the verbs bkh and sfd, and that a certain scholar attributed the same meaning to qdr. All of a sudden, even a Double Whopper with Cheese does not seem as necessary as it used to.

But even those unwilling to pay the extra licensing fees for these modules will have plenty to keep them busy. Suppose you come across the Hebrew expression bgdy 'wn, "betrayers of wickedness," in Ps 59:6 (Eng. v. 5) and you wonder if Gesenius can shed light on it. Again, right-click to get the Lexical and Grammatical Help screen, and you find that this verse is mentioned in the Hebrew Grammar four times; in one of these sections, the construction you are interested in is classified as a genitive relation called "improper annexion," with several other examples given. Similar hyperlinks are provided for Burton's Moods and Tenses and the other reference works.

Yet, as wonderful as these resources are, they are but mere frills added to the essence of BW. Because a written description cannot adequately communicate what the user sees when operating the program, interested readers are encouraged to visit the BibleWorks site at the address listed above, which now includes a Flash video introduction to the program. Perhaps I can best illustrate the program's capabilities, however, by addressing a specific research question: How would one go about finding all the instances where Hebrew word X is translated in the LXX with Greek word Y?

Even BW's incredibly versatile command line cannot simultaneously search across languages (with the exception that English versions that have Strong's Number tags can be searched with reference to the underlying Greek and Hebrew words). Of course, one could do a search on either the Hebrew or the Greek word and then examine each verse at a time. But for some words, this process would be very time-consuming, and BW offers a couple of ways to accomplish the same thing much more efficiently. For example, you could first search on the Hebrew word and import the results into the Verse List Manager (which lets you manipulate two different lists of references simultaneously in various ways). Second, you would search on the Greek word and import those results as well into the VLM. Finally, you would ask the program to select all the verses common to both lists, which immediately gives you the verses you were looking for (though, of course, you have to allow for the possibility that in some of these verses Gk. word Y is not necessarily a rendering of Heb. word X, but is there for some other reason). One advantage of this method is that it easily also allows you to select verses not common to both lists. When dealing with certain problems it would be very important to know, for instance, what other Hebrew words are rendered in the LXX with Greek word Y.

But BW has an even more impressive feature called the Advanced Search Engine (ASE), which provides a graphic interface. I must confess that initially I found this function a bit intimidating and thus resisted using it for a while. Big mistake. It takes less than an hour to become familiar with the system, and the dividends are beyond counting. With the ASE it is actually quite easy to do a simultaneous search not just on two versions, but on as many as you want. Just for fun I asked it to give me a list of verses where the Hebrew has lēb, the LXX has kardia, the NIV has mind, and the Spanish Reina-Valera has corazón. In less than two seconds I had my list of 18 verses.

Lexical searches of this sort can be greatly enriched through various means, such as by using the data from the Louw-Nida Lexicon of semantic domains (which incidentally is integrated into the program in a beautiful way). Suppose you want all the verses in the LXX and NT where God is described as "good," "kind," and the like. The ASE allows you to dump, as it were, all (or a selection) of the adjectives included by Louw-Nida in the relevant domains. You can then construct a query for every verse where (1) any of those adjectives occurs, plus (2) either "God" or "Lord" occurs, plus (3) the adjectives agree with "God/Lord" in gender, case, and number.

The last detail mentioned (morphological agreement) brings us to the most significant feature of BW, namely, the ability to perform complicated grammatical searches. After all, lexical searches have always been feasible, though time-consuming, even with printed concordances. But now, with electronic search engines that can handle morphological data, one can very quickly find patterns that otherwise would have literally taken weeks or months to collect (and even then one probably would have missed some instances).

From BW's command line alone, which allows for the multiple use of wildcards, the possibilities are staggering enough. With the ASE, however, searching is possible on virtually any combination of grammatical features. Indeed, most of us are not creative enough to exploit more than a minute fraction of what this engine can do. "Give me every verse where: (1) the second singular Hebrew imperative is followed by a first person perfect within six words or fewer; or (2) the second plural Hebrew imperative is followed by a first plural perfect within ten words, even if a verse boundary is crossed; and (3) the LXX has an aorist infinitive of verbs X, Y, and Z; but not including verses where (4) the Aramaic Targum has a second singular feminine imperative." Why anyone would want to perform such a search, I have no idea, but it demonstrates that you are not likely to come up with a query too complex for BW to handle.

As if all this were not enough, BW includes a number of additional tools that greatly enhance the detailed study of the biblical texts. (1) A Word List Manager, for instance, allows you to compile frequency lists for any book or group of books. I asked the program to compile a list of verbs for LXX Isaiah and compare another one for LXX Jeremiah. The results are fascinating. (2) The remarkable Version Database Compiler allows modern Bible translators to integrate their own versions so that these can be manipulated in the same way as any of the other databases. Some users of BW have taken advantage of this feature to add various texts, including other targumic versions, so that now you can easily have the MT, Targ. Onkelos, Targ. Neofiti, and Targ. Ps.-Jonathan in parallel columns. (3) A brand new feature allows users to compare two similar texts with the differences highlighted in color. You can thus display the RSV and the ESV (or NRSV) in parallel columns and immediately see how the latter has revised the former (you might be surprised at some of the changes). Again, a comparison of the Textus Receptus with the UBS text is quite instructive. (4) Another new feature is a Diagramming Module for the syntactical analysis of texts. I myself am not a diagramming type of guy, so I have not paid much attention to it, but some other users are downright static about this tool. (It should be added that BW as a whole evinces not only brilliant programming but also a very impressive understanding of the biblical languages and the needs of exegetes.)

No matter how good a program is, most users often wish they could change the way it works here and there. Happily, BW allows for extensive customization. This is a mixed blessing, because the multiplicity of options adds to the program's complexity and can create some frustration. Nevertheless, the inconvenience is more than worth it. For example, when you move the cursor over a Hebrew or Greek word, a pop-up with brief lexical and morphological information appears; at the same time, a window at the bottom immediately refreshes, giving fuller information, including the whole entry in whichever dictionary you have chosen. Since I find such constant changes annoying, I have customized the program so that the pop-up doesn't appear at all, and the auto-information window at the bottom refreshes only if I press the Shift key.

Again, BW (like most Bible programs) allows the user to place search limits (e.g., only Genesis, or only Matthew and Mark, etc.). BW also includes predefined groups, such as "Pent" for Pentateuch only and "Paul" for Romans through Philemon. But the program also allows you to customize your own selections of text. You might, for instance, define a group that consists of Exodus + Josh 12:1 to Jdg 3:5 + Matt 5:8-15 + Hebrews through Revelation, and give this group the title "Bizarre." Next time you want to search this selection, all you would need to do is type the letter "l" (for "limit") in the command line, followed by the word "bizarre." Once you're finished with this exercise, typing "l" by itself clears the limits. There are dozens of functions that can similarly be personalized in a variety of ways. (Incidentally, it should be a federal crime for software companies to release any kind of software that fails to include a command line.)

Finally, a word must be said about the support provided by the company. Not only is the staff competent and genuinely helpful, but in addition the programmers are continuously making improvements, both minor and substantive, that are posted (mirabile dictu) with great frequency on their website as free downloads. Recently, at the request of some users, the program added the NET Bible, with its extensive footnotes as well as maps, and made it available as a free addition. A few months ago, a user sent a message to the BWorks list (now changed to wondering whether it might be possible for BW to include a link to the full Liddell-Scott on the Perseus website. Within two or three days the request was granted and the update posted! Now when you right-click on a Greek word (O wondrous right button), one of the options sends you to Perseus, and within seconds you have not only the full LSJ entry, but some additional useful data as well. (This new feature has some disadvantages: you now lose the physical exercise involved in hauling the monster LSJ from the bookcase, the character-building process of flipping page after page until you reach the desired entry, and the opportunity for spiritual suffering as your eye strains to find the definition you're looking for.) Actually, in my opinion, the company pays excessive attention to the comments and suggestions of BW users, who frankly are a spoiled bunch. But since I am one of them, let me here add my own suggestion that greater use be made of keyboard shortcuts, and even the possibility of customizing the keyboard so as to fully exploit the function keys.

As lengthy as this review is, I have omitted many things (I haven't even mentioned the Greek and Hebrew paradigms, the customizable Vocabulary Flashcard Module, the editable Timeline, the Report Generator, the Synopsis Window, the ability to attach personal notes to chapters or verses, etc.). Of course, all of these resources and features do not settle the question whether BW is appropriate for any particular person. One weakness of the present review is that it does not provide a comparative evaluation. (For a useful comparison of features, see H. Van Dyke Parunak in JETS 46 [2003]: 465-95, although this full-length review is based on version 5 of BW.) For those who are interested only in basic operations and relatively simple lexical searches, getting BW is akin to purchasing a Stealth Fighter to get milk at the Seven Eleven. But for anyone wishing to study the biblical languages in depth, this program is a dream come true.

Dr. Moisés Silva  is currently a writer and editor in Litchfield, Michigan. He previously taught biblical studies at Westmont College, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.


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