Windows Software for Bible Study

By Van Dyke Parunak, H. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2003 | Go to article overview
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Windows Software for Bible Study


Van Dyke Parunak, H., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


1. INTRODUCTION

Bible software has come a long, long way. The procedure for doing computerized biblical studies in the late 1970s began something like the joke about the recipe for elephant soup: "First, catch an elephant." There were no publicly available texts of the Bible, so one had first to devise a coding scheme and type in the data to be searched. There were no standard search mechanisms, so one had to code the search program in a language such as Fortran, C, or Pascal. Many computer systems were batch processors; running a query meant loading a stack of punched cards into the hopper and going out for lunch while waiting for the program to reach the top of the queue and execute. This process required prolonged residence at the computer center, and turnaround was often measured in hours. The field was accessible only to scholars who combined philological and computer skills, or who could form a close team to bring together the needed capabilities.

Today, the standard biblical texts are widely available, along with programs that offer a wide range of search capabilities. The user confronting this embarrassment of riches faces a challenging decision. In comparison with the state of the field 25 years ago, there are no bad decisions today. We would have given our eye teeth for any of the offerings now available. Still, a Bible student contemplating the expenditure of several hundred dollars for one of the leading commercial packages may hesitate among the alternatives, or wonder whether the difference in functionality over a freeware package is worth the price. This review is intended to help in such decisions.

Due to the hardware environment available to me, this review is limited to packages for Microsoft Windows. Unfortunately, this restriction means that it cannot include the highly acclaimed Accordance package from Project Gramcord. In addition, the Gramcord package itself is in the midst of a major technical migration from a 16-bit implementation to a state-of-the-art 32-bit implementation, and at the time of writing is not available to include in the review. (Disclosure #1: I am a long-standing fan of Gramcord, since learning of it in 1980. The first installation of the mainframe version of Gramcord outside of Paul Miller's personal environment was at the University of Michigan under the auspices of my postdoctoral work there. Paul and I spent many evenings together translating from the native Univac Pascal in which the program was originally written to the compiler available on the Amdahl processor at Michigan, and I implemented the first extensions of Gramcord to search Hebrew texts. I have been an eager user of Gramcord in its various incarnations, including the MS-DOS version running on a 4.77 MHz PC-2 and the now aged 16-bit version. Paul's pathbreaking vision pointed the way for all of the packages described here, and continues to be the background against which I view other packages. When the new Gramcord is available, I will be eager to compare it against the baseline in this review. Disclosure #2: I have never been an employee or paid consultant of any publisher of Bible software, including Gramcord.)

The focus of this review is on Bible study, which I understand in the sense of studying the biblical text (as opposed to reading books about the Bible). I thus concentrate on software functions that support reading, searching, and displaying the text, and consulting reference works that are oriented to a particular passage (such as lexicons, grammars, and commentaries), rather than more general digital library capabilities. The area of digital libraries is important, particularly for people with limited shelf space or financial resources, and merits a separate review. Still, to some extent every package reviewed here is a "library" that helps the user interact with multiple electronic "books" (including biblical texts and reference works). In this discussion, the word "resource" refers indiscriminately to any such electronic book.

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