Monday, June 22, 2015

Review of BibleWorks 9:
A Few of my Favorite Features

After noting the general layout, conception, and workflow of BW9 (and its usability on a Mac), I want to conclude with a rundown of a few of my favorite features in the program.

I’ll limit myself to three: searches, manuscripts, and vocabulary resources.

The Depth and Complexity of Searches 
Perhaps the most important strength of Bibleworks is and has always been the depth of its search capabilities. If you will only use a Bible program to look up verses or parallel versions, then there are online resources are readily available for free. Also, if you are looking for the Greek/Hebrew text along with basic morphological data and some exegetical helps, there are an increasing number of websites and online platforms that will suit your needs.

However, there is simply no way to duplicate the depth, speed, and complexity of the searches that BW9 allows you to execute. This functionality ranges from the very simple to the very complex.

For example, you can simply double-click on Χριστός in a verse to find all the instances of this word + form in the current search version, or you can search for this word preceded by any preposition in the NT (i.e., typing '*@p* Χριστός in the command line with BNM tagged search version). Further, with the Graphical Search Engine (GSE), you can execute increasingly complicated searches [1].

When you combine this searching capacity with the fact that all the results are automatically synced to all the other resources that BW9 puts at your fingertips, it is clear that BW gives you more than enough “bang for your buck.”

Integration of Manuscript Images 
In my recent book on the canon, I note the significance of manuscript evidence for discussions about the biblical canon:

Another important recent development is the wealth of manuscript evidence now available to historians of the biblical canon. Discovery of ancient manuscripts and artifacts is ongoing. The growing number of extant manuscripts that have been discovered in the last century has enhanced historiographical reconstructions of the history of canon formation. As Hurtado notes, ‘Christian manuscripts from the second and third centuries witness strongly to the rich and diverse fund of texts produced, read, copied, and circulated among Christians’. Further, there has been a concomitant recognition that these manuscripts have a story to tell and have a tangible bearing on questions of canon formation.

For instance, the manuscript fragments of many of the New Testament documents indicate that they were circulated within codex-bound collections very early in their existence. The nature of the extant manuscript evidence lends legitimacy to the task of examining the function of individual writings within collection units (e.g. Romans within the Pauline corpus) and also the function of those discrete units within the larger biblical collection (e.g. the Pauline corpus within the New Testament). [2]
In light of this, one of the new features available in BW9 that I’m most excited about is the “BibleWorks Manuscript Project” (“Mss” tab in the Analysis Window). In this tab, you have access to high quality images of some of the most significant Greek codex manuscripts of the biblical canon (OT + NT).

For example, Codex Sinaiticus (Codex א), Codex Vaticanus (Codex B), and Codex Alexandrinus (Codex A) are all available [3]. What is more, the transcriptions of many of these manuscripts are integrated and synced to the rest of the program (the BW team plans to keep developing the amount and accuracy of this data).


So, when you study a particular passage, BW9 automatically locates the transcription and the exact location of the verse under review on the manuscript image itself.


The manuscript image can be viewed within the analysis window or can be accessed by itself in a pop-out window.

Most of these images have been made available for some time online, but the ability to access these images and manuscripts within the BibleWorks ecosystem is very helpful. Because of this feature, students, pastors, and scholars can study some of the most significant manuscript copies of the biblical text that are available as part of their normal exegetical study. I’m now able to see these images and access these texts on demand and on a daily basis. What a remarkable gift. 

Potential for Vocabulary Building
Some of the improved features present the produce of BW’s exegetical engines in a format that makes vocabulary building and familiarity with the biblical languages easy and intuitive. In addition to tools like the “vocabulary builder” that allows you to customize vocabulary lists according to usage frequency, passages, books, or larger selected sections, the “use tab” is also helpful in this regard.

The "use tab" displays the instances of a selected word within the context of the current biblical book.


The simple display allows for a lightning fast “book level” picture of how an author uses a particular word in a particular writing. This feature has the added potential of helping interpreters keep word studies firmly rooted in usage (where they belong!).

BW9 allows me to look at words, phrases, and sentences in a variety of ways and angles. These vocabulary tools are serious aids in the serious task of becoming saturated in the biblical languages and knowing your Bible better.

Notes:
  1. For a helpful orientation to these complex searches, see the many and varied user-submitted search possibilities here
  2. See Toward a Canon-Conscious Reading of the Bible: Exploring the History and Hermeneutics of the Canon (Sheffield: Sheffield-Phoenix Press, 2014), 43-44.
  3. For a full list of the available manuscripts, see here

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