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Monday
Jun012009

Working Bible magic

For divinity school students, pastors, and Sunday School teachers, some heavy Bible study comes with the job, but good tools for better study should appeal to anyy growing Christian. If you're looking for a resource that will take your Bible study to a deeper (and wider) level, take a look at this sneak preview of a review planned for an upcoming issue of Baptists Today:

Serious Bible study requires serious work: consulting multiple translations and essential reference tools can be time-consuming and downright tedious. The informed use of quality Bible software, however, can leave students gasping as if their keyboards had been granted magical powers.

Among the several powerful programs available, none are more impressive than Accordance Bible Software. Accordance was designed for Macintosh computers and the new Version 8 is completely native to the Mac’s OS X operating system, but PC users can also use it (minus a few bells and whistles) by installing a Mac emulator available at no cost.

What’s so special about Accordance? First of all, the program’s designers understand that for Bible students, everything should revolve around helping users to read, search, translate, and understand the Bible – preferably through an elegant and intuitive layout. Accordance rates an A on every count.

The program opens to a clean workspace in which the user can easily open parallel panes containing as many Bible translations as the screen can hold (either vertically or horizontally), and display study notes keyed to specific translations as well. A single search box atop the interface can be used to call up the entire Bible, find individual verses or portions of text, or to search for individual words (or combinations of words) in all available languages.

The magic starts when one floats the cursor over the text. Place it over any term in a Hebrew or Greek text and “Presto!” – an information box appears that displays the root, a transliteration, a complete parsing of the form used, and the most common translations. Instead of spending hours with a lexicon trying to puzzle out the inflected form of a weak or hollow verb, users can find it faster than Houdini could snap on his handcuffs.

Once the term is identified, a quick click on the appropriate icon of a handy resource palette can open any one of several lexicons or dictionaries – conveniently turned to the proper page. Other available resources include 2-D or 3-D maps (complete with full GPS information), a PhotoGuide that includes descriptions and photos of biblical sites, and a timeline that offers both “conservative” and “critical” chronologies.

Even students with no background in biblical languages can dig deeply. English texts such as the King James Version and the New American Standard 1995 edition are tagged with the familiar Strong’s numbering system. This allows the user to glide the cursor over any word, and the corresponding Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek term will appear in a box below. Triple clicking on the word will call up a concordance-type list of differing ways the word is translated.

Accordance’s complex but quick search functions have a short learning curve, and the capabilities far exceed the needs of all but the most demanding student. One can do a simple search for the word “forgive,” for example – but also find every verse in which “forgive” appears within five words of “sin.” One can search for a Greek or Hebrew root, but also for any inflected form, gender, or number of the root.

With its newest version, Accordance adds new functions that are as useful as they are impressive. A “fuzzy” command allows one to search for a phrase, even if it’s not exact. I may remember a phrase about the righteous being like tree planted near water, for example, but not recall the specific wording. I can type “trees planted by water” in the search window, add the “fuzzy” command to my search, and before I can lift my fingers, a window displays two texts that meet the criteria, with the words I searched for highlighted: Ps. 1:3 has “trees planted by streams of water,” while Jer. 17:8 speaks of “a tree planted by water” (NRSV).

That may lead me to wonder if there are other similarities between Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17. By composing a second search and using a new “infer” command, I can find other common phrases. A “search back” command then helps me to compare them.

For students or teachers preparing written documents, Accordance offers full copy and paste functions, including Unicode texts and the ability to render Hebrew and Greek characters, or to automatically transliterate them according to scholarly standards.

Among its many other features, the program also offers a tool that can be used to diagram sentences, and even a “speech” button that calls up an audio pronunciation of any word, or a reading of the text.

Accordance designers have sought to make the program as intuitive and user-friendly as possible, so most functions can be accessed in a variety of ways, from clicking on an icon in a resource palette or library, to using drop-down menus from the top, to right-clicking for a variety of options, to using hot-key combinations. Tutorials and video demos are available, but few are really needed.

Accordance is available in either a “Library” or “Scholars” collection, depending on whether one wants to include biblical languages. Each collection is offered in a variety of packages, with costs based on the number of resources. Basic packages begin at $99 and $149, with the “Premier” versions ranging upward to $299 and $349. Commentaries and other resources are available at additional cost.

With its nimble navigation functions, speedy search capabilities, and impressive collection of tightly integrated resources, Accordance is more than a Bible study resource – it’s like a genie on a hard drive, with no limit on wishes.

Reader Comments (4)

Thankyou for this post. I got a MAC about a year and a half ago and the Bible software I had was not compatible. This sounds very much like what I have been looking for.

Jun 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Thanks for the outstanding, comprehensive review, Tony. If you've tried the Logos Bible software program, how does it compare with Accordance (in terms of cost, user-friendliness, and usefulness)?

BTW, my PC is having a self esteem issue after reading your comment that, even with a Mac emulator, the best it can do is "minus a few bells and whistles" of the real deal. As if those PC vs. Mac commercials weren't traumatic enough...

Jun 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDC

Check it out, David. You won't be sorry!

Jun 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTony W. Cartledge

Hi DC,
I've used Logos/Libronix, and it's a powerful program with more available books than you can shake a stick at. It can also do impressive searches and provide instant language helps, but I found it more cumbersome to use than Accordance, and lacking the parallel panes for different translations that make Accordance so easy to use when comparing different versions. For example, my standard workspace (you can save any number of different ones) has panes for the NRSV, BH-S Hebrew or NAS 27 Greek, and the NET Bible, with its plethora of translation notes. If I want to add a pane for the NAS95 or Septuagint, it's a snap.

And, something I didn't have room to mention in the review is that you can also set background and text colors to be different for each translation, making it easier on the eyes.

At the SBL meeting last November, I saw that Logos has finally delivered on its long-awaited promise of a Mac version, but they haven't sent me a review copy, so I can't say what it's like.

For PC use, BibleWorks is also a great choice -- slicker, faster, and more intuitive than Logos, unless Logos has improved since the last time I used it.

As for the bells and whistles you lose by running Accordance through an emulator, they're not game-stoppers: most things work just fine. You can't use the 3-D functions in the maps module (thought 2-D still works), you can't copy/paste in Unicode (though other fonts work), you have to save as a PDF before printing, and you miss a few of the frills that come with OS-X (the emulator mimics an earlier verion of the Mac operating system).

As for cost, it's hard to compare because none of the products offer exactly the same resources in their packages. To get a package with the resources I want most, however, Accordance would be less expensive than Logos. For native PC programs, I think BibleWorks 8 is the best value around -- I just find its format more difficult to use than Accordance.

Talk nice to your PC -- you don't want him crashing on you!

Jun 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTony W. Cartledge

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