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Tony W. Cartledge | Blog

Entries in Accordance Bible Software (2)

Tuesday
Nov242009

Shootout at the digital corral

A highlight of the late Saturday afternoon sessions at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting was a "shootout" between the leading makers of academic Bible software programs. Having used and reviewed most of them, I thought it would be fun to see advanced users put their whiz-bang features to work in responding to five specified projects.

The presenters, in order, were Logos, the Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible, BibleWorks, and Accordance. Logos 4 showcased a cleaner user interface than I remembered from earlier versions, and demonstrated some surprizing graphical capabilities for illustrating the study of individual words, whether in English or in the original languages. It's primarily a PC-based program, though a Macintosh version that's been in the works for years has finally reached "alpha" development status.

The Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible, with which I was not previously familiar, runs on the same Libronix platform that supports Logos. It focuses entirely on a scholarly audience, featuring the most advanced critical editions of Greek and Hebrew biblical texts, complete with the full critical apparatus of each, all in a searchable format. Wow.

BibleWorks 8
is also packed with features and is capable of incredible feats of linguistic searching. The presenter easily walked it through the five assignments, but relied a bit too much on codes and such that are innate to a power-user but mysterious to others, leaving the demonstration hard to follow. BibleWorks is also a PC program, but it is said to work satisfactorily on a Mac with the use of a PC emulator. The problem is, most folks who use a Mac prefer to avoid emulating a PC at all costs.

Accordance 8 is the only one of the academic Bible software programs that runs natively on a Mac, and it runs like the wind. It focuses primarily on the biblical text and supporting resources that assist with translation, and I find it more intuitive than the other programs. To the extent that you can love a software program, I love working with Accordance. Those who normally use PCs can run Accordance with a free Mac emulator program, losing only a few minor functionalities.

Olive Tree Software
, which makes Bible software for mobile devices, also presented, and for the first time I really wanted an iPhone, for which it has developed an astounding product. Olive Tree also supports systems by Blackberry, Android, Palm, and several others, though Greek and Hebrew are not available on all of them. For all of their cool factor, mobile phones lack the processing power and memory needed for the kind of intensive searches that most scholars require, and there's really no need for it. Few researchers who have access to a quality desktop or laptop computer will be relying on their tiny mobile phone screen for serious work.

I've been promised a beta version of the Blackberry product when it becomes available, and will write a review when I get a chance to check it out. If it's anything like the iPhone version, it'll be terrific.

Anyone still reading by now might be interested in the five problems each of the presenters was asked to solve. Here they are (some questions are reworded for brevity):

1. Give the parsing of a word and its meaning from a standard source. (This one was easy: most of the programs provide the information automatically when the users puts the cursor over a Greek or Hebrew word. Some require clicks, some don't. All provide easy access to lexical entries for the word).

2. Show all the occurrences of a word in the New Testament and LXX, and show the Hebrew word which corresponds with the Greek in the LXX (LXX refers to the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). This one was also relatively easy. All of the programs allow the user to type a Greek word, paste it from the text, or click on it, and then search for all inflected forms of that word. The tricky part was linking the NT and the LXX for the search. Finding the corresponding Hebrew term for the Greek word was the simplest part.

3. Final all the occurrences of ‘oi dé in Matthew's gospel that are followed by a finite verb within the clause. This search generally required setting up a formula using syntax codes that look like gibberish to anyone not familiar with them. Accordance offers a more graphical interface, but even it requires some familiarity.

4. Show how to get all the lemmas (basic forms) of a part of speech (such as an interjection or demonstrative pronoun) and organize the results in such a way that one could write an article or monograph based on the data. Each program handled this differently, but all impressively.

5. Find all Hebrew middle weak verbs, plus all of their occurrences, and organize them in such a way that the variations of their inflections are immediately apparent. The data should enable one to write an article about variations of the Hebrew middle weak verb. Trust me, you don't want to know about this one. It involves creating intricate search formulas that reminded me of calculus.

I came away with a great appreciation for the work that goes into these programs. Most users of Bible software, even scholars, will never exploit the full power of quality Bible software -- but having more than you can use is far better than lacking the features you need.

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.