Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

BibleWorks 8. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC, 2009. Software. $349.

Like all reference works, commercially-available Bible software packages manifest varying levels of fitness for serious research. Only a handful of powerful electronic tools reside at the very highest tier of usefulness for biblical scholars, and BibleWorks distinguishes itself among them.

A concise statement of the program's purpose is its motto: “Focus on the text.” The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament comprise the focal text in question, appearing both in multiple original language versions and an impressive array of translations. BibleWorks also contains databases that encode the morphology of each word in the text, including the Groves-Wheeler Westminster Hebrew Morphology database, version 4.10 (but not the database produced by Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam or the Andersen-Forbes syntactical analysis) and a proprietary analysis of the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition Greek New Testament. Morphological databases also accompany several other ancient texts such as the Rahlfs Septuagint, Greek Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, various Targumim, and the works of Josephus. Merely sweeping the cursor over a word instantly displays its entry in a user-selected lexical resource such as the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) or Kohler-Baumgartner (HALOT) lexicons for Hebrew and Aramaic or the Lust-Eynikel-Hauspie (LEH), Louw-Nida, or Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich (BDAG) lexicons for Greek. With a single click on a certain tab, the researcher can call upon links to relevant sections of grammars and syntaxes such as Gesenius, Joüon-Muraoka, Waltke-O'Connor, or Daniel Wallace's Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. BibleWorks incorporates all of the resources mentioned thus far (and many more) in its basic package, with no additional outlay of money for “unlocking fees,” save for the HALOT and BDAG lexicons.

Essentially instantaneous access to references of the calibre mentioned above speeds up reading and syntactical interpretation of ancient texts significantly. In addition, computer-assisted morphological analysis facilitates pursuing lines of research that previous generations of scholars may have left unexplored due to the difficulty of manually sifting through massive data sets. For example, suppose that a professor of Hebrew is introducing students to the infinitive construct, normally encountered in the form קְטֹל in the Qal stem. Consulting Gesenius, the professor finds the claim in §:45.a.1 that infinitives construct “sometimes incorrectly” receive plene vocalization as in קְטוֹל. Accordingly, this spelling constitutes a “rare alternant” according to Waltke-O'Connor §36.1.1.c, and the Joüon-Muraoka grammar characterizes plene spelling of the infinitive construct as “occasional” and “unusual” in §48.b and 49.a. However, the only text citations grounding these assertions point to three employments of the form לֵאמוֹר vice לֵאמֹר. A foray into cases of exceptional vocalization among infinitives construct would most likely prove tangential to the goals of an introductory Hebrew course, but the generalized statements mentioned above pique the curiosity of the professor, who then turns to BibleWorks to verify their accuracy. Constructing a query with the Graphical Search Engine tool, the professor scans the Hebrew Bible text for infinitives construct with a ו standing before the final consonant. Noting that most of the 1,135 results understandably derive from hollow verbs and other weak verb classes, the professor decides to search for strong verb forms manifesting a penultimate ו. The professor employs the Word List Manager tool to screen out weak verbs (identified with another graphical search) and learns that there are only 28 examples of plene vocalization among infinitives construct of strong verbs—a rare phenomenon indeed. Curiosity satisfied after only a few minutes of investigation, the professor saves results for later reference.

As one might expect, executing the search steps outlined above requires considerable familiarity with the BibleWorks program. In contrast, beginners may risk sensory overload upon first viewing the superabundance of buttons, tabs, and pull-down menus that inhabit the screen. Mercifully, a number of orientation videos provide step-by-step instruction on BibleWorks capabilities, introducing the novice user to the logical left-to-right organization of information flow within the display windows and to the employment of powerful analytical tools. As acquaintance with the spectrum of the program's capabilities grows, users can customize almost every aspect of the interface to fine-tune it for their research needs.

Hebrew Bible scholars will appreciate a wealth of tools particularly suited to research, including the parallel Hebrew-Greek Septuagintal text edited by Emanuel Tov and Frank Polak. Students will benefit from the Vocabulary Flashcard feature, which not only allows the development of custom vocabulary drill sets but also pronounces Hebrew and Greek words to aid memorization.

Three concluding remarks pertain to the influence of the BibleWorks business philosophy upon the user's experience with the program. Firstly, all customer service personnel command in-depth knowledge of the program itself and have received biblical language training. This is advantageous if one requires more assistance than the built-in help function or online user forums can provide. Secondly, the incorporation of new features proceeds at a pace designed to keep costs low. Therefore users occasionally receive new texts by free download. Thirdly, the BibleWorks development team does not aim to digitize every book on the market, which can generate an expensive and unwieldy collection of secondary and tertiary works of varying quality. Instead, the lean coding of the BibleWorks program enables rapid access to the most useful references supporting independent primary source analysis.

Scott N. Callaham