Digital Document Detective, Interlude: Online Bibles and Their Limits

My new task for this and subsequent years is to read the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament that forms the basis of so much New Testament teaching and gospel proclamation. But I have wanted to get my technology right first. My question has been:

Can I find an online bible, or better, a downloadable app, that would provide parsing of difficult Greek terms in the Septuagint, with root definitions?

Out of the ‘big three’ Bible software universes, Logos, Accordance and BibleWorks, I made my choice a long time ago, more or less in ignorance, of going with BibleWorks. I don’t regret it, either, primarily in value-for-money terms, where I think BibleWorks really excels. Logos does many, many things well, but is chiefly for the building of a large, digital library of secondary sources. I feel a little intimidated by how much it seems to cost, and continues to cost, and feel as if it’s the Hotel California of Bible software. You can check out any time you like, but you’ll receive promotional emails practically forever. Accordance would tempt me more now, but I have always been a Windoze user and it was once a Mac thing, so the die was cast. Oh, and my devices now are Android, and I move in Google and Microsoft online spaces.

So what is out there that might let me, rather than booting up my PC proper to read the Septuagint of a morning, just boot up my tablet and browse the Septuagint, but get help with those rarer or forgotten Greek words I need definitions for, and occasionally, parsing?

The Greek New Testament

It isn’t hard to find morphologically-tagged New Testament texts freely online, and almost to my surprise, a good-quality critical text like the SBL Greek New Testament is offered freely not just on the Logos Android app but in various places. Also good for NT texts are BibleWebApp, Lumina Bible, StepBible, Biblos, Unbound Bible and a whole range of others. I’ve gathered up many such options on a Pinterest board.

The Old Testament in Hebrew

There are also good resources that offer an analyzed Hebrew Old Testament. The Bibles mentioned above will generally do the same for the OT as for the NT, and there are a couple that go the extra mile that are worth mentioning. StepBible is ambitious and will probably be great in the end, and has the noble goal of offering good Bible study resources to people of all levels of wealth and access to infrastructure. Shebanq offers quite a scary level of morphological analysis, more than most of us could fully utilize. The associated Bible Online Learner offers amazing grammatical and syntactical breakdown of the Hebrew text. For me, as an Android user, each of the above requires wifi or internet. There is no app that I can find that comes anywhere near their functionality. Again, check the Pinterest board mentioned above

In both cases, it’s harder to find apps that do morphological analysis offline, outside of the big Bible software programs. Those that do use the Strong’s numbering system and definitions, which are old but okay in the absence of something better.

Test Case: Enhanced Septuagint Texts

So if a morphologically-coded Septuagint text be our test case, i.e. offering access to parsing of the Greek and identification of Greek roots, what are some of the options? I’ve been looking on and off for a few months. Here’s what I can point out:

  1. If you are up for shelling out the dollars for a proper Bible software package, ultimately what I’d recommend, then you can run Logos on an Android device with all the functionality needed. Neither Accordance nor BibleWorks have an Android version at this point. Logos and Accordance offer iPad apps with the full kit. BibleWorks has shown a reluctance to enter the mobile device zone, unfortunately, other than to show that it runs well on recent Windows tablets (the Surface series, for example) that have the full Windows operating system (i.e. not Surface 1 & 2). But I can tell you that the morphologically-tagged Septuagint costs US$100 in Logos and US$90 in Accordance – which is a lot for a single resource.
  2. You can bring up a current, critical text of the Septuagint from its German publisher at Academic Bible.com, but the only way to get language help is to copy and paste to a great tool for the purpose from a very different corner of the web, the Perseus Greek word study tool provided by Tufts University in the US. I cut and pasted a Greek word occurring only once in the Septuagint from Jeremiah 5, ‘θηλυμανεῖς’, into it and had it analyzed into root and morphology effortlessly here. But you need internet access and to keep two browser tabs open, which is clumsy for any more than the occasional check.
  3. Online apps like StepBible and BibleWebApp have analysis of Septuagint terms, as far as I can tell, that depends on Strong’s old dictionary and thus only offer definitions for Greek words occurring in the New Testament, which is of limited help.
  4. Better is the Android app MySword Bible, whose morphological helps for the Septuagint were pointed out on a post at Tyndale Tech that I can’t locate quickly again. Great site, by the way. But, as under #3, no help appears for Greek words not occurring in the New Testament.
  5. The whole Septuagint (LXX) is analyzed in English script at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/gopher/text/religion/biblical/lxxmorph. But it doesn’t lend itself to smooth reading of the text.
  6. You can download the LXX from the Unbound Bible site along with the file offering LXX roots & parsing, and read them side by side.
  7. Or, less adequately, do what I’ve done the lazy way sometimes, and simply open the LXX alongside an English version – but you’ll only have an imperfect idea of which English word(s) represent the Greek terms you’re seeing, and when the LXX has a different reading to the Masoretic (Hebrew) text for that passage, this will give you no help whatever.

So the lesson is that if you want a really adequate solution as a functional ancient/biblical Greek reader who needs occasional vocabulary or parsing help to read the Septuagint smoothly, you’ll really have to pay for one of the fully worked-out packages, BibleWorks, Logos or Accordance. All the more so if you need it to work well offline, with hover-over functions and the like. If what you need is on the level of interlinear Greek and English or parallel Greek and English, the free apps will do. Not so in the case of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, where pretty effective language tools and texts are available in free apps and online tools, though higher-level functions such as morphological searches will again drive you to the pricey tools.

If you’ve found something not mentioned here that was helpful, I’d invite your feedback.

Above all, if you have any capacity or training to do so, don’t pass up the chance to read your Bible in the original languages. It’s a world of discovery and intertextual connections and meaning.

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One thought on “Digital Document Detective, Interlude: Online Bibles and Their Limits

  1. Pingback: How to Read the Bible (sequel 5) – Immanuel Verbondskind – עמנואל קאָווענאַנט קינד

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