A Second Interlude: Back to Digital Bibles

The test case for online Bible tools that I floated in my last post was, which freely available tool caters well for the Septuagint (LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) reader? I’m imagining the reader (easy, because it’s me) who can read the Greek reasonably well but has a knowledge of Greek birthed in the New Testament and will often not recognize LXX-only Greek terminology, or words familiar in classical Greek but missing from the New Testament. The pricey tools, Logos, Accordance and BibleWorks (best value, in my biased opinion), provide such helps in spades, but what’s there for the ordinary punter not yet ready to splash out to the extent of many hundreds of dollars in order to read the Bible on his/her tablet in the original languages?

I can reaffirm from further looking what I said in my last post. It looks as though you cannot get a free tool that offers definitions and parsing for all of the words in the LXX for just a click or hover. Tools like Step Bible and MySword offer ready access to roots available in the old Strongs dictionary for NT Greek words. But a fully tagged Septuagint in a cheap or free Android or Windows app or online, I can’t find.

But here are a couple of handy workarounds.

  • I remembered that Tyndale’s http://www.2letterlookup.com/ is really quite a quick and handy way to look up biblical roots in original languages, hooking in to all the old-but-good lexica such as Liddell, Scott and Jones. Works very well indeed for the triliteral roots of Hebrew. Greek, however, is not so simple, since so many Greek roots incorporate common prefixes like ‘epi’, ‘pros’ and such like and so open with the same pair of letters, leaving you to look through hopelessly long lists of words. This is helped by a graphical bar diagram that appears once you click a lexicon link under a word listing. It looks like this (below, for the lexicon known as ‘Middle Liddell’)…but for common prefixes, it’s still just too cumbersome.

lexicon-graphic-in-2letter-lookup

  • Better is a solution that was staring me in the face from my Android tablet the whole time. Open up the Bible app of your choice; I’d recommend one that has really attractive Greek typeface in the LXX. I found Blue Letter Bible and Academic Bible really good this way, and in the latter case, you’re getting the text of a recent, critical edition. Just double-click on the mystery word/form and your tablet offers you a Google search on the term. I was thinking that with the language barrier involved it would never yield meaningful results, but I was wrong. We live in Unicode World now, where you can move digitally from one language to another with ease. Every search on a Greek term brings up meaningful search results. Admittedly, some of them are modern Greek web pages that still use the term in question. But nearly every search I did brought up the form, fully parsed and defined, in the Perseus Greek word study tool, which is absolutely the best online tool since sliced virtual bread for this kind of thing, and an old favourite of mine. (It’s not working as smoothly on my Windows PC as I write this, but it’s the tablet where I was looking for a good solution in any case.) And it’s quick, quick enough not to lose momentum while reading.

I should mention that I’ve been corresponding with David Instone-Brewer, the head sherang at Step Bible, who tells me that a fully tagged Septuagint is well into preparation by the Tyndale crew (see the Tyndale Tech blog), so I encourage you to keep checking the Step Bible tool regularly. It keeps getting better, and will no doubt have this cracked before long.

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The Digital Document Detective Episode 2: Ancient and Medieval Backgrounds

You can find many important ancient, medieval, Renaissance/Reformation and Modern primary documents online. The scene is changing all the time, and sometimes documents you could find earlier disappear. But more often the trend is towards greater availability, and other parties such as European libraries and universities are catching up to Google in providing materials online. Top-notch critical editions and recent scholarly publications are the two categories of documents usually not available online except behind paywalls. Older materials, private translations, book previews, online journals…there is still much that is useful that can be found online for free. Here is merely a sample list, stemming from things I was looking for in my own research:

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Double-Duty Software Tools for Teaching

Just an update on my experiments with software tools for study and research purposes. I thought I’d talk about this in terms of some that are meant to act as in-between tools that combine functions done singly by others. Sometimes such double-duty tools have worked for me, others not, and others I haven’t really tried. Here’s what I found out.

Teaching Technologies Diagram

  1. Microsoft Word you know. Zotero is a reference (or citation) manager that I have found more versatile than EndNote, particularly in its ability to cater well for notetaking, linking of references to each other, and instant harvesting of references from web pages such as lists of books on Amazon. (EndNote is more powerful in some ways, but on balance Zotero is more useful for me.) Now there is an Aussie startup called ComWriter that handles both word processing and the citing of sources. To combine these functions makes all the sense in the world to me. But as Darth Vader said, “It’s too late for me, son.” I’m familiar with MS Word and find it quite powerful and effective, though it isn’t “the latest thing to come across the wire.” And I’ve invested heavily, first in EndNote, and now even more in Zotero. I can’t start from the beginning again, and don’t really feel the need to. But if I was a student starting out, I’d give it a serious look, especially now that it’s serious for student.
  2. While we’re talking about Zotero, I gave a good go to a program meant to combine the functions of a citation manager and a mindmap. What a great idea, to mindmap your references! One edition of Zotero was blessed with a user-written add-on (the kind of thing you get with such open-source software) that rendered one’s Zotero references in a fantastic concept mapper called VUE, or Visual Understanding Environment, put out by TUFTS University. VUE is very powerful, though I have not always found the instructions attached easy to understand. I tend instead to use the simpler mindmapping program FreePlane in many cases. That’s where Docear comes in. It is a program that combines FreePlane and a reference manager called JabRef. Again, a great idea, and I’ve toyed with it, not to replace Zotero but as a next step. It handles references internally and readily maps them. But…I haven’t found it always easy to use, hitting roadblocks at times that I can’t find a way around. That kind of lost time is hard to replace. I’m simply copying and pasting Zotero references one by one into FreePlane and manipulating them from there as needed.
  3. It is also possible to graphically map your writing process, and Scrivener famously allows writers to do this, including corkboarding the plot of a novel and moving units of writing around. It’s all the rage these days, and I was tempted to take the bait, but it doesn’t do one very critical thing for academic writing. It does not handle or integrate the referencing process. And for me, that’s a deal-breaker. I have experimented with using FreePlane to map out an article-length piece of writing in skeleton form, and found it to work well. So there’ll be no ‘literature and latte’ for me.
  4. On a different plane, I use presentation tools a lot, especially PowerPoint and now, mostly, Prezi. And increasingly needing custom graphics, I’ve delved into the world of vector graphics, which, instead of being composed of bits, are constructed using mathematical functions. The outcome is graphics that never lose resolution at any magnification, perfect for zoomable presentation formats. Being cheap, rather than Adobe Illustrator, I use the open-source alternative Inkscape for this purpose and increasingly love it. The halfway house in this case is Sozi, a zoomable presenter built originally as an extension for Inkscape, and now a stand-alone program. I’m new to it, but find it easy to use. It effectively takes a series of snapshots of your vector graphic in SVG format, such as Inkscape produces, that become your presentation slides and provides for customized transitions between them. It’s all zoomable and rotatable just as Prezi is, but rather than the somewhat hand-holding though very user-friendly graphics capabilities of Prezi, you have all the graphical freedom of Inkscape to work with. It looks very promising.

I am always evolving in my use of software tools for research and teaching, and have to watch that I don’t pick up something new to learn every couple of months. That’s not a good use of time. But good tools can mean good craftworks, and anything that expedites research or makes teaching more effective is good. Explore!

P.S. the above graphic was whipped up in Inkscape – took me most of an hour, but an expert user might have taken 10 minutes. Right now, though, WordPress won’t let me embed vector graphics, as far as I can tell.

An Attempt at a Master Diagram of Interesting Features of the Psalms

I’m not entirely happy with this yet, and in fact it isn’t complete, but it’s at a stage of “proof of concept”. It’s a master diagram of Psalms in Prezi arranged like one of those broken-up-world globe map projections:

https://prezi.com/gr8muwf70jel/psalms-master-diagram/
Psalms Master Prezi Screenshot

For those interested in technical production details, I produced the world template in one Inkscape document and the coloured content in another. Inkscape is a free, open-source vector graphics program. But Prezi doesn’t recognise the normal vector graphics (SVG) format, so I had to open the finished product in Adobe Illustrator (very new for me, and maybe not permanent, though a better-known vector graphics program, probably the best-known of all). Then I exported it in Adobe Flash format (SWF), which Prezi recognizes, and opened the file from within a new prezi, adding nothing else bar the title. The convoluted process is thanks to Inkscape’s usefulness as a graphics editor, whereas Prezi is very limited that way, and the fact that vector graphics do not lose resolution no matter how far you zoom into them, and are ideally suited to a zooming interface like Prezi.

But, if the result doesn’t help anyone comprehend (in this case) Psalms, all the playing around is in vain. So critical feedback is welcome!

An Embryonic Example of Teaching Hebrew Vocabulary Visually in Semantic Fields

This is a work in progress, lacking order and featuring only one or two hundred of the most common terms from OT biblical Hebrew, but you can see the principle I’m pursuing: representing vocabulary words that students need to learn in natural association and with visual clues. I’ve tried out more than one principle of association, and would like to cluster the circles together in related bubble masses in time, though the prezi will at some point begin to grind to a stop with its graphical content. So there is builder’s rubble and scaffolding lying around here.

Heb Vocab Fams Scrshot Smaller

The impetus for this visual aid I owe to David Gormley-O’Brien, whom I heard speak at the SCD Teaching & Learning Conference in Sydney last September, where he called for the teaching of biblical languages in semantic domains, while I was there presenting a paper on, yes, visual communication in the theological classroom. So this is my attempt to put David’s call into practice, such as it is so far.

From a method point of view, I have had to create the frame in prezi, take a screenshot of that and paste it into an Inkscape (i.e. vector graphics) document, type in Hebrew terms in SBL Hebrew font and manipulate them as needed, then select assemblages of Hebrew terms and export them as png files which I could then open from within prezi and drop into place, where they were tailored to fit as needed.

The link: https://prezi.com/cbqtqi7bqwgs/hebrew-vocabulary-by-semantic-fields/

Feedback is most welcome.

A New Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Study Tool Online

From time to time I add a new pin to my Pinterest board on tools for studying biblical Hebrew: https://www.pinterest.com/abrown5929/biblical-hebrew-teaching-and-learning/

But occasionally there comes along a new tool that’s worth noting more fully. Care of a student of Matthew Anstey (and of mine, at intervals), I’ve found out about one called Shebanq, which appears to permit searching of anything you’d like to find out about the Hebrew Bible/OT. I’m sure it can do a great range of different things, and you may want to explore the possibilities. Let me mention just one.

Some time back, I explored manual representation of distribution of important OT terms by means of a heat map. If you don’t know what a heat map is, it is a kind of chart commonly used in data visualization circles. Here is an effort done up in Prezi to show where Levites are mentioned in the OT, and where they aren’t: https://prezi.com/uhjbcpw1xiyn/references-to-levites-in-joshua-kings-chronicles/

Levite Refs in Hist'l Books Sshot

However, much better than a template that has to be filled in manually is a tool that creates a heat map (such as the circular one above) automatically. That is one thing that Shebanq does. As an experiment, I searched for the prefixed relative pronoun that usually appears as ‘שֶׁ’, typically in late biblical Hebrew contexts. In concert with a whole range of other terminological data, including the use of Aramaic and, more tellingly, Persian terms, it gives away parts of the OT canon as clearly postexilic, notably Book V of the Psalms, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. You’ll see what I mean in this screenshot from the program:

Shebanq rel pron example

You’ll find this at http://shebanq.ancient-data.org/hebrew/text, and the relevant term is tagged with the number 2640. To get there, select ‘Words’ in the header menu, select the Hebrew letter ‘שׁ’, then find ‘שַׁ’, the first option under that letter. Then, in the LH dialogue box, select ‘chart’, and (as we say here) ‘Bob’s your uncle’! A heat chart making the distribution of the term clear at a glance!

I find this kind of tool an instant buzz, and a doorway both into diachronic studies of term frequencies (over time) in biblical Hebrew, and into ‘synchronic’ studies of key biblical themes accessed through tracing ‘giveaway’ words for those themes.

Did I mention that it’s free?

Research Digital Workflow

This is my attempt to describe visually the process I go through in researching a topic and writing a formal piece about it. I’ve been interested in how this process works and how I might improve it. First, my best effort at diagramming the process (since I’m tired of working on this diagram and want to draw a line under it!):

And by way of comparison, someone else’s effort to show what they do:

https://bubbl.us/mindmap?h=9cd6f/12f200/64X0rKA2wjvAU

Continually analyzing our own research process is a bit like self-analysis. Too much of it is self-defeating, becoming a substitute for actually getting on with life/research & publication. But a little self-checking can be good. Life is too short to be researching in an inefficient or ineffective way.