Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review of BibleWorks 9 (part 3): not your grandma’s textual criticism

For all you scholars out there, here is the third installment of my BibleWorks 9 review.

I’m listening to an old Michael Card CD (The Word) at the moment (yes, I know that dates me). He’s singing, “so many books, so little time,” and I couldn’t think of a better excuse for this very belated third installment of my BibleWorks review. The folks over at BibleWorks were so generous to provide me with an upgrade to version 9 free of charge in exchange for a series of reviews. In addition to being generous, they have proved very patient with a busy doctoral student. You can find my first two installments here and here.
Are you sitting down? On the floor? Ok, good.
If you’re wondering whether the upgrade is worth it, prepare to be blown away by what BibleWorks 9 can do. But first, think back to your first Greek exegesis course, the one where your professor showed you how to do textual criticism. If your experience was like mine, you felt like you had entered a foreign land. Greek seemed easy compared to the steep learning curve as you tried to make sense of the apparatus. Every little symbol referred to something else that also seemed obscure, with its own date, provenance, and stylistic tendencies. And your task was to take all these numbers, letters, symbols, and dates and produce a chart showing which reading had the strongest support. Think of how long it took to flip through your Greek New Testament trying to find the key to all those symbols.
Now imagine that your professor offered to follow you around for the rest of your career, reading the apparatus for you and loaning you all the charts he or she had painstakingly made of textual variants. Imagine that you could spend your time thinking about which reading was the best reading and what theological difference it made rather than trying to decipher codes.
You can stop imagining, because it’s true. BibleWorks 9 includes two complete textual apparatuses for the entire Greek New Testament (CNNTS and Tischendorf). Each and every symbol is hyperlinked to its description, and each and every variant in the CNNTS  includes a chart of all the manuscript evidence for that variant. It’s a Bible scholar’s dream.
But that’s not all. Say that you’re working on a particular problem and you notice that one prominent manuscript has a surprising reading. You want to investigate more closely, because the reading seems suspicious to you. Now, from the comfort of your own study, you can look at high resolution images of some of the major NT manuscripts right in BibleWorks (including Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus and others). You can zoom in and out, change the lighting or the contrast, despeckle the image or adjust the sharpness. You can even view a photographic negative of the image to look for erasures, a change in handwriting, or help in deciphering ambiguous letters. The manuscripts are overlaid with hyperlinked verse references to the passages in any translation you choose, making navigation much easier. Learning how to use these new features is simple; detailed video tutorials are included.
I admit that part of me is tempted to tuck away what I now know in a dark corner somewhere, so that my students have to struggle as much as I did. But I’ve decided to be a hero and show them how to use these power tools. I’ll be sure to pepper my demonstration with stories of how rough the rest of us had it (“back in my day . . . “). Students will, of course, still need to learn how to decide between the strength of various witnesses. They will need to be aware of how geographical distribution of manuscripts affects textual decisions. And they will need to understand the principles of textual criticism and get practice applying them to particular cases. But all the ingredients for the text-critical cake have been assembled for them (and you!) in one easy-to-use location so they can focus on baking, not shopping for ingredients.
I have only one disappointment, but it is significant. Neither the text critical apparatuses nor the digital manuscript images are available for the OldTestament, and I’m told that it will be a good, long time (20 years?) before the gap is filled. (Perhaps I should have chosen a degree in New Testament!) But really these features are just the icing on the cake. BibleWorks is indispensable for rigorous study of the entire Bible, with or without these new power tools.

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