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SBL: Software Bible Shootout

softwareI had the opportunity on Saturday to sit in on the "Bible Software Shootout" at SBL. This event was described in the program in the following manner:

Invited software vendors will showcase their products by demonstrating how their software solves five real-world problems in back-to-back comparisons. Each vendor will have 30 minutes, with the exception of SESB which will have 15 minutes.

Keith H. Reeves, Azusa Pacific University, Presiding

Logos Systems
Michael S. Heiser, Logos Systems, Respondent [replaced by Bob Pritchett]

Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible
Oliver Glanz, Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible, Respondent

Jim Barr, Bible Works, Respondent
Glen Weaver, Bible Works, Respondent
Mark Cannon, Bible Works, Respondent

Roy B. Brown, Accordance, Respondent
Rex A. Koivisto, Accordance, Respondent

Olive Tree
Stephen Johnson, Olive Tree Bible Software, Respondent
Drayton Benner, University of Chicago, Respondent

Each presenter was challenged to use their respective software packages to solve the following tasks:

  1. Give the parsing of a word and its meaning from a standard source.

  2. Show all the occurrences of a word in the NT and LXX and show the Hebrew word which corresponds withe the Greek in the LXX (if there is a correspondence).

  3. Find all the occurrences of οἰ δὲ in Matthew's gospel followed by a finite verb within the clause.

  4. I want to study a part of speech, e. g., demonstrative pronouns or interjections. How do I get all of the lemmas for that part of speech, get all the occurrences of those lemmas, and the results organized in such a way that I could write an article/monograph on that part of speech from the data?

  5. I want to study the inflections of the Hebrew middle weak verb, and I want to see what the range of possible variations are for each of the conjugations (perfect, imperative, etc.) person, number, gender, stem. This means I need to find all the middle weak verbs, find all their occurrences, and organize them in such a way that the variation of their inflections are immediately apparent. The goal of the data organization would be to allow me to write an article about the variations of the Hebrew middle weak verb.

I do not know if the session was video recorded, but it should have been. The Accordance team was the only one to provide a paper presenting the steps in putting together the solutions to the problems above. If the Accordance folks decide to post their paper, I'll create a link to it here.

Now, let me say up front that I'm biased towards Accordance. I won't try to hide that fact. I'm so biased, in fact, that I've agreed to work the booth with them here at SBL. But I should also point out that my bias is neither random nor based on anything but my own experience with Bible software.

I've been using Accordance for over 11 years. I own the Scholar's Unlock All, Library Premier, and scores of other modules I've added over the years. But you should know that I also own Logos 4 Gold Level (and other resources bought separately) and have it installed both in Windows (via Bootcamp & Parallels) and in Mac OS X (although the Mac version currently is an alpha version that is of minimal use). I have a very old version of BibleWorks (v. 3.5) which I had from my Windows days before I switched to the Mac in 1998. All of the above, I have paid for with my own funds. I also have a copy of Olive Tree's Bible software on the iPhone, some of which I bought and some of which was given to me by Olive Tree.

Here are a few reflections:

I still don't understand why Oliver Glanz was demonstrating the Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible, since it runs on the Logos platform.

My familiarity with Accordance vs. my lesser familiarity with Logos and my almost nil experience with the current version of BibleWorks made it difficult for me to follow some aspects of the latter two's presentation.

Logos 4 continues to be extremely impressive visually, but I have to wonder how much all the many charts and graphs would be of significant help if I was needing it to solve the problems that were part of the challenge. A good way to describe Logos 4 is "visually overwhelming." And while I don't mean that in a totally negative manner, it's not completely positive either. There simply seemed to be too much thrown at the problems during the presentation, and it wasn't clear how helpful some of the supposed solutions would actually be.

Although Olive Tree could not perform every aspect of the last two challenges, what they could do was very impressive, indeed. The representatives from Olive Tree showed that their "pocket" software can be used for very serious work if someone is so inclined to do so. It's been over a year since I wrote my initial review of the iPhone app, and it's probably time to post an update.

Of all the presenters, only Roy Brown of Accordance provided a handout describing his solutions to the problems. In fact, his handout was 12 pages long! This meant that anyone with access to the software could easily go home and duplicate his solutions, step-by-step. That would really be impossible with the other software unless the attendee was keeping extremely meticulous notes.

Roy is undoubtedly the "father" of Mac Bible software. The maturity and straightforwardness of his presentation, combined with his knowledge of the software as an engineer as well as his insight into the biblical language gave his presentation a certain level of gravitas that the other presentations could not match.

There was an ongoing query during the Q&A sessions regarding the availability of critical apparatuses. Accordance fared best here having a total of eight combined for the LXX, Hebrew Bible, and Greek New Testament, including the near exhaustive CNTTS. Olive Tree does not currently have any. BibleWorks only had one, but an older one of less value (Tischendorf). I don't remember how many Logos had, but I know that have at least one for the NT and one for the OT.

Finally, after the competition was over (no winner was actually announced), I spoke briefly with a former classmate of mine who is now a professor in a prestigious seminary. He told me that in watching the different presentations, he thought Accordance had the most logical and straightforward solutions to the problems. While he said that he did not know how to use Accordance yet, he felt confident that it was something that could be easily learned as a valuable tool for biblical studies.

Let me be clear: no one gave a bad presentation. But if I had to pick a winner, biased or not, I would pick Accordance because of its simple, straightforward and logical approach. The methods employed were both useful (and often multiple in number to achieve the same results) as well as direct and to the point, avoiding the temptation to "wow" an audience with impressive features that do not necessarily or directly address the issues at hand.

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Reader Comments (14)

Thanks for this report. I was very curious how it went! Wished I could have been there!

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDonovan

Thank you very much for taking the time to share this. I look forward to getting more info on the details if/when they become available.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRubén Gómez

[...] (for a full summary of the session go to the blog This Lamp): Each presenter was challenged to use their respective software packages to solve the following [...]

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBible Software Shootout

Thanks for the blog-view of the event. I'm glad someone finally shared some of the actual event to us outsiders. This sure beat the Twitter-views (come on people, you have 140 characters, you can be a bit more verbose ;-) ).

I emailed Glenn Weaver, one of the BibleWorks presenters, to see if they would either publish the problems and their solutions on their website, or if not I could put it up on the BibleWorks blog. I'll let you know if I receive that.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Hanel

Nice wrapup and thankfully a well written one at that. Here's an event that I wish I could have attended so that I too could have gotten in some impressions - and probably some questions from the participants. Nevertheless, its always a blessing to read some solid reporting, and see a surprise entrant on the mobile side.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterARJWright

> A good way to describe Logos 4 is “visually overwhelming.”

I haven't seen Logos 4 yet in person, but as a recent/new user of Accordance, I found it to be visually overwhelming at first, especially with all the toolbars, etc.

Ironically Logos 3 (at least for Mac, I'm assuming the UI is similar for Windows) was much cleaner.

That said, after a few days spent with both, I realized that I could do a lot more textual study more easily with Accordance (search for "open" followed by "mouth*") but Logos was easier to cross-reference a passage in various resources that I owned (i.e. if I am studying Psalm 109, what books do I have which talk about that passage?)

Thanks for the info!

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTJ Luoma

Thanks. I'm hoping more info gets shared by the various publishers on how they addressed the questions.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermgvh

Would love to see all the participants make their solutions available online.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRuss

[...] This Lamp summary [...]

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSBL Software Shootout «

[...] the session over at Boulders 2 Bits, whereas Rick Mansfield wrote a more comprehensive post on his This Lamp blog, and, more recently, Mike Heiser gave us his take on it. We can expect to read reports by [...]

I'm glad you're doing this, Rick. I've been over at the Dollar Store myself trying to assemble Open Source packages that serve as many people as possible in as many languages. One resource I've been pleased to find is AT Robertson's Word Pictures which I know you like. The Biblical language tools are pretty slim when you get down to free resources. So most people use Strong's, Matthew Henry's and an old Bible in the public domain. I'm thankful for the NET Bible in this context since they are providing some valuable resources. Well, this is off topic I suppose but thanks for listening.

November 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Ker

[...] different kind of session was a competetive software shootout, covered here by Rick Mansfield. Michael Heiser pronounced his beloved Logos the winner, and a row ensued. Rick Mansfield has [...]

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterclayboy » Biblical Studie

[...] options demonstrated their method for solving a series of challenges. Read Rick Mansfield’s summary here. More discussion here (with lots of further links).The software vendors represented were: Logos, [...]

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