Evangelical Review of Theology, July 2003, (27:3), pp. 272-75
Logos Bible Software Series X
Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Bellingham, WA, USA
Logos Research Systems have set an impressive standard in the competitive Bible software market with their ‘new generation’ Series X for Windows-based computers. There are five packages available, targeted at different user groups ranging in price from US$150 to $600. The top of the line ‘Scholar's Library’ includes powerful search engines with 230 different book titles accessible on purchase, and almost 450 more on disk which can be unlocked by making additional payments.
The multi-CD system installs reasonably easily (depending on hardware), with the help of the (brief) instruction sheet. There is a security code system to register the program, and adequate on-line support and information about upgrades and additional books is available from the manufacturer (www.logos.com).
The instructions recommend that books selected for use be transferred to the hard disk for quicker access. However, while still learning the program, it is easy to load books inadvertently, but there is no way within the program to delete unwanted books from the hard drive, even though they can be grouped in collections and de-activated. The listing of the same book under different titles (e.g., full, abbreviated and initial letters) and the lack of identification of the files are confusing features.
Basic operation for Bible study is as easy as claimed in the advertising, once the general idea is grasped. The main page opens with a window to insert a Bible reference or topic. Depending on options selected, pressing 'OK' will then open up selected Bible version(s), together with commentaries, lexicons and other reference books (including maps); clicking on the resource will open it at the appropriate point, displaying relevant data. The focus can be on comparison of translations, commentaries, word studies, or links to topics addressed in the passage. The ‘Exegetical Guide’ consists of the parsing of the original language words and links to lexicons or similar reference works. A handy feature is listing words according to frequency so that, for example, well known words occurring, say, more than 40 times in the NT, need not be displayed.
Searching for Bible passages or themes and topics in the installed books is another basic function available directly from the menu. The Bible search feature allows for a focus on particular books or sections of the Bible as well as particular words or related words. In certain original language texts, parsing appears when the cursor hovers over the words. A further powerful feature is the Greek or Hebrew morphological search (Gramcord and Westminster) which supports searches for nominated words in various specified forms in the resources selected (a particular version of OT, LXX, NT etc). A graphical interface is planned for future updates which is expected to make the advanced features of this function much more user friendly. Currently there is no help with groups of words (like genitive absolutes), disputed morphology or syntax. Texts with critical apparatus are planned for later modules.
Hovering the cursor over highlighted text such as a biblical reference, abbreviation, technical term or other hotlink will helpfully display the relevant material (such the text of the biblical reference), but this is sometimes excessive (for example, when the cursor is casually or accidentally placed on a hotlink) especially on a slower computer which takes time to find the resource. Using advanced configuration techniques, this feature can be switched off. As is often the case, the specifications for hardware recommended by the manufacturer are at the low end of the usable range, especially since it is easy to institute long searches inadvertently due to the large number of resources in the package and some lack of clarity in the instructions.
Much is made in the promotional material of the many features of the package, but, as there is no printed manual, and the help system is primitive by normal Windows standards, mastering all but the basic functions and features is likely to be a slow process. The supplied ‘video introduction’ CD is mainly promotional and a tutorial CD is paced so fast and contains so many instructions, it is practically necessary to view it on a second computer. A summary card highlighting the features and operation would be a great advantage.
Many of the features cleverly exploit what computers are good at doing – finding, comparing and displaying specific data. Some of this is of help to a student, such as parallel displays of the Bible translations or locating Biblical references and words in literally hundreds of books. This speeds up the study process and reduces the tedium of flipping pages and checking indexes. However some of the functions in the software are trivial for a 'Scholar's Library' - such as summarising the content of an article in a purely mechanistic manner to a specified percentage of the original length, a prayer list manager, or computing a personal Bible reading plan according to the number of verses per day, the number of chapters to be read, and days to complete the reading. Other features, including a note book, book-marking, and saving the work-space for the future use, would be useful to some users. As expected, data can be printed and transferred to other applications easily; formatting of bibliographical data according to various citation standards is a useful timesaver.
The value of the electronic library for searching, data transfer and portability is already well recognized, but the test of a particular product includes the number, quality, cost and relevance of books available, whether or not it is intuitive to use, contains features which are appropriate for its intended users and can be expanded, and the quality and accessibility of technical support.
Scholar’s Library provides a wide range of books in a convenient form. It is strongest in biblical languages with good original texts, lexicons and the like (including TDNT), but the unlocked commentaries and dictionaries are generally rather more elementary, as are the theology books, while the devotional, sermonic and educational titles are likely to be of limited value. Apart from some interesting exceptions (an archaeological encyclopaedia, Philo and Josephus are available but not the church fathers), the remainder of the unlocked books are not likely to be particularly attractive to scholars. Several are old (e.g., Easton’s Bible Dictionary dated 1897!), insignificant, or of specialised interest, while others are in the public domain and widely available elsewhere. Many additional titles are coming on the market continuously, but buyers need to check out their own needs and the comparative costs involved before purchase.
For the features it contains, Scholar’s Library is easy to use in the default installation, but needs patience in more advanced areas of set-up, configuration and functions. The absence of a back key in some functions means that in repetitive searches, for example, it is necessary to start the operation all over again each time instead of simply returning to the search window.
The prime value of software such as Scholar’s Library is the speed and accuracy of searches for data (including morphology, Biblical and other references). However, it is necessarily limited to finding exact matches of words (the topical searches are rather mechanistic, but all variants of a word are searched by default), and is oriented to the target books in an encyclopaedic way, rather than surveying and analysing concepts, trends and movements or the work of a particular author as a scholar (or even a serious Bible student) would. Many of the supplied resources would be informative for general use, but whether a computer screen is the best way to access them is another matter.
Reviewed by David Parker, Editor,
Evangelical Review of Theology
© 2003 by Evangelical Review of Theology. Used by permission.