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TIC Talk 59, 2004 - Newsletter of the United Bible Societies Translation Information Clearinghouse

Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible

by Sarah Lind

At the risk of putting off some readers who may think that three pages on software is more than enough for the year (see the last issue of TIC Talk), this issue devotes a few more to the newly available Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible (SESB), a joint project of the German and Netherlands Bible Societies using Libronix Digital Library System (Logos). This resource will be welcomed by all those who have long wished for the critical apparatus of BHS and Nestle-Aland in electronic form, and those who haven’t had access to the Werkgroep Informatica’s syntactically tagged Hebrew Bible database.

The SESB is a collection of biblical texts and resources much like other Logos collections in terms of displaying and searching texts. It is, not surprisingly, more international minded than Logos in its packaged offerings of modern versions. German Bibles are Lutherbibel 1984, the Gute Nachricht (with notes), Einheits­über­setzung (with notes), Rev. Elberfelder 1985, and the Buber/Rosenzweig translation Die Schrift 1962/1997. French versions are Traduction Oecuménique, Français Courant 1997, and the Nouvelle Bible Segond 2002. The Dutch versions NBG Vertaling and Groot Nieuws are included as well as the Danish common language version of 1992. English versions are New Revised Standard 1993 and New International 1978 (why not TEV?).

Ancient texts and versions are BHS, NA27, LXX, and the Vulgate. These are accompanied by a number of basic lexicons: Hebräisch-Deutsch and Hebrew-English (Bosman, Oosting, Postma), Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Lust, Eynikel, Hauspie), Kleines Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament Griechisch-Deutsch (Kassühlke), and Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Newman).

The morphological tagging for the LXX and NA27 is the usual CCAT and GRAMCORD tagging, respectively. What is not usual is the tagging of BHS.

The BHS in SESB integrates two important sets of information that have not previously been commercially available in Bible search software: 1) The morpho-syntactic database of Prof. Eep Talstra, et al., called the WIVU database, as it is a project of the Werkgroep Informatica of the Vrije Universiteit in Amster­dam (http://www.th.vu.nl/~wiweb/const/index.htm), and 2) The critical apparatus, consisting of the critical notes that appear at the bottom of each page in the printed BHS.

The WIVU database

This has long been a project under the direction of Talstra. From the early 90s, there has been an ongoing effort to make the database more widely available through a concording program called Quest (still called “Quest Search” on the SESB opening screen). The participating Bible Societies finally decided in 2002 to use the Libronix technology for their electronic Bible collection, including the WIVU database. The virtue of that decision is that the database is now published.

The uniqueness of WIVU as a published database is that it is tagged not just with word form information but also with phrase- and clause-level information. That means, for example, that you can find all cases of fronted prepositional phrases in the historical writings, or all cases of a clause with a qatal verb form followed by a clause with a we-qatal verb form in the Pentateuch. The search in the screenshot (below) is for a combination of two clauses, the first one with a non-determined noun followed by qatal 3s, and the second beginning with a yiqtol verb.

  Screenshot 1

As you may or may not be able to see in the screenshot, the functions of clauses are tagged, as well as cases of vocative, ellipsis, casus pendens, and macrosyntactic signals (“and now,” “therefore,” “we-hinneh,” etc.). Before working with the WIVU database, you should study the introductory essays by Christof Hardmeier (in German) and Eep Talstra (in English). Short versions of these essays are in the printed manual, but the electronic versions include much more information. They appear in “My Library” under the title “SESB Editor’s Introduction.”

There are quite a few wrinkles to be ironed out. The most important one is Help. I get nervous when I’ve constructed a search that looks exactly like the example, but has different results. This is true of almost every example in Talstra’s introduction, and is likely due to the fact that there is no detailed explanation about all aspects of constructing queries. Moreover, in what help does exist, the application of some key statements is often hard to make out. For example, describing the search option of specifying the allowable distance between two given words, the help file says: “You can define the words within the distance by means of all options of the lexeme and word form panels.” All the words are clear, but what does it mean? (Well, I know now what it means, but only after prolonged contemplation and experimentation.)

Some other areas needing improvement: 

  • It is sometimes a mystery why certain results have been returned. Explanations of how syntactic tags were assigned is urgently needed, as well as the ability to view the tagging of the text.
  • Morphological searching appears to be more limited than with the Logos BHS (no agreement options). 
  • In a lexeme search, homographs are labeled (1), (2), etc., without any indication of which one might be what you’re looking for. There should be glosses in the lookup list to help you choose which one you want.
  • As stated in the introductory materials, the WIVU database contains complete information on the phrase and clause levels only for the books of Genesis to 2 Kings.

Problems of interface:

  • In the display of BHS, text-wrapping separates inseparable prepositions and conjunctions from the following words, leaving them hanging at the left (see screenshot below). Even sof pasuq can occupy its own line.
  • The search dialogue can be kept open (unlike the Logos morphological search dialogue), but it cannot be resized and is always on top. Since it takes up almost the whole screen, this feature is practically useless.

The publication of WIVU is a promising first step in making available syntactic information about the Hebrew Bible. It is not perfectly presented; improvements will be welcomed. In the meantime, the Forbes-Andersen syntactic (and some discourse-level) database is reportedly also being prepared for publication by Logos. The tagging of that data-base is said to be complete, and will provide an interesting point of comparison with WIVU. (There’s also said to be a Greek syntactical database in the Logos works.)

Critical Apparatuses

Appearing for the first time in commercially available electronic form are the critical apparatuses of BHS and NA27. The SESB texts are supplied with hyperlinks so that you can view the critical notes while reading the text by placing your cursor over the siglum. The note will pop up in a box that disappears as soon as you move the cursor (see screenshots). 

Screenshot 2   Screenshot 3

In addition, you can open the apparatus in a separate window and have it scroll with the text as you move through it. By placing the cursor over any siglum in the apparatus window, you can find out what it refers to. In BHS, you will get only the bare bones expansion of the abbreviation in Latin, but in NA27 you can get quite helpful lengthier notes about the versions (see screenshot on Majority Text). You can also search on any of the sigla and get a list of all the verses for which a given manuscript/tradition is cited in the apparatus.

Screenshot 4

Screenshot 5

There are, additionally, a number of extremely useful, but poorly documented, field search capabilities (brought to my attention by Rubén Gómez in his online review of SESB at http://www.bsreview.org/sesb.htm). For example, you can retrieve a list of all additions and insertions, or all lectionary manuscript citations in the NA apparatus, or all OT quotes or disputed passages in NA27, as well as specify lexical or morphological elements within those categories. BHS and its apparatus have a less useful set of fields for this capability.

Conclusions: Anyone who uses the critical apparatuses of BHS and NA27 on a regular basis will find that SESB offers wonderfully expanded ways of working with those resources, and will probably be willing (if not able) to pay the price–$280 (from Logos, http://www.logos.com/) or 240 EUR (from the German Bible Society, http://www.bibelgesellschaft.de/shop). With the critical apparatuses, a good selection of modern versions in European languages, as well as the potential that lies in the WIVU database, the German and Netherlands Bible Societies are to be congratulated for offering an electronic product that is unlike any other available Bible software.

Copyright © 2004 by TIC Talk. Used by permission.