Trustworthy, Freely Available Primary Sources for Biblical Studies

Though laity and scholars of other disciplines may not know them, most scholars involved in biblical studies will probably be familiar with some kind of software for engaging the primary sources, i.e. critical editions of biblical texts. Probably the most well-known of these are Accordance, BibleWorks, and Logos. These programs have great merits, but also some short-fallings and hurdles. For example, BibleWorks has unfortunately closed shop, meaning only legacy versions of the software are available. These programs all have pretty steep learning curves to do anything beyond the most basic search. But probably the highest hurdle for many users—particularly precluding students, early-career scholars, and interested academics in cognate disciplines—is the cost. Licenses for the relevant modules starts at hundreds of dollars, increasing essentially ad infinitum depending on the added modules and expansions. With that in mind, it’s good to know some freely available online alternatives. With a text (used and abused) like the Bible, there’s also the reliability issue: Is the source trustworthy and worthy of supporting with clicks? Access to such sources became more accute, as libraries around the world closed their doors in response to a global pandemic. Let’s consider some options for accessing and assessing the biblical primary sources without endless financial resources.

Source: Facebook post from Craig A. Evans, 23 April 2020

The German Bible Society

The first option here is logical: Look to the publishers of the critical editions. The German Bible Society (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft) publishes some of the most important critical editions of the Bible in the ancient languages: the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (the academic standard), the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (its currently incomplete successor), the Septuaginta Handausgabe (Rahlfs/Hanhart 2006; the only option for this revision online to my knowledge; the others are all Rahlfs 1935), the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (28th edition) and a critical edition of the Vulgate (Weber/Gryson). They offer each of these editions freely online—albeit without their respective critical apparatuses. (In addition, they offer the modern German Luther Bible [1984], as well as the King James Translation and the English Standard Version.) The interface was recently updated, easing access to the texts.

An obvious advantage here is that the text comes from a reliable source, making it usable and citable—even in scholarly publications. Furthermore, the text is all in Unicode (SBL Fonts, which are free to download and even have intuitive keyboards available), can therefore easily be integrated into digital documents and word processing programs, and is licensed for most common uses. Bloggers and publishers of online content—or anyone else looking to embed a hyperlink—enjoy the added advantage of easily linking the text. You can create a hyperlink to any verse in the Bible in any of these versions by using the following model address:

www.academic-bible.com/bible-text/<passage>/<version>/

The <passage> must consist of the particular text that you would like to link to, using the format of book, chapter, verse without spaces and with a comma between the chapter and verse; i.e., to cite the first book of Kings, chapter 2, verse 35 (=1 Kgs 2:35) replace <passage> with “1kings2,35”. For the version, many tags are available, but for the ancient versions, they are the readily recognizable “BHS”, “NA”, “LXX”, and “VULG”. So, the link to the Hebrew text of 1 Kgs 2:35 is

www.academic-bible.com/bible-text/1Kings2,35/BHS/

These factors all make this a resource ideal for linking in blogs or academic contexts such as embedding links in documents for students so they can look up texts they might not be familiar with.

The link to 1 Kings 2:35 (BHS) from the German Bible Society

The primary disadvantage is the lack of any kind of lexical support or concordance. You can look up and cite the text; that’s it. If you need support with the grammar or syntax, or want to search for lexemes, there’s no support available for that on this site. (Although, for German-language users, the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft has some amazing lexical resources, like WiBiLex and WiReLex, and even textbooks like Bibelkunde, freely available online. It’s honestly worth learning German just to use them…)

BibleBento.com

For concordances and more lexical support, several other sites can help. One option is biblebento.com. This site allows users to look up texts in the ancient languages, as well as a variety of English (and other) translations. Using the menu in the upper left corner, it is even possible to open multiple versions and sync them or look up different passages in each (by toggling “BibleSync” in the menu). Mouseover provides basic lexical and syntactical information. Double-clicking on a word (at least in Hebrew) opens a window to more lexical data and a concordance keyed to usage (by clicking the morphology tab). This morphology concordance is useful, since it categorizes how the word is used and where. Unfortunately, it only lists the verses without showing the word in context. The site also features a number of other tools like cross-references and topical references, accessed by clicking on the verse number. The text is Unicode, but copying it brings a (hard or soft) line-break after every word in your document, even if you only “copy text” without formatting. That is a disadvantage for incorporating text from this site into word processors.

Parabible.com

Another powerful, yet more straightforward site is parabible.com, which features the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible, as well as the New English Translation. In contrast to the German Bible Society’s site, the text can be presented concordantly in columns (Hebrew–Greek–English).

Hebrew/Greek parallel version on parabible.com

Clicking on a word provides information about the lexeme and the relevant grammatical phenomena (as in the upper left corner in the image above). Moreover, it has a simple to use, but very powerful search feature (for the Hebrew Bible at least; Greek is still forthcoming). Both lexical features—like the root—and grammatical features—like conjugation and stem—can be included in the search parameters (even inverted to exclude irrelevant hits!), making this quite a powerful tool. It runs via point-and-click. (There is a link for quick and helpful YouTube tutorials.) Searching generates a table of the results in their contexts in a popped browser window. These Unicode results can be copied, pasted, and edited in word-processing software with the added option to remove the diacritics (in the settings menus in the upper right corner). A warning here: the functionality is not optimized for the Microsoft Edge browser (and I honestly can’t comment on compatibility with Safari). Another note: the text of the Septuagint is coded to match the versification of the Hebrew text, meaning that lengthy plusses in the Greek (i.e., with distinct versification like 2:35a) do not appear where they should.

STEP Bible

I would like to mention one last option that is usable both as an online and offline application. It is called STEP, an acronym for “Scripture Tools for Every Person.” You can access it at the website, stepbible.org, which features a variety of tools, particularly lexical tools, for the study of the Bible. This tool has some advantages. First, it features the ancient versions, as well as a number of biblical translations from dozens of languages. Even the UI can run in dozens of languages. They pack a lot of resources—lexical, morphological, and concordance data—into a very small package. It even has an apparatus of variant readings, at least for the New Testament. Perhaps the most important feature is that it can be downloaded for offline use, advantageous for anyone on the move or with spotty internet access (it runs as a local application in your browser).

STEP Bible at stepbible.org

This presents a reasonable place for quick access to information on the biblical texts, and I feel is a useful tool for students and scholars that may not have access to expensive software. But I recommend verifying any primary source texts beyond those found at the German Bible Society’s site before publication, since it is not always clear where the information was gleaned. For example, they offer a “transcription of the [Hebrew] Aleppo Manuscript without pointing or accents,” which begins with Genesis 1. Anyone familiar with that manuscript should know that almost the entire Torah/Pentateuch has been lost. So where did this version come from? I quickly found other small errors in the information about the sources, like the location of Leningrad Codex (the basis of the BHS and the basis of the OHB as it is called on the STEP Bible site) as “St. Petersberg [sic].” The Septuagint has the same issues as Parabible, in that is missing plusses and based on the 1935 Rahlfs and not the revised 2006 text. It’s certainly a useful tool for students and can easily be applied to introductory or methodology seminars on exegesis.

Cover Image: Detail from Codex Leningradensis (Exodus 15). Public Domain.

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