This post serves as a quick introduction to a tool I recently found via Twitter: The Biblical Hebrew Reader Generator. This tool generates a reader, i.e., a collection of biblical texts with an optional appended list of vocabulary. This tool’s applications are more limited than many other available tools, yet this option is simple, freely available, and quite useful for students or teachers of Biblical Hebrew (or Aramaic). So let’s dive right in.
The site is largely self-explanatory. When accessing, it presents a simple UI with a text field to insert specific biblical passages. The passage must be input in the form “book chapter:verse”. (If you need the whole chapter, you can ignore verse numbers). Simple enough, but there are some pitfalls if you are inattentive. First, no abbreviations are permitted for the books’ titles. I found the inability to use abbreviations initially annoying, but I’m sure it’s much easier for clarity and the site’s functionality due to the plethora of abbreviations (like Chr or Chron for Chronicles) and even other titles (think Ecclesiastes / Qohelet) used for many books. In one case using the whole title feels especially strange, however: when adding a single psalm to the input, it must be input as “psalms” followed by the number, e.g., “Psalms 72” for the seventy-second psalm. A second aspect that requires users’ awareness is how the verse inputs are interpreted. The input “Genesis 2:4–16” would not return verses 4–16 of the second chapter of the book of Genesis, but rather the text of Genesis beginning at chapter 2, verse 4, and continuing through chapter 16. That differs from normal usage in biblical studies. To only get verses 4–16 of Genesis, chapter 2, the correct input is “Genesis 2:4–2:16”. There is a helpful note below the input field to remind users of this. Users can extend a reference to the end of the chapter or the end of the book without noting the specific verses by using “end” or “bookend” respectively.
A nice feature is the ability to add many texts to one input. Each text should be input on a separate line using the return/enter key. This will include all of those texts in the final product. This is particularly convenient for combining a number of texts strewn throughout the Bible, but with a common topic. For example, one could easily create a list of specific texts about the ark of the covenant—even all of them—and incorporate them into the reader so that they would be in one document for personal research or for course instruction.
Below the text box used for input, a few options are available. The option “Large text and more line spacing” is generally self-explanatory, but it is helpful to know that toggling on this option delivers the text in a single column format instead of the default two-column format. The larger spacing is particularly useful if you are working on the file by hand, writing on the final result either digitally or in a printed version.
Then penultimate set of options impact the vocabulary for the passages. Users can toggle the vocabulary list off, combine all of the vocabulary into one long list at the end of the document (as opposed to after each text), and set the formatting so that the vocabulary list(s) begin on (a) new page(s). These options present some flexibility, particularly regarding the combination of all lists into one master list. This can be helpful and economical for topical collections of texts like that mentioned above. However, leaving the lists separate and beginning them each on a new page leads to unusual formatting in the final result: it begins the vocabulary at the top of the page and then includes the next text below that, not really an ideal choice for most cases, I think. There is a work-around by combining individual PDFs after their production on the site, but this function could be improved.
The final option regards the output: the reader can be generated as either a PDF or XeLaTeX. The first option is probably the most well known among students and teachers in biblical studies, but for anyone interested in manipulating the text, the second option is clearly better. After producing some PDF readers, I tried to export or even copy the text in a variety of other formats (docx, txt, rtf), which always produced substantial errors. However, working with the text in TeX did permit me to easily copy the text in other programs that are more familiar, such as Word. While not strictly necessary, I imagine the ability to easily reproduce the reader in more malleable form, particularly regarding the formatting, could improve usability.
While I have pointed out some of the short-comings of this site, I feel it important to consider it from a practical perspective and emphasize some of its practical strengths. Its usefulness for instructors in biblical languages appears generally self-evident. It can be used to produce collections of texts to emphasize specific linguistic features and include the vocabulary for those struggling to learn it. I imagine it could be particularly effective for courses that include substantial autodidactic elements or for students seeking to teach themselves or deepen or refresh their knowledge of the languages. I use the plural “languages,” since this site also includes all of the Aramaic portions of the Masoretic Text, as well as the Aramaic vocabulary. That makes it ideal for courses in Biblical Aramaic, which could easily create a reader with all of the material on eight pages, including the vocabulary. Other than for didactic purposes in the languages, this site provides a solid opportunity to quickly produce topical collations of texts in an accessible format for courses on essentially any biblical topic with the benefit of including a readily available glossary for those who may not have full mastery of the language or who require assistance, particularly with rare words. Which leads me to a wish: Perhaps it would be helpful at some point in the future for the site to offer the option of removing the most common Hebrew terms, the basic vocabulary, which would greatly abbreviate the vocabulary list for long passages or lengthy lists of passages. Such resources are available online, like the list of the 500 most common biblical Hebrew words compiled by Siegfried Kreuzer, which would ease their incorporation, should the developers desire to incorporate that as a further option.
In sum, I find the site a limited, but nonetheless quite useful element in an ever-growing collection of freely available online resources in biblical studies. I look forward to seeing this resource continue to develop and find more exposure.