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Review of the BibleWorks Manuscripts Project

Every modern student of the Bible should have some understanding of how the biblical text was transmitted from the ancient world to the edited version(s) they examine today. This is especially true of students who read Greek and Hebrew, who may think that their critical edition of the Bible is all there is to the story. Even a modest familiarity with the transmission history of the Bible will benefit the modern reader, whether student or scholar. One barrier to this familiarity has been the relative inaccessibility of manuscripts or copies of those manuscripts. For, although we live at a time when images and textual data are becoming increasingly available (especially through electronic media), any reader wanting to make use of that information must perform a non-trivial amount of work with regard to simply finding, assembling, and understanding the data.

One answer to this issue is an exciting new tool introduced into the suite of resources available in BibleWorks 9: the Manuscripts Project. For those familiar with BibleWorks, the tool is available through a new tab marked “Mss” (an abbreviation for “manuscripts”) in the Analysis window of the BibleWorks user interface; three panes are accessible through this tab and are discussed below. According to the BibleWorks 9 Help text, the Manuscripts Project (started in 2004) has the following goals: (1) to provide “new transcriptions of the most frequently cited Greek New Testament manuscripts” with accompanying manuscript images that are tagged according to verse; (2) to provide morphologically tagged and fully searchable transcriptions; and (3) to provide tools to aid with manuscript analysis and collation.

How well does BibleWorks accomplish those goals? The project is, by admission, a work in progress. In the current release there are portions of seven manuscripts available, the transcriptions of those manuscripts restricted to canonical New Testament Greek books (e.g., works of the Apostolic Fathers are not part of the transcription even if they are present in an included manuscript). The seven manuscripts delivered in this release are the fourth century codices Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the fifth century codices Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Bezae (Gospels and Acts), and Codex Washingtonius (Gospels), the ninth century Codex Boernerianus (Pauline epistles), and the ninth/tenth century minuscule 1141 (Gospels). Where these manuscripts are extant, images from out-of-copyright (but often difficult to obtain) facsimiles or from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts ( are viewable in the Manuscript Image Pane of the interface. These manuscript images are tagged according to modern versification and both students and researchers new to manuscript studies will find this extremely helpful in navigating the continuous script Greek text. Incrementing the displayed verse in the Browse window or in the Mss tab causes the manuscript image to move to the tag of the verse being accessed, which is a nice feature. If the Browse window moves into the Old Testament, the Mss tab remains static. The manuscript being displayed may be selected from the tab’s control bar. Clicking and dragging the image allows the user to move around the manuscript image easily. Additionally, if the user wants to work with an image larger than the size of the middle pane, a separate image viewer can be launched from the Manuscript Image Pane. The one drawback of the image viewer is that resizing the pop out window must be done by manually dragging the edges of the window (the Maximize option for the window is inactive); hopefully that will be modified in future releases.

Regarding the availability of morphological tagging and fully searchable transcriptions, there is again progress, with more work to be done. For the available transcriptions, the morphological tagging (which is labor-intensive work) is only completed for Codex Sinaiticus; when this work is complete, however, it will be immensely helpful to researchers. The transcriptions (being text) are fully searchable, however. Also, they are, thankfully, faithful to the manuscripts; that is, the Greek has not been normalized with regard to spelling or diacritical marks. So one can expect to find original (to the manuscript) variant spellings (e.g., ιμι for ειμι), abbreviations known as nomina sacra (e.g., Θ̅Σ̅ for θεος), and final nu markings at the end of a row of text (e.g., ηˉ for ην). Using the search features of the Browse window, one can locate specific orthographic variants easily (e.g., searching on ιμι will turn up only that form of the word); once the morphological work is finished, a researcher may then broaden the search possibilities. One can search on a form of a nomen sacrum (such as Θ̅Σ̅) or words with a final nu as well.

Finally, with regard to tools that aid analysis and collation, the Collation Pane presents the user with readings from each of the manuscript transcriptions (where extant) and defaults to include four critical editions as well (Westcott-Hort, Scrivener, Robinson-Pierpont, and the Nestle-Aland 27th edition). Moreover, the list of collation texts to be included in the display is fully configurable by the user, and any of the Greek texts available in BibleWorks may be added using the control bar. In the display, variants are highlighted to provide quick identification of differences between readings. When navigating the display, the verse in the Collation Pane can increment/decrement in step with the image in the Manuscript Image Pane, or either pane may be adjusted independently; this is a useful feature of the tool and the interface is fairly intuitive. Additionally, the Verse tab in the Analysis window provides access to two critical apparatuses, from Tischendorf’s Editio Octava Critica Maior and from the Center for New Testament Textual Studies (CNTTS, at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary). The latter is fully searchable and with it a user can consider the textual variants occurring in a multitude of manuscript witnesses or search on a variety of textual features through a helpful interface. (While experimenting with the search functionality I did encounter a non-fatal error, based on a possible data entry error in the apparatus database; the apparatus remains quite beneficial, regardless.) The rich feature set available for collation and analysis in both the Mss and Verse tabs certainly meet the objectives of the project.

In summary, BibleWorks 9 has made an excellent start with meeting the goals of the Manuscripts Project. Some of the features (such as morphological tagging) require future releases/enhancements, but the core of the project—which is in place at this time—is sound and will be quite useful in allowing students and researchers to explore manuscripts and the transmission history of the New Testament.

Andrew Smith is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Shepherds Theological Seminary and Director of the Center for Research of Biblical Manuscripts and Inscriptions

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