Bible study on the cheap

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Bible study on the cheap

Post #1

Post by Difflugia »

There was some discussion of learning Greek and Hebrew in the Seminary Students forum. As mentioned there, the premiere Bible study software to have is Logos, but most of the study materials come with a pretty steep price tag. It also only runs on Windows or Mac and I use Linux most of the time.

I've managed to cobble together what I think is a pretty good set of tools such that I rarely miss the Logos resources that I've paid for and no longer pine for the ones that I haven't.

I'm going to start posting links to and descriptions of packages that I use, but if anyone else has anything to say or questions to ask, I'd be quite pleased if this managed to turn into a discussion.

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A Greek-English Lexicon

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Post by Difflugia »

A Greek-English Lexicon by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott was originally published in 1843 and is still in print in its ninth edition. It is generally considered the go-to lexicon for classical Greek. It includes references to the Septuagint and New Testament, but it's a lexicon of Greek usage of various dialects through ten centuries (8th B.C. to 2nd A.D.).

The Perseus project supported a digitization of the lexicon and licensed it under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA, which means it's free to use and transform, provided attribution is given. There are a number of websites with nice search interfaces (this one at TLG may be the best), but I like being able to browse similar words while looking things up.

I downloaded a modified data set and ran a light filter on it to turn it into HTML. The main reason that I started this thread was to share that, so I've uploaded the result to a file hosting site (no porn ads and no email address required; you'd think that'd be a low bar...): LSJ.zip. When I checked the download, I got a single add for a VPN product. Pressing ESC clears the ad and shows the download link.

LSJ.zip unzips into a directory containing an index.html file with links to each sub-page (one for each Greek letter). The HTML is really light and the text appearance is all controlled by a single CSS file (lsj.css). I've commented it so that it should be pretty easy to modify, especially if you think my color scheme is gross. As long as you know Greek alphabetical order, it should be pretty easy to look up words by scrolling through the file or using the browser's search function and I vastly prefer it to any of the apps I've tried. I included the GentiumPlus font in the "font" directory because it covers polytonic Greek, but you can disable it in the CSS if you don't like it (or install it system-wide if you do :)).

To type in Greek for searches, I use TypeGreek.com, which is just a text-entry box with some Javascript to convert English letters to Greek polytonic, which you can then copy-paste somewhere else. Windows has a polytonic Greek keyboard locale (it has to be installed, but it's part of Windows), but the last time I tried it, it would crash either Notepad or WordPad (I don't remember which one I was using).

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The Old Testament in Greek According to the Septuagint

Post #3

Post by Difflugia »

The second one that's at least partly my own effort is the Septuagint in a single HTML file. I uploaded it using the same file hosting service: septuagint.zip. I forgot to mention it before, but the site says that files get deleted after ten days if they're not downloaded enough, so if it disappears, I'll re-upload it or try to find someplace more permanent.

I actually use this one less than Bible software, but I do use it to search for phrases. Most Bible software returns search results as a list of verses, but I like the way most browsers jump to the first match, let me read it in context, then flip to the next. I can also click some spot in the text and find hits after that (if I'm looking for a phrase somewhere in Judges, say, I can click the text at Judges 1 and skip Genesis-Joshua). This is the entire Bible as one single file with no niceties like a table of contents or anything. I had (still have?) grand designs of turning it into a proper ebook, but didn't get that far. Note also that it's entirely in Greek, including book names.

I exported the original text from Logos. Most Logos texts have some sort of copyright attached to them, but Logos itself tells me that this one is in the public domain (they still charge $25 for it, though). In case anyone else has any doubts, here's my justification for why it actually is in the public domain:
  • Scans of the original (pretty good ones, actually) from the late 19th century can be found in three volumes at archive.org: V1—Genesis-4 Kingdoms, V2—1 Chronicles-Tobit, V3—Hosea-4 Maccabees
  • I spot-checked things that are unique to Swete (paragraphing, critical text selections). The only difference I could find is that Swete marks both paragraphs and sub-paragraphs, but Logos doesn't distinguish between the two.
  • I didn't include Swete's introductions, but they were included in the Logos text.
Also, as I said, the Logos software itself claims that the text is in the public domain:

Image

I only made two substantial modifications to the HTML. First, it's obvious that the HTML was machine-generated because it was absolutely huge and full of useless tags (like <span> tags with no attributes). Just cleaning that stuff up brought the file from more than 60MB to less than ten. Second, I added the name of the book to each chapter number so that I didn't have to scroll all the way up the the beginning of the book to figure out where I was.

That's the last one that I did myself (at least for a while), I promise.

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UniqueBible.app

Post #4

Post by Difflugia »

As far as bona fide Bible software goes, my current personal favorite is UniqueBible.app. It was put together by pastor Eliran Wong using completely free resources (with a small catch I'll note below) and includes the most common functionality for which I use Logos. The software itself is open source and multi-platform (it's written in Python). There's a built-in list of resources to select from that the software downloads from the author's Google Drive. The author combined an open source Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament into the "Open Hebrew-Greek Bible" and has two versions, one that is original-language only and one that is word-by-word interlinear with English. Both versions are hyperlinked with Strong's Lexicons by default (others can be downloaded) and show detailed morphology information for both Greek and Hebrew. There's also a Greek Septuagint text, again both Greek-only and interlinear. It's linked with lexicons, but it's linked in some different way than the Greek NT because I've had a hard time switching from one to the other (looking for occurrences of a word from the NT in the Septuagint, for example).

Which, I guess, brings me to the downsides, and lest I sounded too much like a fanboi before, there are a lot of downsides. Most are merely annoying and none have chased me away from the software, but I have had to find alternatives to some of the functionality that I really wanted to be able to use.
  • Installation is a royal pain. There's no handholding and there are a lot of dependencies that need to be installed, no matter which platform it's installed on.
  • The installation instructions aren't easy to find, either. To save you some looking, they're in a Wiki at github. Basically, you need to install Python yourself along with a bunch of third-party Python packages, then unzip the installation directory and put it somewhere yourself.
  • It's slow and a massive memory hog (but, then again, so's Logos). When I click on a word to get extra info, it sometimes takes a minute (literally, as in tens of seconds) to retrieve it from the database. Subsequent retrievals are usually faster, but if I do anything else for a few minutes, then it's another minute. I assume (again, like Logos) that having more than my measly 4GB of RAM would help.
  • Some of the Bible databases are huge (they contain uncompressed, pre-generated HTML). When downloading them, there's no indication that the download has started, so it just looks like the software hangs. It didn't. Be patient.
  • I don't think the author's completely following the license requirements for the Septuagint. The text he's using has a restriction where people that download it are supposed to fill out a weird user agreement and then require anyone else that they distribute it to, to also do so. Everybody else using the text seems to ignore that, but it still sits a little funny with me. That's why I went looking for another text and bought the one from Logos (note, however, that Logos sells several LXX texts, most of which are decidedly not in the public domain, so be wary if you go looking to pull the same stunt I did).
  • Every time there's a new version released, the software nags you at every startup to download it. If there are updated databases, it nags you to download those, too. I think it's meant to be helpful, but I find it annoying enough that I modified the Python code to stop it.
The upside, though, is that the software is in active development and new versions are released pretty regularly. The author also responds to email and is grateful for bug reports and fixes, if you're technically inclined.

So, tl;dr: awesome software, but with annoying gotchas and a steep learning curve. Installation instructions and download links here.

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Re: Bible study on the cheap

Post #5

Post by otseng »

Whoa! Thanks for all those resources. I will go check them all out.

FYI, discovered the Unique Bible App Plus on mobile is free this month.

http://uniquebible.app/download

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Ebooks

Post #6

Post by Difflugia »

A lot of the resources I use and reference are regular ebooks that aren't connected to any Bible study software. The software that I use to maintain and manage my ebooks is Calibre, which is another open-source labor of love. It's cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) and is actually easy to install. There are tons of features and it will manage your actual ereader device (Kindle, NOOK, Kobo, etc.) if you want it to. The online user manual is detailed and there's a huge community of users at the Mobileread forum.

One of the big reasons I like it is that it's got built-in ebook reader software that works with multiple ebook formats, most importantly mobi (Amazon Kindle) and epub (everybody else; NOOK, Kobo, Christianbook), so I can read the ebooks on a PC. An important feature for me is that, unlike a lot of modern software, multiple copies can be run at the same time, so I can have the same Bible open several times, opened to different verses. The ebook reader is also a separate executable, so I have several shortcuts on my desktop to open Bibles I use all the time. I create a shortcut and then set the command to look something like:

Code: Select all

"C:\Program Files\Calibre\ebook-reader" "C:\Bibles\esv.epub"
Unfortunately, Calibre only works with ebooks without any sort of copy protection or "digital rights management" (DRM). There is a third-party plugin that will remove DRM from purchased books (epub or mobi), but I'll just mention it (Google "Calibre DeDRM") and leave it at that.

Even so, there is still quite a collection of free Bible study ebooks available across the internet.

Crossway has made both the vanilla ESV and their "ESV Global Study Bible" free as ebook downloads. Crossway's site has steadily de-emphasized and moved away from ebooks, but you can still "buy" (for free) and download the ESV and Global Study Bible. Create an account, then use the following links:
ESV Classic Reference Bible ebook
ESV Global Study Bible ebook
After you buy and checkout (you shouldn't need to enter any payment information), go to your account settings and you should see a link for your library. You can then download your ebooks as epub or mobi (or both) and read them using Calibre or your ereader.

Other free Bibles and books:

The Watchtower's New World Translation in PDF and epub at jw.org. You can also download the Watchtower Library as an ISO image and install it for offline use. It has nearly every Watchtower publication that's currently available, many that aren't, and a searchable archive of Watchtower magazine back to 1950.

The Mormons have a page of downloadable ebooks in PDF and epub formats, including the King James Bible and the Mormon scriptures (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price). I also recommend Church History in the Fulness of Times, found in the "Seminary and Institutes" section. It offers a really good overview of Mormon history, if that sort of thing interests you.

The New English Translation of the Septuagint can be downloaded as PDFs of individual books (that's the restriction of getting it free) from CCAT at the University of Pennsylvania. Incidentally, the site says that it's not available for sale as an electronic edition, but it is if you're willing to pay $24 to get it in a single file or want an epub instead of PDF.

The Lexham English Bible is free to download in several formats, including epub.

The SBL Greek New Testament is free to download as PDF files of each NT book, like the NETS above. Unlike the NETS, though, the SBL at least packages them all in a single zip file, so you don't have to download each one. They also have a weird sort of critical apparatus. Instead of the way it's usually done, the SBLGNT lists textual variants among modern critical texts, including Zondervan's NIV Greek text. At the bottom of the page, you can download "reverse interlinear" PDFs.

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Google Books and the Internet Archive

Post #7

Post by Difflugia »

I'm a serious Google Books (books.google.com) nerd. In addition to selling modern ebooks and having previews of copyrighted paper books, Google Books also indexes, displays online, and offers PDF downloads of tons of books old enough to be in the public domain. Apropos to this site and this particular thread, there is lots of biblical scholarship from the nineteenth and early twentieth century that, even if a bit dated, is still fascinating and instructive. One can also find things like language textbooks (biblical Hebrew and Greek haven't changed in the last hundred years), lexicons, Bible commentaries, and odd translations. I'll try not to turn this into a giant list of old books that I think are cool, but suffice to say that the biggest impediment to finding books on a subject is thinking to look for them in the first place.

One thing to make searches a bit more fruitful is if you know you're looking for public domain scans in the first place, you can tell Google to exclude everything but free ebooks. In the upper, left-hand corner of the page, find the words "Any books" and change it in the dropdown menu to "Free Google eBooks":
Image

A second thing to know is that if there are multiple scans of the same book available, it may only display one. It often further happens that Google treats multiple volumes from a multi-volume work as the same book, only showing one of them. If you want to find either a better scan or a different volume, click on the "Other Editions" button on the book's main page.

The online viewer is easy to use, but if you want to save the book for offline use or copy and paste OCR'd text out of it, you can download the PDF. At the top of the book's page, find either the "gear" icon (Image) or vertical dots (Image) depending on whether you're using the "classic" or "new" Google Books interface. In the dropdown menu, there is an option to download the PDF. After the first one or two downloads in a session, it will ask you to solve a captcha first, but they're just the quick ones with a word in a wavy font.

Google Books scans are generally good enough quality to read, but if you want a better one for frequent reference, it's often worth checking Internet Archive (archive.org). Its search engine isn't as good, its collection is smaller, and it's harder to filter out books from the lending library, but it often has much better and more carefully made scans. Archive.org's search engine is poor at finding matches based on keywords or text inside of books, but once you find a specific book at Google, a search for a partial title and author's last name will often turn up a very nice scan.

Another feature of the Internet Archive is that for most books, the raw scans of the pages are available as high-resolution jpeg images. This is useful if there's an image or chart in a book that you'd like to download for reference or use as part of a presentation. In the list of download options for a book, there are links for "SINGLE PAGE ORIGINAL JP2 TAR" and "SINGLE PAGE PROCESSED JP2 ZIP", which download then entire (often huge) archive file of all the pages, but if you click on "SHOW ALL", you'll be taken to a directory listing. Next to the "<book_id>_jp2.zip" link will be a link named "View Contents". That takes you to a list of all the images in the zip file and you can click on individual images. For example, this link goes to a high-res (1532 x 2025) map of the Twelve Tribes from the Rand McNally Bible Atlas, copyright 1910. That puts it in the public domain in the United States, so you're free to use it anyway you want, make changes to it, put it on a web page, or sell it without needing anyone's permission to do so.

One caution I will make about Internet Archive is that the maintainers are very poor at policing copyright. There are a number of in-copyright books (usually, but not always, in the "Community Texts" section where anyone is free to upload book scans) available for download. Whether you download these is, obviously, up to you and your conscience, but if you're going to republish something (on a web page, for example), make sure you doublecheck copyright dates. With very few exceptions, anything published in the U.S. on or before December 31, 1924 is in the public domain (next week, on January 1, 2021, that will extend to December 31, 1925). Anything published in 1978 or later is definitely still under copyright. Note also that Canadian copyright laws are different and there are things that are in the Canadian public domain, but not that of the United States. Consequently, Canadian libraries have uploaded, completely legally, some books to the IA that are then illegal for someone in the U.S. to download (here's one that I downloaded; please don't rat me out).

As a final point, I'd like to remind people that Google Books has lots of other interesting things hiding in the "stacks" as well. Here's a great recipe for stewed squirrel with dumplings.

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Re: Bible study on the cheap

Post #8

Post by Difflugia »

This is a post that I stuck in my member notes a few months ago, but that was before I realized that only members could read them.

The International Critical Commentary is a series of scholarly commentaries very similar to the Anchor Bible series. The various publishers (first Charles Scribner's Sons, then T&T Clark and most recently, Bloomsbury) have continued to update the series through the years and about 3/4 of the original volumes are in the public domain and available at archive.org. They're also at Google Books, but I find the archive.org scans to be higher quality and easier to read. Archive.org also has multiple scans of each of these, so if you don't like the one I linked, you can find another.

A few of the volumes are public domain in Canada according to the Life+70 rule, but are not so in the United States.

Old Testament: New Testament:

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Re: Bible study on the cheap

Post #9

Post by otseng »

Been playing around with Unique Bible App and it is not intuitive how to use it. Created a thread to share tips on how to use the app:

viewtopic.php?f=52&t=37917

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Free book about Bible difficulties

Post #10

Post by Difflugia »

For those that are interested in Bible contradictions and harmonization apologetics, this month's free Logos book is Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter Kaiser, et al. It's a more-or-less inerrantist discussion of various "Bible difficulties," including both textual contradictions and theological difficulties ("Does God approve of slavery?"). It's a big book and the paper edition is around 800 pages.

I'll also note that the only other ebook edition that I know of is a $35 Google Books scan.

I've mentioned this before, but if you don't already have one, it's probably worth making a Logos account just for the free books. They give away three books each month, one from each of their "fronts." The main site, Logos, is mostly geared toward an academic and Protestant audience, Verbum is their Catholic portal, and Faithlife is for their more popular offerings like devotionals and Christian fiction. Books from all three sites will appear in your Logos collection and can be read offline in the Logos software or online at the Logos web app or Biblia.com.
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