The undisputed bestseller of all time is the Bible, with millions of copies sold each year. It's little wonder that it also is one of the first--and most enduring--software products for personal computers, and now hand-held devices.
Programs come in various translations and editions, with and without study notes. The Bible is ideally suited for the kind of cross-referencing and searching that a computer can provide.
Many Bible students want to use additional texts in their studies, however. In the case of evangelical Protestants, for example, commentaries, dictionaries and other works often form an important part of Bible study.
And with versions of the Bible ranging from the poetic King James version to the more modern New International Version, many people want to have access to more than one rendering of a verse, which, again, a software program can easily provide.
Two leading publishers of Bible software are poised to release new versions, and one publisher of software for Jewish students already has launched a new edition of a program covering the Hebrew Scriptures. I looked at these plus two free alternatives available on the Internet--as well as versions for hand-held devices.
The greatest advantage of Bible programs--for the serious student, at least--is being able to take an armload of books off one's desk.
Many of the resources contained in the leading software programs are aimed at the evangelical reader, one who tends toward a more conservative, even literal, interpretation of the Bible. This is not a big surprise to industry insiders, since it is the evangelistic thrust of these Protestants (such as Billy Graham) that tends toward a heavy use of Scripture for personal study.
Among the big changes in this generation of software is the "Webification" of the programs.
The software relies on the Internet for continuous updates and the inclusion of news sources. With literally millions of Web sites offering Bible studies and other documents, such integration is vital.
Bible Explorer 3.0: This program is very much designed for the methodical, dedicated student. The software, which runs on Windows-based PCs, offers the digital equivalent of a quiet library carrel where an armload of books can be spread out.
In looking at a particular verse, I was able to display a mosaic of windows showing the verse in several versions as well as commentaries by Matthew Henry and other evangelical-oriented scholars.
I could arrange the windows in such a way that going to another verse would turn all the windows to that verse. This "linking" is useful when contemplating a Scripture topic--reading one verse on a subject often can lead to another and then others still--and the synchronization between these windows is a very practical feature.
A daily Bible reading planner also is included, allowing a user to map out an approach to reading as much--or as little--of the Bible as desired within a given period, such as a week, a month or a year.
Reference works abounded in my test version, including eight concordances and word study books, two dictionaries and the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, a $280 reference set in its hard-bound version. Also available are woodcuts of biblical scenes by Gustav Dore, an illustrated dictionary of Bible words and a range of maps of biblical lands. Reference notes from the Life Application Bible were another feature of the version I tested.
Many users will appreciate two features of the Bible Explorer program. One lets you load documents formatted in the HyperText Markup Language (HTML). If the document contains a Scripture reference, you can hover the mouse pointer over that reference to pop up the verse in a separate window.
The other is a note pad that readers can use to enter their own notes. Those files can be saved in the HTML format, which in turn can be read by Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and other programs.
As with most Bible software programs, pricing for Bible Explorer 3.0, published by Epiphany Software of San Jose, depends on the number of resources a user decides to buy; the more volumes, the higher the price. A $15 discovery edition lets users sample the entire library for 30 days. Retail versions include a $150 standard edition, a $250 deluxe edition and a $380 premium edition.
Bible Scholar: Publisher Jewish Educational Software of Monsey, N.Y., touts this program as being the "best on the market" for studying the Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible in both Hebrew and English.
If so, this market might be one into which a competitor can move.
Its core is a rendering of the Bible in both a Hebrew and an English version, which the publishers say is provided by the Israel Bible Research Society. (I could not locate the group online, but the text reads very much like the King James version.) No source was given for the Hebrew text.