THE TEXT AND BEYOND: THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
The Bible Gateway. http://bible.gospelcom.net
The Bible in English. Cambridge, UK and Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1996.
The Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press; Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 1997.
Quickverse: Deluxe Bible Reference Collection on CD-ROM. Hiawatha, Iowa: Parsons Technology, 1995.
CD-ROM, includes The Ryrie Study Bible: Expanded Edition Notes.
Bridwell Librarys Wycliffe Bible Manuscript, ca. 1430. Palo Alto: Octavo, 1998.
CD-ROM digital facsimile.
Digital Bible resources have diversified rapidly since the introduction of CD-ROM. The central tendency among them is to cease being a single text, and become whole collections of texts revolving around the Scriptures. Some products are now moving beyond dictionaries, concordances, and atlases to include classic texts in Christian thought and spirituality. The electronic collections are not limited to text or still images. They can include full color photographs, video clips, audio clips, music, animation, and virtual reality segments. It is not yet clear how all these different elements will be woven together in useful genres for study, devotion and even entertainment. The only certainty for the future seems to be that electronic Bibles will be as tailored to the needs of particular audiences as print Bibles. Scholars, students, pastors, and layfolk will all find digital Bible collections created and marketed for them.
The Bible in English is one of the more impressive tools tailored for scholars. The publisher and compiler, Chadwyck-Healey, has been in the vanguard of bringing priceless historical texts into digital forms. Chadwyck-Healey has attempted to avoid the problem of obsolescence by building their electronic texts in standardized formats designed to be used by many software applications and portable across many hardware platforms. The Bible in English is a collection of twenty-one historically significant versions of the Bible encoded in Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). SGML is accepted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 8879) for creating digital text files. The editors have included all prefatory matter, notes, running heads, and glossaries to preserve as much of the sense of the original editions as possible. (Editorial matter that is not contemporary with the text is omitted.) Although the collection is supplied with a Windows-based software tool for convenience, it can be used with any SGML-compliant retrieval and display engine.
Oxford University Press and Brill NV have launched an ambitious project to publish an ongoing digital library related to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Titled The Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library, the first volume (1996) consists of 6,000 black and white photograph images of the scrolls. With extensive indexing capabilities built in, the publication will provide unprecedented access to the texts. The second volume, scheduled for release in November 1998, will contain full transcriptions of all the scrolls. Such publications offer working scholars, particularly graduate students, the opportunity to work with primary source material earlier in their training and in greater depth.
Quickverse is typical of products designed to give laypeople and pastors good tools for Bible study that are inexpensive and easy to use. The CD-ROM edition includes several popular English translations, including the New Revised Standard Version. Also included are the notes from several study Bibles, including the Ryrie Study Bible Expanded Edition notes. The present generation of these tools suffers somewhat from the lack of current commentary material. This is due primarily to the prohibitive costs of reproducing popular commentaries that are still under copyright. As publishers become more accustomed to electronic media, it should become easier and more cost effective to include the works of contemporary commentators. There is an evident trend to make the digital Bible collection more of a multimedia genre, and to integrate the various texts more closely with other types of presentation. These include maps, pictures, and three dimensional, movable images of historical sites based on archaeological and other evidence. Where these will eventually evolve is a matter for discovery.
We come full circle in the scope of this exhibition with Bridwell Librarys Wycliffe Bible Manuscript. This digital facsimile is the result of an innovative collaboration between Bridwell Library and Octavo, a California-based electronic publisher. The CD-ROM offers high resolution images of the entire Bible manuscript as well as printing support, thumbnail sketches, and hyperlinks. Through its partnership with Octavo, Bridwell has begun to preserve and make accessible our rarest books in electronic format, and what better way to begin than "in the beginning" with the first English Bible translation?
No discussion of digital publications would be complete without mentioning the Worldwide Web. The Web exploded into mainstream culture in the mid-1990s, bringing the Internet into schools, homes, and businesses. While Bible texts exist on the Web, CD-ROM has remained the publication medium of choice for study tools. What the future of Bible texts on the global network will be is unknown, but the Bible Gateway is one interesting utility. Besides offering keyword and reference lookup in a variety of versions in several languages, the Gateway has a novel capability. It can generate the full text of a scriptural reference on the fly from a hypertext link in a Web document. Web publishers who want to include Bible references in their documents will find this a worthwhile service.
Formats will continue to change. The Bible and biblical tools will be presented in new and different ways, plodding along the path that began with stone tablets and papyri. The Word of God, whether in glossed manuscripts, early critical editions, vernacular firsts, or electronic versions, transcends format issues, of course, but humankinds understanding of the Bible continues to develop and is reflected in the formats in which we choose to present the eternal Word.
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