April 11, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 15

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    Browser of biblical proportions

    Bible scholars and others interested in the "book of books" can now search for biblical verses and for references to specific topics in the Bible instantly using the Bible Browser, a powerful research program on the World Wide Web created by Richard Goerwitz, Lecturer in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.

    Unlike standard biblical concordances, which usually list references to words in the Bible in their more well-known contexts, the Bible Browser is able to find all references to a word in the Bible and can conduct searches far too complex for concordances.

    "For instance, in a concordance, you can find where Moses is mentioned, and you can find where Aaron is mentioned, but to find where they are mentioned together requires a great deal of time comparing references," said Goerwitz, who received his A.B. in 1983 and his Ph.D in 1993 from the University. "On the Bible Browser, you could find in a second where Moses and Aaron are mentioned separately and, in a few more seconds, where they are mentioned together."

    As a result, students are able to explore topics in more detail more quickly than was previously possible, Goerwitz said. The browser is located at http://negus.uchicago.edu:1080/pub/goerwitz/bible_browser/pbeasy.html.

    The Bible Browser allows people to search for such passages as those in which the words "man" and "woman" occur within four words of each other, an arduous task using conventional references. An additional advantage of the interface is that readers can link directly to the Bible verse cited by clicking on its reference in the list produced by the search.

    "People can also perform phrase searches, retrieve passages from different versions and limit in various ways the quantity and range of material retrieved," Goerwitz said.

    "The Bible Browser enables people to look up in a few seconds answers to questions such as why Sampson lost his strength. The interface also allows people to do research papers on topics such as the biblical perspective on abortion. People have done such research looking at both sides of the abortion issue using the Bible Browser, and then linked the results of their research directly to the Bible Browser using a special connecting form."

    The Bible Browser comes in two versions. The first version is designed as a quick-reference tool. The more advanced version, which is linked to the first version, provides opportunities for more thorough study of the Bible.

    "I really worked on the Bible Browser to make it fast. It was a matter of writing the right program, but I was able to create a very quick version," Goerwitz said.

    The Bible Browser has become a popular feature on the Internet, with more than 2,000 visits a day recorded. Churches and synagogues have added links to the browser through their home pages on the Internet, and professors across the country have listed the site on syllabi as part of class assignments.

    Keeping the search system ideologically neutral is important to Goerwitz, who feels the Bible Browser is valuable because it does not attempt to promote a particular religious viewpoint, as is the case in most other search programs for the Bible on the Internet.

    "The purpose of the Bible Browser is not to further any particular theological agenda," he said. "I created the program as an aid for my students, and as a way of helping people in general explore a document that is fundamental to Judeo-Christian culture."

    The Bible Browser has references to scripture belonging to the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant canons. Other such browsers often leave out books not considered necessary for their audiences, Goerwitz said.

    The Bible Browser also includes various versions of the Bible, including the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, the Latin Vulgate and five other lesser-known translations. To compare versions, viewers can ask the browser to create a chart presenting a given verse as it appears in several different versions. Work that would otherwise require arranging books on a desk and opening each to the same passage can now be done with a click of a computer mouse, Goerwitz said.

    The Bible Browser is housed on computer equipment of the Afroasiatic Index Project at the Oriental Institute. The Afroasiatic Index Project was begun by Gene Gragg, Professor in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, with the intention of creating a historical-linguistic data base of Afroasiatic languages, a group of related languages that spans an area from Lake Chad up into North Africa, around into East Africa down to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and up into the Middle East as far as Syria and Iraq. Hebrew and Aramaic, two of the three original biblical languages, belong in this Afroasiatic language group.

    -- William Harms