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  News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Friday, June 29, 2007  

Worth a Thousand Words

As I've mentioned before, my family has been trying to read through the Bible in a year using the Chronological Arrangement in Accordance's Daily Readings module (included in all three levels of the Library CD-ROM). Last night, we read the book of Jonah.

Now, Jonah is one of those books which makes a lot more sense when you understand a little of its historical and geographical background. First, Jonah is told to go to Nineveh (wherever that is), but instead he flees to Joppa (wherever that is) and boards a ship headed for Tarshish (wherever that is). Using the Atlas, I was able to show my family that Nineveh was the capital of Assyria to the northeast of Israel, and that Joppa was a port city on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. The location of Tarshish is subject to debate, so the Atlas does not contain a site for it, but one possible association is with the Phoenician colony of Carthage, so I pointed out where Carthage was to give my family the sense that Jonah was heading as far west as he could think to go—in the exact opposite direction God told him to go.

When Jonah finally does head to Nineveh, Jonah 3:3 describes the city as "extremely large," and makes a statement about a "walk of three days." The IVP Old Testament Bible Background Commentary explains this as describing the time it would take for Jonah to visit key locations of the city to proclaim his message, rather than the time it would take to travel its diameter (which would imply a city about sixty miles across!).

To give my family a sense of Nineveh's scale, I amplified to the PhotoGuide and showed them photos of a massive reconstructed gate, and the huge mounds which mark the long buried city walls.

Reconstructed City Gate of Nineveh

The City Walls of Nineveh

Perhaps it's just me, but I've always found the Ninevites' immediate repentance in response to Jonah's message a little startling. Why would the Assyrians, the most powerful and ruthless people of that day, be so receptive to a message of doom from the God of a relatively insignificant nation which had, at various times, been in a state of vassalage to Assyria? Thankfully, the PhotoGuide provided me with an answer:

Interestingly, an ancient text from Gozan describes the occurrence of a total eclipse (in 763 B.C.), accompanied by flooding, famine, and earthquake during the reign of Asshur-Dan III. Such ominous signs might well have made the Ninevites more receptive to Jonah's warning.

How cool is that?! I then turned to the Timeline to see how close the reign of Asshur-Dan III was to the time of Jonah, and sure enough, the two coincided.

The PhotoGuide went on to talk about the Fall of Nineveh, which also showed an exciting parallel to the Bible:

Nineveh was conquered by the Medes and Babylonians in 612 B.C. Little is known of how Nineveh fell, but one ancient historian relates that part of the city wall was swept away by the flooding waters of a river (either the Tigris or the Hosr, which runs through the city) and that Assyria's enemies were able to enter by means of this breach. The book of Nahum also speaks of a flood playing a role in Nineveh's destruction (Nahum 1:8; 2:6).

I don't know about you, but I love this kind of information. To be able to take a story which is so well known for its miraculous elements and see it in the light of its historical and geographical context is really exciting to me. Heck, my family thinks it's pretty cool too.

As I hope this example shows, the Atlas, Timeline, and PhotoGuide are incredible resources for enriching your understanding of the Bible. If you're not taking full advantage of some of these resources, or if you (gasp!) don't have them yet, you don't know what you're missing.





Thursday, June 28, 2007  

Accordance 7.3 Released

Another free update to Accordance is now available for download, with several minor enhancements as well as support for some upcoming modules we can't talk about yet.

The first new feature in version 7.3 is the option to trim the font menu for User Notes Edit windows. When working with User Tool Edit windows, the font submenu of the display menu and the corresponding pop-up menu of the Text Palette show only four fonts: Arial for English text, Helena for Greek, Yehudit for Hebrew, and Rosetta for Transliteration. User Notes, however, let you use any font installed in your system. Consequently, if you like the English text of your user notes to be displayed in a font called Zapf Fictional Type, you would have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the font menu every time you wanted to set the text back to English—a daunting proposition for those of you with lots of fonts.

In Accordance 7.3 you'll find a new option in the User Notes window settings of the Preferences: "Use default fonts in font menu." Checking this option will restrict the font menus for user notes edit windows to the six Accordance fonts (Helena, Yehudit, Rosetta, MSS, Sylvanus, and Peshitta), along with the English fonts you specify for the User Notes Text and Reference in the Edit Windows settings of the Preferences. If you want Zapf Fictional Type to appear in your font menus for User Notes Edit windows, just make sure it's one of the fonts selected in the Edit Windows settings.

Another little enhancement is the addition of visual feedback when you choose to Compare Text by Lemmas or Tags in the Compare Texts Preferences. When one of these options is selected, an L or T will appear next to the Compare Texts checkbox.

Finally, an instant details section has been added to the Character Palette to improve the display of the name and key combination of each character you hover the mouse over.

These obviously aren't major new features, but they are nice little enhancements designed to make your life easier . . . and of course, they're free!





Monday, June 25, 2007  

That's Right, Ice Man, I Am Dangerous!

Last Friday, I announced the release of Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament and made the off-hand comment that it was a good resource for people like me who "know just enough about textual criticism to be dangerous." This prompted a discussion over on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog about the equal and opposite "danger" of relying too heavily on the opinions of experts like Metzger. Be sure to check out both the post and the comments if you're interested in following the discussion.

All this talk about various "dangers" got me thinking about an article I once wrote for the Christian Macintosh User's Group entitled The Dangers of Bible Software. Obviously, as an Accordance developer, I'm not trying to discourage the use of Bible Study Software; but there are several pitfalls we need to avoid when enjoying the instant information such software can provide. The CMUG article wrestles with a few of those.

By the way, if you're wondering about the title of this blog post, it comes from the movie Top Gun. I'm afraid I'm a hopeless product of the eighties! ;-)





Sunday, June 24, 2007  

No More SE for the ESV

Due to a misunderstanding, last week we released the updated ESV as a separate second edition, following the model we had used for the New Living Translation. We now understand that Crossway prefers that this update replace the original ESV rather than considering it a second edition. This means that the original and updated ESV can no longer be viewed in parallel and compared using the Text Compare feature. That's the downside, but here's the upside:

The updated version has now been posted as a free upgrade. It can be downloaded by the AccUpdater widget, or using the installers on the Purchased modules page.

If you purchased the ESV-SE upgrade you will receive credit for the full amount of your purchase the next time you order from Accordance. Please remind us when you place your order.





Friday, June 22, 2007  

More New Goodies: Scofield and Metzger

The last month has seen a spate of new Accordance releases: the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible in English, the Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt, the second edition of the ESV, the video training DVD, and now, the Scofield Study Bible Notes and Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

The Scofield Reference Bible is one of the earliest and best known study Bibles. The widespread influence of Dispensational theology today can largely be traced back to the popularity of the Scofield Bible, along with Ryrie's Study Bible after it. The Accordance Scofield module contains the 2004 Oxford edition of Scofield's study Bible notes, complete with maps and a host of charts and tables.

Although Scofield will be of immediate interest to dispensationalists, I was actually surprised at how few of the notes presented a specifically dispensational perspective. The vast majority of the notes present valuable background and explanatory information which is of use to a broad range of users. It's easy to see why Scofield's Bible became so popular, and why it's still in use today.

The late Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament is a resource I've personally been hoping to get for a long time. A deceptively thin book with around 700 crêpe-paper thin pages, this companion to the Greek New Testament expands on the textual apparatus by explaining why the editorial committee chose one variant reading over another. For those like myself who know just enough about textual criticism to be dangerous, a critical apparatus is helpful, but it can often leave you even more confused. Metzger's textual commentary is like an apparatus "for the rest of us," explaining text-critical decisions in the closest thing to layman's terms I've seen. As a reference tool, you can search the textual commentary for every mention of a particular manuscript, or you can display it in a parallel pane alongside the Greek New Testament.

Both of these modules are relatively inexpensive, and are available for immediate download. Enjoy!





Thursday, June 21, 2007  

The Genius of the Instant Details Box

I've been an Accordance user since version 1.0 (yes, I was a user before I became an employee). When I first started using Accordance, I loved being able to get the parsing information for any words I selected. But I soon found myself wishing that I could just get that information for any word I passed my cursor over. Apparently I wasn't the only user to think of that, because by the time version 1.1 was released in October of 1994, an "Amplify palette" had been added which included a section displaying the parsing details for any Greek or Hebrew word you passed your cursor over.

The original Amplify palette was shaped like a box, with buttons for the Analysis, Graph, and Table details, a button for showing context, and a space across the bottom for showing the instant parsing details. When I began working for OakTree Software, we were just beginning work on version 2.0, which would add various kinds of Tool modules to Accordance. This would require additional buttons on the Amplify palette, which would make it larger and consume more screen real estate. So I suggested that we split the Amplify palette in two: creating a vertically-oriented palette with buttons for accessing major features and modules, and a separate horizontally-oriented palette for showing instant details. It was a simple suggestion, and one I'm sure other people would eventually have made, but it was the first time I actually had an influence on the design of the Accordance interface, so to this day I look back on that simple suggestion with a great feeling of pride and satisfaction.

I don't know if Accordance was the first Bible program to offer this kind of instant parsing information, but I suspect it may have been. Nowadays, however, lots of programs offer instant information about items you pass your mouse over. So is there anything which sets Accordance's Instant Details Box apart? Of course there is!

I've seen other Bible programs use one of two different approaches to presenting instant information. Many programs use tooltips: those little floating boxes that appear right beside your mouse cursor. To see an example of tooltips in Accordance, just hover your mouse over one of the buttons of the Resource palette, or over the search text pop-up menu of the Search window. Tooltips are great for giving you quick hints about a program's interface, but they're not well suited to giving instant information about any word the mouse passes over. That's because the tooltip appears right beside the cursor, on top of the text the user is trying to get more information about. If he unintentionally passes his mouse over a word and pauses there, a block of instant information he didn't want suddenly obscures the text he was trying to read. He then has to move the mouse again just to get the unwanted tooltip to disappear. In addition to obstructing the text, this repeated opening and closing of tooltip windows results in a visually distracting flashing effect.

Accordance avoids this hassle and visual distraction by keeping instant information neatly displayed in a designated (and user-sizable) palette at the bottom of the screen. If you want the information, all it takes is a glance at the palette; but when you don't want the information, you're never accosted with it.

Another approach I've seen sets aside a designated area of the screen for instant information, but it's a relatively large and prominent area. Programs which take this approach usually rely on full-blown lexicons and dictionaries for their instant information, and so a larger area is required. For example, when the user drags over a Greek word, he might get the full BDAG article on that word flashing in the instant information area. While it's nice to have that much information so readily available, the constant flashing of large chunks of text is visually distracting and wearisome. With a large section of the screen constantly updating with new information, the user's eye is continually drawn away from the text he is trying to study. What's more, if he actually takes the time to read that article in BDAG, he must be careful not to move the mouse or the article he is reading will disappear and be replaced with something else!

The genius of the Accordance Instant Details box is that it provides you with instant information without getting in your way or unnecessarily attracting your attention. It gives you enough information to inform your study without drawing you away from the text. At times, the information you see in the Instant Details box might lead you to triple-click a word and begin reading a lexicon article, but in those cases you have consciously chosen to explore some aspect of the text in greater depth. In short, you haven't had the decision to dig deeper thrust upon you.





Sunday, June 17, 2007  

ESV Second Edition Available

The Second Edition of the English Standard Version is now available for download. This update to the ESV includes a number of minor textual updates from the ESV Translation Oversight Committee meeting in 2005. The ESV-SE module can be run in parallel with the original ESV in order to compare the texts. You can purchase and download the ESV-SE for $30, and users of the original ESV can upgrade for just $10.

In addition to the textual emendations, the new ESV-SE module greatly improves the display and behavior of the superscripted footnote markers. We have lots of Bibles with superscripted letters marking the presence of translator's notes or cross-references, and we never seem to get complaints about any of them, except for the ESV. Over the years, we've had a number of complaints that the superscripted letters are distracting and that they make the text harder to read. The problem was a simple one: when we first developed the ESV module, we didn't make the superscripted letters small enough in comparison to the main text.

Another problem we had was with the asterisk, which marks translator's notes. The asterisk character in most fonts is already small and raised in comparison with the surrounding text, so from a visual standpoint, there's no need to apply a superscript style to it. So when we were developing the ESV module, we did not superscript the asterisk.

Now, Accordance has options in the Copy as Citation and Text Display settings to hide all superscript characters. If you choose these options for the old ESV, all the superscripted letters will disappear; but because we didn't superscript the asterisks, the asterisks remain. That was an annoying problem for ESV users who wanted to get rid of all the note and cross-reference markers.

In the ESV-SE module, both of these problems have been fixed. The letters marking cross-references are smaller, and the asterisks have been superscripted so that they too get hidden when that option is selected. If you've been frustrated by either of these issues, you'll definitely want to upgrade to the ESV-SE.





Thursday, June 14, 2007  

"In the Can"

No, I'm not talking about where Eglon's servants thought he was spending a little too much time (see Judges 3:23-26), I'm referring to the expression movie-makers use to describe a completed film which has been placed in those round metal movie-reel containers for distribution. Why am I referring to an obscure expression which few people understand in this age of digital film-making? Because I'm glad our new video Training DVD is finally "in the can."

We first began developing a DVD containing video training sessions on various aspects of Accordance a couple of years ago, and I quickly discovered that it was a much bigger project than I had anticipated. When I took too long to cover everything I wanted to, we decided to stop with the basics, release a preliminary version of the DVD, and create a more comprehensive update later that year. As I said, that was a couple of years ago. Higher priority projects kept forcing us to delay updating the DVD until now, and once we started work on it again, we found it to be one of those projects that just kept growing in scope. As I struggled to cover most of Accordance's features, I found myself grumbling, "Why does Accordance have to do so much?!" I must confess that I kept looking for something I could get away with cutting, but I really wanted the DVD to be as comprehensive as possible, so the only real option was just to keep pressing on.

At last, it's finally "in the can," and I'm happy to say that the new Training DVD covers the majority of the program's features and most of its customization options. Here's a list of what's included:

  • The Accordance Interface
    • Basic Concepts
    • Recommended Settings
    • Knowing Your Way Around
    • Working with Windows and Workspaces
  • Searching the Bible
    • The Search Window
    • How to Search by Verses
    • Searching by Words and Phrases
    • Creating and Using Search Ranges
    • Working With Key Numbers
    • Searching More Than One Module
    • Using the Simple Construct Window
  • Working with Search Results
    • Marking Verses and Creating Reference Lists
    • Comparing Texts
    • Getting Statistical Details
    • Customizing the Text Display
    • Highlighting the Text of the Bible
    • Copy Options
  • Viewing Parallel Passages
  • Tools
    • Using Tools
    • Customizing the Tool Display
  • The Bible Atlas
    • Using the Bible Atlas
    • Customizing the Bible Atlas
  • The Timeline
    • Using the Timeline
    • Customizing the Timeline
  • Doing Your Own Thing
    • User Notes
    • User Tools
    • User Bibles
    • Arranging Your Modules
  • Advanced Topics
    • Tagged vs. Untagged Greek and Hebrew Texts
    • Accordance Fonts
    • Searching Greek and Hebrew Texts
    • Greek and Hebrew Construct Searches
    • Searching for Grammatical Tags
    • Using MT/LXX
    • Advanced Commands
    • Searching by Root
    • Language Tools
    • Exporting Greek and Hebrew

All in all, it amounts to more than five hours of video instruction. If you want to get the most out of your investment in Accordance, I think you'll find the Training DVD a fantastic resource. It costs just $29, and for a limited time, those who own the first DVD can upgrade to the new one for just $10. If you'd like to try before you buy, you can download the introductory session on the Search window.

Ultimately, while it's good to have the Training DVD "in the can," the only thing that will make it worth all the effort is if it ends up in your hands.





Wednesday, June 13, 2007  

Elephantine Papyri (TAD) Now Available

We're pleased to announce the release of the four-volume Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt by Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni. TAD includes a large collection of Aramaic documents from the 5th century BCE, mainly from Elephantine Island (ancient Yeb) in the Nile near Aswan, which offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Jewish garrison community during the Persian occupation. The letters and legal papers give a vivid picture of the life of Jews in exile during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and are of major importance to scholars of the period.

This package, which is now available for purchase and download, consists of two modules. The Accordance TAD-T module allows full morphological searches of the Aramaic text. The TAD-E Reference tool, which can be displayed in parallel or searched independently, includes the English translations, as well as the headings, explanations, and footnotes in the printed text. The Yardeni drawings are not included.

If you're interested in original source material on the exilic period, you'll find these modules an invaluable resource.





Tuesday, June 12, 2007  

The Story Behind Anchor Bible Dictionary

This month's featured module is Anchor Bible Dictionary, which is being offered for just $199 through the end of June. A six-volume Bible dictionary first published in print in 1990, its list of contributors reads like a who's who of Biblical scholarship. It's a tremendous resource, and it's the one I personally have set to open whenever I triple-click on any English word in Accordance.

But rather than tell you how important Anchor is as a work of scholarship, let me tell you a little about how important Anchor Bible Dictionary has been to Accordance. I'm a little fuzzy on the time frame, but I believe it was early 1997 that I was given an e-text of Anchor Bible Dictionary. We had just released version 2.0 the previous year, so Tool modules were still relatively new. I had done a handful of relatively simple tools: Louw & Nida, Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew Henry's concise commentary, etc. Anchor was a whole new order of magnitude, with a wide variety of hypertext links, images, tables, transliteration, and overall complexity. Each time I would run across a new aspect of Anchor which our current tool implementation could not support, we would have to do programming to support it. Many of the cool features in Accordance tools today are the direct result of our early efforts to support Anchor.

There was a bit of risk involved in developing the module at that point, since we did not yet have a signed contract with Doubleday. We needed to "sell" them on our ability to represent Anchor Bible Dictionary well, and the best way to do that was to show them what it would be like as an Accordance tool. But if they ultimately decided not to license it to us, a lot of work would have been wasted.

Some time around the summer of 1997, we made a trip up to New York City to meet with Doubleday and show them our sample module. This was my first trip to New York, and I remember being surprised that Doubleday was housed in a huge building right off Times Square. After ascending to whichever ridiculously high story of the building our meeting was in, we were ushered into a waiting room, where I began to get nervous about the prospect of demonstrating Accordance to a couple of publishing executives.

As it turned out, the demo wasn't the hard part. They made a few suggestions for additional minor features, but they were generally very impressed with our implementation. Much more difficult were all the questions they had about the size of the Macintosh market, the size of our user base, how we would market the product, etc. Prior to the meeting, I had made a few fumbling attempts at market research, but I certainly didn't have a lot of hard statistics I could rattle off. I realized half-way through all this that I was basically being asked to sell the viability of the Macintosh platform.

On the other hand, I also realized that the only reason Doubleday was even considering working with us was because Accordance was Mac-only. They were very concerned about creating market confusion by offering Anchor Bible Dictionary for multiple programs, which is why I believe to this day it is only available for a single Windows program. Because we served a different platform, they were willing to consider licensing to us as well.

Though our meeting went well, it was some time before the contract for Anchor was finalized, so I had to shelve a partially developed module and move on to other projects. When we finally did get the go-ahead to produce an Accordance version of Anchor, I had to pick up where I had left off and then hurry to get it done. I believe Anchor Bible Dictionary was finally released in the Fall of 1999.

Looking back, Anchor was well worth the risks we took, the time we invested, and even the long wait for the contract to be finalized. We've enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Doubleday over the years, and that relationship has given us added credibility with other publishers. Likewise, having Anchor Bible Dictionary has given us credibility with users. Every SBL, we have people drawn to Accordance by the fact that we offer ABD. In addition to all this, the information in Anchor was of invaluable help to us when we developed other products such as our own Atlas, Timeline, and Bible Lands PhotoGuide.

All in all, Anchor Bible Dictionary has been a significant factor in the growth and development of Accordance. If you've been waiting to buy it, I hope the current sale will be of help to you. Even if it's not a resource you're personally interested in having, you should be glad we offer it. We certainly are.





Friday, June 01, 2007  

Shaving Seconds Off Launch

In a recent comment on an old blog post, a user expressed frustration over the time it takes to launch Accordance under Rosetta on an Intel MacBook. While there's definitely a bit of a lag when launching Accordance under Rosetta, it occurred to me that this problem might be exacerbated if this user hasn't yet discovered that he can turn off the opening splash screen and text information. This handy little option will shave seconds off your Accordance launch times whether you're using MacIntel or PowerPC.

If you open the Preferences dialog and click on the General settings, you'll see a section labeled "Information." This section contains four checkboxes which let you hide various kinds of information windows and alerts in Accordance. Checking "Suppress opening splash screen" tells Accordance not to show the lamp logo and Accordance copyright information when the program is first opened. Checking "Suppress opening text information" tells Accordance not to show you the copyright information for each Accordance text or tool module you open. This will save you tons of time, not just on launch, but any time you open a new text or tool.

The last two checkboxes won't reduce the time it takes to launch Accordance, but checking "Suppress save warning for all windows" will turn off those are-you-sure-you-want-to-close-this warnings that you get every time you close a window or tab. If you use Accordance like I do, you're constantly opening windows, looking things up, and then closing them once you have the information you need. If you don't usually save all that information, why would you want your workflow interrupted by save warnings?

Finally, "suppress information tips" will stop you seeing certain information windows which pop-up on occasion. For example, when you highlight text for the first time, a "tip" window appears telling you that you can use command-8 to apply the current highlight style to any text you select. Because there aren't very many of these kinds of tip windows, I don't bother to turn them off, and I don't generally recommend that others do so. Still, if you find them annoying or distracting, turn them off.

If you haven't discovered these options yet, I think you'll find them incredibly liberating, and hopefully, they'll save you a little time as well.