REVIEW of BIBLEWORKS 10; Part 2: Use in Artifact Exhibits

[This is the second installment of a multi-part review of BibleWorks 10.  Check back regularly for follow-up posts; see Part 1 below]


Dozens of reviews of BibleWorks 10 have been published since it first appeared in 2017.  The following will highlight some of the ways that the resource is uniquely helpful for MIKRA personnel and volunteers in preparing and conducting exhibits as part of our goal of knowledge sharing (see “Knowledge”).  Over the past year and a half, MIKRA has conducted artifact exhibits in a variety of public and private venues, from California to the Carolinas, and places in between.  The most notable of our public exhibits have been in three state capitol facilities where readers of the present article may have had access to some of the artifacts that we have featured.  We have at least two more of these scheduled in 2018-2019 plus additional exhibits in governmental venues internationally. 

These events are essentially traveling museums where we variously display artifacts featuring, but not limited, to: Torah scrolls, codices, fragments, artifact facsimiles with inscriptional Hebrew, and digitized materials.  These displays are done for educational purposes in order to cultivate appreciation for the recognized historical, social, cultural, political, and religious contributions of exhibited items, and the communities that produced them.  Prior to the exhibits, MIKRA personnel work through the materials in order to showcase important features of the manuscripts (and other) as well as to work each item into a narrative that serves as the main theme for the exhibit. At the forefront of our minds is how best to honorably and respectfully display sensitive cultural, religious items in a guided tour, coordinated with scholarly talks, and that highlight the respective attributes of each item.  All of this is done in environments that tend to be highly nuanced.

The centerpiece of our exhibits thus far has been that of the Hebrew Old Testament, though we expect to feature more original language source materials for the New Testament in the future.  In either case, the foreign language component combined with the biblical text aspect of our exhibitions surfaces some unique challenges - challenges that BibleWorks 10 is uniquely suited to address. 

The following will highlight some of the challenges that arise for exhibitors and docents constructing and servicing our exhibits, and practical ways that BW 10 has helped in this process.  Although these are addressed in connection to manuscript exhibits, they are the kinds of things familiar to anyone who engages in manuscript studies, and our hope is to inspire those with interest in this area to explore new vistas of possibility for their research and work. 


Part of our strategy is to utilize volunteer docents that have some background in biblical languages but who are not experts.  To prepare them, we use docent preparation materials such as that issued by the Smithsonian Institute in their Museum on Main Street exhibits. Volunteer docents that work with us are typically seminary or graduate students accompanied by MIKRA personnel and invited specialists.  They often have some facility in Biblical Hebrew, although it is not highly developed.  Moreover, none of the volunteers are likely to have had significant experience working with source materials.  This shows up in the form of three challenges.  First, they need help navigating the Hebrew text so they do not get lost in a maze of Hebrew material.  Second, in addition to lacking verse and chapter references, scrolls, manuscripts, and inscriptions lack vowels and accents, making word identification more difficult.  Third, unless they have extensive training or experience, they are unlikely  accustomed to the styles of calligraphic writing from the scrolls and manuscripts, or the free-form style of the DSS (Dead Sea Scroll) texts, or the paleo-Hebrew that occasionally shows up on some facsimiles, such as with the Ketef Hinnom, or relief reproductions that have been featured.

When developing the layout, we typically consider six basic categories for our line-up, and we work through these using BibleWorks as our main electronic aid whether dealing with the Old Testament, New Testament, or extra biblical materials, such as various pesharim. We look at: (1) standard formatting features unique to source materials (easily cross-referenced with BW Codex L; see below), (2) scribal features such as sofer marks (scribal marks), colophons, decorated, enlarged, compressed or elongated letters, tagin, supra-linear corrections, rolled pehs, puncta extrodinaria, etc., (3) cultural, historical contributions of items as related to pogroms, the holocaust, or other world events, (4) atypical formatting, (5) indications of scribal activities unique to the specific item, such as erasures, paste or cutout corrections, ruling features, re-inking, artistic components, and (6) material features unique to the specific items, including panel replacements, cracked letters, thinning of parchment, striations, veining, and more. 

The digitized Leningrad Codex of BW 10 serves as a reference guide against which many of these can be examined and catalogued.  However, we always check the manuscripts against BW Codex L for standard formatting, and for formatting anomalies. The standard formatting features of Massoretic (and late proto-Massoretic) texts correspond to theologically significant passages for both the Jewish and Christian traditions, so naturally those are that primary passages that we feature for our narratives.

Featured Formatting

Old Testament manuscripts since the time of the Massoretes have been produced according to standardized criteria.  Though they lack chapter and verse references, the OT materials have common features that we highlight due to their obvious visual appeal.  These differ somewhat between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions, and occasionally from manuscript to manuscript, but they always contain uniformity in certain texts.  These include the majascules of the opening letter of Genesis (Genesis 1:1) and the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), the brick upon non-brick structures of The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) and Song of Deborah (Judges 5), the double columns of the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-43), the indentations of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:4-21), Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27), and curses of Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:15-26), the unique formatting of the names of the sons of Haman (Esther 9:5-14), and others depending on the manuscript and portions of text they contain. 

To highlight these features, our personnel double check the references in advance against the Leningrad Codex that comes standard with BibleWorks 10 in the preparation process.  Because scrolls have to be delicately unrolled to these select passages in advance, some amount of time has to be spent beforehand to allow for quick setup once on location.  BibleWorks is singularly adept at efficiently moving through Hebrew texts rapidly and serves as a tremendous navigational aid in this process. 

In order to familiarize themselves with the materials and passage(s) they are to present, MIKRA student researchers, as well as volunteer docents, can do a quick search of a Hebrew word or line of text in the search bar of BW and find their passage in the standard Westminster Leningrad Codex text (basic electronic text  of Codex L).  They can then open up the corresponding digitized photos of Codex L that comes with BW 10, match their passage, and then check the formatting for similarities with their manuscript. They can also read the text in standardized Hebrew script alongside the stylized script of their manuscript to work through the passage, as well as compare it to the translation of their choice.

Following the lead of the Smithsonian and others, we intentionally select non-specialists to work the exhibit, for both educational and practical reasons.  The result is that they need a guide that allows them to study the text of the item in advance, and to do quick checks of the text either immediately prior to or during the exhibit.  We always have a BW equipped laptop on hand at all exhibits in case something needs to be checked or changed last minute.  Any of our personnel or volunteers can access the software if needed, and get quick answers to any questions that may come up.

During the event, each docent is stationed at a displayed item for the duration of the day.  Prior to arriving, however, they typically have never seen the item they are to present in person.  To best prepare for this, each volunteer is individually matched to a particular item weeks in advance and assigned the task of becoming familiar with its material and textual specifics. If an exhibitor needs help working through the Hebrew grammar of a passage, BibleWorks serves as an ideal study tool.  The instant parsing and list of definitions that pops up by the mouse-over option gives immediate access to anything that is needed, whether in preparation, or potentially during the exhibit itself.


In conclusion, BibleWorks 10 is a special form of common grace.  Prior to gaining access to BW 10, we did all of the pre-event manuscript work by referencing a printed facsimile of Codex L alongside older software.  This was cumbersome, to say nothing of the $600-$900 price tag and virtually illegible Massorah Parva of the black and white facsimile.  Even now, docents without BW are limited to their standard BHS, which does not contain the traditional formatting of the Hebrew scrolls and manuscripts.  Not everyone needs or wants to see this, but for those who do, BibleWorks 10 is the option that makes the most sense.