re: Software for Biblical Studies

From: Paul A. Miller (
Date: Sun Dec 01 1996 - 02:56:11 EST

>From: "Mark B. O'Brien" <>
>Subject: Re: Software for Biblical Studies

>>On Wed, 27 Nov 1996 10:09:13 -0500 "M. Palmer"
>>> writes:
>>On Tue, 26 Nov 1996, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>> On the Mac, I'm completely blown away by Accordance.
>>Dito. At the SBL meeting in New Orleans this past weekend I bought the
>>upgrade. Apparently Apple has identified this as a power application
>>(i.e. people are buying MacIntosh computers to be able to run this
>>piece of software!).

Mark B. O'Brien responded:

>I'm still trying to digest why anybody would spend their time making the
>Mac version of this software better than the Windows version, given that
>the vast majority of PC users don't use Macs!! Besides anything else, it
>just doesn't seem to make good business sense. I'm still waiting for the
>Windows version to catch up before I make the investment.

>Mark O'Brien
>"Short-timer", Dallas Theological Seminary
>Adjunct Professor, Dallas Christian College

After several days of posts about this topic, it is probably time that I
"step to the plate" concerning the discussion of The GRAMCORD Institute's

As to Mr. O'Brien's observation that the GRAMCORD Institute's decision to
support the Macintosh so strongly "just doesn't seem to make good business
sense", the statement is probably more accurate than he realizes. The
GRAMCORD Institute has ALWAYS been a non-profit entity -- not a commercial
publisher -- so our development and funding decisions are NOT primarily
based upon business principles of maximizing profit and marketshare. First
and foremost, the GRAMCORD Institute is a consortium of seminary professors
who develop programs and Biblical text databases for our own research and
the work of our colleagues. Distribution and publishing has ALWAYS been
secondary to our non-profit mission and we continually find ourselves having
to set priorities in not letting "marketing issues" get in the way of our
primary research and development functions. While some commercial Bible
software publishers are making massive expenditures for advertisements, we
are making substantial investments in improving the primary Biblical text
databases upon which EVERYONE relies. (There's nothing wrong with someone
making a lot of money selling Bible software -- but that simply isn't the
chartered purpose of this non-profit organization.) The Institute was
founded in 1976 PRECISELY for the purpose of developing the kinds of
scholarly Biblical tools not offered by the commercial sector.

Our Macintosh and IBM GRAMCORD's -- although connected and related in many
ways -- have nevertheless evolved separately and uniquely for a number of
reasons which I really don't have the time at the moment to fully describe.
[We are quite "swamped" in trying to catch up from our week of participation
in the ETS and AAR/SBL conferences.] Nor can I think of any reason why the
public would be interested in the staffing and resource issues that have
shaped each of our software platforms. I CAN say that both are moving
forward and that each of our platforms is developmentally benefiting from
the other. Moreover, based upon the very positive reviews we continue to
receive in this and other forums, I think the Institute's goals and
priorities -- though perhaps atypical -- have been appreciated by many.

Incidentally, I could go into some detail about the advantages of
programming under the Macintosh operating system as opposed to the
buggy/unstable environments represented by Win3.1 and Win95, but few readers
of this forum would be interested. (I make the above comparison as someone
who has programmed primarily under IBM and who works mostly under Windows -- so
this is not a put-down from a Mac zealot.) Nevertheless, let me say that
whenever we build a new tool under Windows, we waste a lot of time working
around Window's limitations and design flaws while the same man-hours put
into Macintosh development go into NEW features and improvements.

Mr. O'Brien's comments were a little surprising for another reason. His
campus, Dallas Theological Seminary, has one of the largest Macintosh-user
populations of any seminary and DTS has licensed literally hundreds of
Accordance/GRAMCORD programs from us. Dozens of DTS faculty are not only
Accordance/GRAMCORD users but have been closely involved with us in
developing and testing new versions. (For example, Dr. Daniel Wallace's new
grammar -- as he mentions in the preface -- relied quite heavily on
Accordance/GRAMCORD.) Needless to say, Mac users are a VERY important segment
of the scholarly community and we are happy to support them .... even if it
doesn't make sense from a purely "business sense" perspective.

BTW, at the request of the German Bible Society, the Institute is providing
the Accordance/GRAMCORD software for all 25 members of the Quinta Project,
the scholars who are creating the "successor" to the BHS Hebrew Text --
hardly an obscure group. Every one of them is a Macintosh user.

Obviously, The GRAMCORD Institute remains committed to supporting BOTH software
environments. If we had to respond to shareholders and investors, perhaps we
wouldn't worry about the Macintosh users at all, but as a non-profit
research Institute we see no reason to neglect the hundreds of fine Biblical
scholars who depend upon -- and share our respect for -- the Macintosh.

Our Macintosh "side" has been getting a great deal of enthusiastic support
of late -- and we appreciate it -- but our newest Windows versions will be
coming out in the next few months (including Hebrew MT and LXX GRAMCORD's)
so no one should presume that we are any less dedicated to Windows development.
Moreover, one thing I've learned over these past 21 years of the Institute's
existence: no matter what we create, someone points out something else that
they feel we should be doing. (At the recent conference, one inquirer chided
us for not building specifically for "the BEST operating system: Windows NT.")
Nevertheless, we interpret such suggestions as compliments of a sort and
assume that we must be doing SOMETHING right to get this kind of attention.

In the meantime, we just ask for everyone's patience. As a non-profit
entity, there are never enough resources and personnel to do everything we
would like to do as fast as we would like to do them.... but
little-by-little good things are happening here.

Anyway, I have posted the above response in this public forum in an attempt
to avoid the time consuming job of providing the same answers to dozens of
inquirers individually. (So PLEASE don't flood me with individual emails
full of technical questions or diatribes for and against various computers
...or at least not until we get caught up here. We hope to provide soon at
our website more details on our newest Windows programs:

BTW, it was great to see so many "B-Greeker's" at AAR/SBL... and even to
hear a few more of Edward Hobb's great stories. Thanks to all of you who
visited our Institute exhibits in New Orleans and Jackson. (And we
appreciated the feedback on the animated 3-D satellite maps of Israel --
made possible by some remarkable Macintosh technology! -- and the new
sentence diagramming features.)

Paul A. Miller


Just before posting the above message I noticed another string of
postings about comparing various searches in various programs. It reminded
me precisely of the point of Harry Hahne's paper on concordance software
presented at an ETS conference and since updated and expanded on the CHORUS
website at:

One of Dr. Hahne's main points was that various programs default to certain
presuppositions about word order, intervening words, interrupting minor
stops, search boundaries, etc. and that if the user doesn't take these
differences into account, he will get a different "answer" with each program
used. In fact, he does quite an interesting statistical comparison of total
hits, "false positives", and "missing occurrences" for several programs and
reached the conclusion that ALL programs should do as much as possible to
inform the user as to the presuppositions for both the search strategy AND
the underlying morphological tagging data. (Dr. Hahne's paper concluded that
GRAMCORD found many occurrences of constructions that the others "missed" --
I mention that point only to "balance" one of the previous B-Greek posts --
but the MAIN point is that each program FOUND what it set out to find under
its set of presuppositions and search strategy. Accordingly, one SHOULD NOT
simply conclude that the programs which found fewer "hits" than GRAMCORD
were NECESSARILY flawed. The situation is much more complex than that.)

A concordance program is indeed subject to the presuppositions as well as
the grammatical knowledge of the user. I could give many examples of
situations where someone thought that GRAMCORD (or some other search
program) "missed" finding something -- when in fact the program in question
found exactly what had been described. For example, GRAMCORD assumes NO
intervening words unless the user specifies otherwise .... while some
programs assume that any number of intervening words are allowed unless the
user makes them adjacent. Also, GRAMCORD assumes by default that each of the
elements in a search will appear in the user-specified order while some
search programs assume that ANY order is allowed. Obviously, quickly
submitting searches to each program and comparing the resulting concordance
statistics will not tell you much about either program until the underlying
approaches are compared. [Incidentally, in our newest GRAMCORD for Windows,
we have made the search defaults even more obvious and more subject to user

By the way, I've always taught seminary students to get in the habit of
first examining the parsing data underlying a particular passage before
conducting a search for parallel passages containing the same grammatical
construction. In doing so, one's eyes are sometimes opened. Also,
experienced "concorders" often start by "casting the net as widely as
possible" (i.e. making the search constraints MORE GENERAL than they need to
be). This often forces the user to see interesting occurrences that are
RELATED to the original "target construction" but that otherwise might not
have come within notice. Then, one can always "tighten" the search later if
necessary. D. A. Carson and I have used this approach a great deal in using
reference work under contract with The University of Chicago Press). Indeed,
the PRECISION of computer-based searches can actually work against the user
if one allows it to restrict the findings to what one THINKS should be the
result of the search. (By the way, I originally designed GRAMCORD in the
mid-70's for the preparation of such a reference work and the search
commands, etc. evolved as we researched ever more challenging kinds of
constructions. After putting almost 20 years into this weighty tome, you can
be sure that Dr. Carson and I care very much about the results that GRAMCORD

Speaking of Dr. Carson, he has an interesting rule in his Advanced Greek
Grammar course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and each student in the
class has to write a final paper on a particular grammatical construction.
The students are required to use GRAMCORD in researching their construction
-- but ONLY AFTER they have gone through a series of procedures researching
the construction in the major grammars. Dr. Carson tells me that inevitably
the kinds of GRAMCORD searches performed are very different AFTER the
student has a better understanding of the construction and its variations
....and the searches CONTINUE to evolve and produce more fruit as the user
"plays" with the search parameters. (In fact, when I first ported GRAMCORD
from a mainframe to a microcomputer, I thought of GRAMCORD as a sort of
"spreadsheet" for grammar; i.e. one can play "what if" with language
features just as an accountant plays "what if" with numbers.)

As to the report that there was some sort of problem with a particular
search at our AAR/SBL display, I wish I had been "pulled into" that
situation at that time so that I could comment more intelligently. (Thus, I
am at this moment at somewhat of a disadvantage.) We did have two seminary
students assisting us in presentations at the conference and one of them is
very new to the program (and is actually employed by a publisher who
cooperates with us on certain projects). My guess is that his search query
was probably created without taking into account the fact that the program
defaults would be MORE restrictive than what the inquirer wanted to find
(e.g. contextfield or word order). Mr. Robie's recent post citing MANY more
"hits" for the "same" search in his copy of GRAMCORD would seem to confirm
that hypothesis.

I will clarify one other terminological misconception from a previous post.
GRAMCORD is the name for the Institute's grammatical search system (i.e.
program plus database) as applied to various texts and platforms. GRAMCORD
for Windows is presently running in concert with Bible Companion (as its
display engine). GRAMCORD for Macintosh runs as an optional add-on to our
Accordance research system. (In some publications, it is referred to as
Accordance/GRAMCORD.) We still support GRAMCORD for DOS as well -- which
"integrates" with a number of early multilingual word-processor systems.
Actually, since its creation in 1976, GRAMCORD has been distributed for no
less than nine different operating systems.

By the way, Michael Palmer's statement about the limitations of the Windows
prototype we showed him at the 1994 AAR/SBL was quite accurate. GRAMCORD for
Windows was still under development at that time and it took a while to
incorporate some of the features he was already enjoying on the Macintosh
GRAMCORD version. As a result, we did not release GRAMCORD 1.0 for Windows until
February, 1996.

Incidentally, our upcoming GRAMCORD 2.0 for Windows is another major step
forward for us (with major enhancements in both the program AND the
underlying grammatical database) and those who can wait a couple of months
may prefer to get their start with this NEWEST of GRAMCORD's.

Anyway, the protracted discussion of search programs in B-Greek will have
been worth the verbage if ALL users remember to approach these various
programs with due care in understanding the presuppositions of each
concerning concordance strategies, defaults, and the underlying
morphological data.

In the meantime, I am several hundred emails behind and my "in basket" is
about to spill over into the next of the drawbacks of
attending academic conferences for a week.

Prof. Paul A. Miller (Email:
The GRAMCORD Institute [a Washington Non-Profit Corporation]
2218 NE Brookview Dr., Vancouver, WA 98686, U.S.A.
Voice (360)576-3000; FAX (503)761-0626; Webpage:
Computer-Assisted Biblical Language Research (IBM & MAC)

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