Reading with a Print Text & Digital Lexicon

Over the summer I did a series of posts about different ways of reading Greek and Hebrew. I said that my the summer time tools of the trade are a print text and a print lexicon. During the school year, however, I am rarely able to read in my home office. To continue reading with a print text and lexicon would mean that everyday I have to carry multiple heavy books around campus. My favorite way to read hasn’t changed, but during the school year I’m really happy to settle for a print text and digital lexicon.

Print text

NA28, Rahlfs’ Septuagint, a Loeb Crito, and Steadman’s Lysias 1 & Crito are in my bag on most days, but because Rahlf’s Septuagint is so thick, sometimes it gets left behind. I prefer a print text because I think holding a book and flipping pages is more enjoyable, unless the book is old and gross. I realize that sometimes an old book is great, but I am not a fan of mold and other people’s finger grime — for example, crusty library copies of Migne or seminary library copies of a GNT.

Digital lexicon

For New Testament, Septuagint, and classical Greek there are a couple really great, affordable iOS options: Logeion & Protagoras. Logeion is free and includes LSJ, Middle Liddell, big Lewis and Short, little Lewis, and several other Greek and Latin lexicons. Protagoras is only a couple dollars, and for Greek it includes LSJ, Middle Liddell, Slater, and Autenrieth. For Latin it has both the full Lewis and Short and the smaller version by Lewis.

Logeion is amazing because of the way it interacts with Attikos, and because the user interface allows for quick entry and easy movement back and forth between the last few words you’ve looked up. Logeion hasn’t yet been updated for the iPhone X, however.

Protagoras, on the other hand, looks great on the iPhone X, and the developer has formatted the text in a way that makes a big difference for longer entries. Every portion of each entry that was originally in italic type appears in Protagoras as bold-italic. This means that as you scan a long entry your eyes can easily jump from gloss to gloss. For quick reading, this is such a timesaver. The bold glosses and iPhone X support means that I’ve been using Protagoras as my digital lexicon more often than not. One additional feature of Protagoras: it has a bookmark feature. As you are looking up words, you can bookmark them, and after your reading session, or maybe at the end of the week, you can go back to review.

For any lexicon not found in Protagoras or Logeion, I turn to Accordance. It is much more expensive, but it is worth every penny. With Accordance you are looking at a price tag much closer to what you would expect to pay for a print text, and this is completely understandable for works that are still in copyright and/or works that they have labored in house to tag in various ways. BDAG and HALOT, for example, are lexicons that I would do whatever necessary to have digitally and in print.

One final note about the digital options: I appreciate the ability in Protagoras and Accordance to type the Greek word you are looking up in beta code. This just saves the step of having to change your keyboard.

Experience

When reading this way, I usually access a digital lexicon on an iPhone, sometimes on an iPad. The bigger screens on the iPhone X or one of the plus models turns thousands of pages with tiny print into a much more readable, handheld reading companion.

This …

becomes this:

I know that the thought of your phone lying directly on top of the book you are trying to read sounds repulsive to some. Random notifications are a real threat, but they’re something that can be muzzled. Waiting for the ideal reading conditions just means you will not read as much text, and the number one thing most people need coming out of their first year of Greek is time in the text reading quickly. For more in that line of thought, see this post on reader’s texts.

Conclusion

Whether you are fresh out of your elementary courses or you’ve been doing this for decades, reading with a print text and digital lexicon is comfortable on the go. Sometimes even at home you just want to sit on the couch and relax with a text and lexicon that makes a small footprint but still gives you all the info you need. This way of reading fits those situations well, too. The print text allows an immersive reading experience and provides all the memory benefits of the sensory experiences that go along with holding a physical book, and the digital lexicon gives you portable, quick access to the vocab you need to keep moving.

This is the primary way I’m reading these days. Read however you like.

Just read.

What is the Benefit of Greek & Hebrew?

Some say reading in Greek and Hebrew versus reading in English is like the difference between watching a show in color versus black and white. Others might say something like 2D versus 3D. I don’t think these metaphors are the best ways to describe the experience. Reading in Greek and Hebrew slows me down and helps me rummage around in the text and reflect. For me, that’s the core idea. It gives me something to do.

I’m asking and answering this question as someone who initially learned the languages to read and teach Scripture. I’m going to write more about other benefits and things that flow from this rummaging and slow down, but in this post I just want to lay the foundation. How many times have you sat down to prepare to teach or preach and you read your passage and think, “Ok, now what?” If you are reading in the original languages you have so many different resources and tools to explore, and I’m thinking primarily about lexicons and concordances. If you don’t regularly read and work with the original languages, all you can do is skim the surface of an entry in BDAG or HALOT. Exploring contemporary literature, figures of speech, the metaphors used in your passage, looking at a words full range of meaning and determining which meaning is relevant for your passage — these are things you can actually engage in yourself if you can read the language.

But in my opinion, those things are not the primary benefit of the original language slow down. The real benefit comes in your day-to-day reading. It’s about stripping away the familiarity of your natural language and lingering over the original words. Especially for the first few years of reading, you have to decipher every word and phrase, and the fog never really lifts. Sure, after a few years, you may be able to read one or two or four chapters in an hour, but it’s still not English. You’re moving slower, and when I do this, I find that I make connections with other portions of scripture that I wouldn’t make otherwise. With certain phrases come flashes of other stories or scenes, and my imagination takes off. This sort of reading isn’t about exegesis. It’s about rummaging. It’s about trying to step through the wardrobe into the real world of God’s presence.

On Reading Groups

There is only one type of reading group I have stuck with and enjoyed, and that’s a digital reading group of two. I once made the mistake of trying to lead a Facebook reading group. Won’t do that again. It just takes too much time to maintain all the join requests and administrative notifications, and if you have a large group, keeping up with the comments drains your time to read, which is the whole point.

For over a year now, my Greek reading group has had only one other member, Abram KJ. He and I just finished a GNT read through and are starting on the Pentateuch. We do not live in the same area so our workflow is completely digital. We don’t meet, but as I mentioned in the last post, we’ve used Todoist to manage a shared reading plan, and it has worked wonderfully. For the GNT we commented on tasks in Todoist to facilitate reading discussion, but for our Pentateuch journey we are trying out Twist (initial thoughts here). We will use use Todoist for the reading plan and Twist to manage our comments. Any sort of live discussion usually takes place on iMessage.

Reading time is in one sense a luxury, but in another sense it’s as essential as food. I work at the library as a research aid for students, and someone asked me the other day how to find time for Greek and Hebrew reading while managing seminar papers and the rest of life. I think you have to prioritize reading on the same level as eating. You simply cannot wait until life isn’t busy to read. Isn’t reading the whole point of the education? You take all these language classes for the purpose of reading the literature written in the languages. Everyone finds time to eat, and everyone can find time to read. Groups help, however, because reading big books can be a lonely journey. It’s always nice to know someone is walking with you.

I think the key for any reading group is to keep everything as simple as possible, even when it comes to expectations. Our “plan” is simply a list of chapters (Abram Gen 1, Brian Gen 1, Abram Gen 2, Brian Gen 2, etc.) Each chapter is a task in a Todoist project called Greek Reading. Ideally, we will both read one chapter a day, but that rarely happens. No worries. Just read when you can, and keep going. If someone falls a little behind, send an encouraging text. If someone falls far behind, the other person can read something else for a week or two and let the other catch up. We are both committed to regular reading, but over the past year each of us fell behind more than once and we always caught up with each other eventually. Schedules vary, and each person has certain seasons that are more busy than others. That’s why the digital notes are so helpful. If I fall behind, I can check out Abram’s comments on each chapter as I catch up.

To sum up, here are my suggestions for digital reading groups:

  • Keep the group as small as you can.
  • Keep the plan as simple as you can.
  • Be flexible and know that you won’t always stay together.
  • Just keep reading.

Word for Mac & iOS

For writing anything more than a note, I use two apps: Ulysses and Word. I like one of them and tolerate the other. I’m just going to tell you about Word today, the one I tolerate.

If I weren’t a student and a teacher, I would never touch Word because Ulysses is absolutely sublime. If your document has footnotes, however, you should be using Zotero, and this means using Word on a Mac or Windows computer. So for the dissertation and any conference papers, I turn to Word. Word also gives you more control for precise, quick formatting, which I need for writing assessments.

For about the past year, Word for Mac has worked well with right-to-left scripts like Hebrew and Aramaic. For a couple decades, Word and Mac didn’t play well together. I you were doing anything with Hebrew you had to use something like LibreOffice or Mellel. Many people don’t realize that this era is over. The only remaining Hebrew/Aramaic hang up is the fact that the vowel points in SBL fonts do not align correctly. As I understand the situation, this is SBL’s problem and not Word’s. My school allows the use of Times New Roman font throughout the entire document, and I actually like the look of TNR for Hebrew, Greek, and English. It’s not my preferred font, but for technical writing it’s easy and everyone has it on their devices. The only situation where you will run into a problem with TNR is if you want to put diacritical marks above a Hebrew letter to mark the letter as “partially visible” or something like that. If you are working with DSS transcriptions, you will probably still have to use SBL Hebrew and Mellel at this point. Hopefully SBL will update their fonts soon.

The real draw towards using Word is that your documents are easily shareable. The chances are that whomever you want to share your work with uses Word. But there is another significant benefit: the iOS app works pretty well, especially if all you need to do is edit documents on the fly. During the past school year, I would take only my iPad to class, and when we found a typo in a quiz, I would fix it right away in the Word iOS app. Occasionally, I would print handouts from Word using Readdle’s Printer Pro, and maybe once or twice I actually wrote a quiz in Word for iOS. This became problematic for the vocab sections of the quiz because for some reason with a multi-column layout combined with Greek polytonic characters, Word began acting crazy. The cursor would jump around all over the place when I would start typing.

I don’t think you can create new character and paragraph styles in Word for iOS, but if you open a document that already has styles applied, you can use those styles with the same document. I think you can also save a blank document as a template with the style you want, and just start there.

One other thing the Word iOS app does really well is work with cloud storage. You can log into your Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox accounts and open files within the Word iOS app. Word downloads the latest version and opens it pretty quickly. While you are working in the document, everything automatically saves, and when you leave the document, Word uploads your changes to your cloud service. Everything stays in sync.

I really prefer to write in Markdown, and that’s where Ulysses comes in. But good old rich text word processing is still necessary for the time being, and Word isn’t bad.

Greek Polytonic on iOS

If you have an external keyboard attached, you can actually type polytonic Greek on an iOS device. It used to be more hassle than it was worth to use an iOS device and an external keyboard, but the release of the iPad Pros and the Smart Keyboard changed the game.

You add Greek and Hebrew keyboards just like always:

Settings > General > Keyboards > KeyboardsBut when you have an external keyboard attached, there is an extra Hardware Keyboard menu that allows you to choose which Greek or Hebrew or English keyboard layout you would like to use. It’s curious that they call it Hardware Keyboard because what we are really talking about are software keyboards for use with a hardware keyboard.

The Greek Polytonic keyboard layout is the same as what you find on Mac and Windows computers. I’ve been using it for years because, though there are plenty of others out there that might be in one way or another more user friendly, this one is always preinstalled and ready to roll.

μακάρια γραφή, ἑταῖροι.

Ways of Reading

Here’s a collection of posts I’ve written on different ways of reading original language texts. I find myself frequently moving from one way of reading to another. Sometimes I read one way for a week or a month or a year, but it’s bound to change. That’s a theme that runs throughout the posts. There isn’t one right way to read. Read however you want. Just read.

Reading with Text & Lexicon

Reading with a print text and a print lexicon is as basic as it gets. This is the way I read today, but like all the other ways of reading, it has its benefits and haunting feelings of guilt.

Setup

There is freedom here. No notebooks on the table, no pens to refill with ink, no laptop or tablet needed. Just a text and lexicon. When reading this way, I prefer to use a concise lexicon. So on the table I would have BHS and The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, NA28 and Danker’sConcise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, or Rahlfs and Muraoka or LEH. Sure, Muraoka claims to be a “fully-fledged lexicon,” but it better fits my expectations of a concise or intermediate lexicon. For Biblical Aramaic, Vogt and Fitzmyer is great. When a more comprehensive lexicon is needed, I will generally open an electronic version of HALOT, BDAG, or LSJ. If I’m home, BrillDAG is always handy.

Experience

This is a reading workflow that minimizes distraction because only rarely will the concise lexicons be unable to answer whatever vocab related questions that arise. I’m able to forget about everything else and be more immersed in the text.

In addition to the lack digital distractions, there is also the fact that I don’t have to worry about taking notes. When you take notes on everything you look up, the reading experience can turn into more of a note taking experience. When you close the books, it doesn’t feel like you have just stepped out of the wardrobe, but out of the classroom, where the teachers are dead lexicographers.

Of course, reading this way also forces me to think through the morphology of forms and not rely on digital helps to parse words, but I do this no matter how I read. I have never made digital resources crutches. I don’t personally know anyone who has. I think many who recommend a completely analog way of reading do so for fear of “digital crutches.” While this is no doubt a legitimate concern in a seminary classroom filled with students juggling family and church and work and academic schedules, anyone reading this far into this post should probably shirk such feelings of guilt. You are sufficiently dedicated to reading texts in their original languages that any sort of guilty feeling concerning digital crutches is misplaced guilt.

Reading with print text and lexicon encourages me to linger a little longer over the lexicon entry. I want to remember the word’s semantic range next time I come across it, and I am not taking notes I can look back on. In a related line of thought, I’m also not dependent upon the gloss provided by a reader’s text. I can get the full semantic range every time I look up a word — or at least the full semantic range a word has in a given body of literature. If I’m working with a good concise lexicon, at a glance I will also see all the forms of the word or at least its principal parts.

Finally, this way of reading will work with any language or body of literature. You don’t have to wait on someone to make a reader’s this or that. As long as you have a text and lexicon, you are good to go.

Wrapping Up

This way of reading is a little slower than reading with a reader’s text and faster than reading with paper and pen, but is it a happy medium? Well, it is hard to shake the feeling that I should be taking notes on everything I look up, but I think it is. Using a print text and lexicon is a solid way of reading, and the benefits far out weigh the negatives. I think I was first encouraged to read this way by Charles Halton in a Hebrew exegesis class, but I haven’t spent as much time with this MO as others. I’m going to continue reading this way over the summer, but you read however you want.

Just read.

Reading & Digital Notetaking

I’ve read with paper and pen, but these days if I am taking notes while reading, I use GoodNotes and a 9.7” iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. I don’t know how many times I’ve been working with someone and wanted to check my notes but didn’t have the right little notebook with me. That’s no longer a problem.

Text

There are three elements to this way of reading: print text, lexicon, and iPad. If I’m reading Greek or Hebrew, I prefer to read from a print text — NA28, BHS, Loeb, or a reader’s text. I don’t mind reading on my iPad, I just prefer a print text for this type of literature.

Lexicon

It’s a different story for the lexicon: about half the time I use a digital lexicon on my iPad and other times I prefer a concise, print lexicon. The lexicon varies depending on the medium.

If I’m using a print lexicon, then it is either Clines’ Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, Danker’s Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, or for the Septuagint, either LEH or Muraoka’s.

If I’m working off my iPad, then it’s either HALOT and Clines’ CDCH, BDAG, or LSJ in Accordance. It’s never really just one, and that’s the big benefit of a digital lexicon — you can easily switch between HALOT, BDB, CDCH, and DCH.

GoodNotes

GoodNotes is the distinctive feature. GoodNotes allows me to reap all the benefits of taking notes by hand, while simultaneously storing my notes in a digital platform I can access anywhere. The cherry on top is that GoodNotes automatically recognizes the text of your notes — even cursive — and you can search them. Unfortunately, it does not recognize Greek or Hebrew, but what app really does a halfway decent job with that apart from ABBYY FineReader. It would be unreasonable to expect GoodNotes to turn handwritten Greek or Hebrew into digital text, but one can dream.

You can pinch zoom on the GoodNotes paper and write, but I recently started using the zoom window, which allows me to have a larger writing line, while also letting me see more of the page.

As far as what type of notes I write down, this is my rule: If I look it up for any reason, I write it down. Usually it’s vocab notes, sometimes notes from a grammar, and occasionally something more reflective.

There are times when I use Accordance and GoodNotes in split screen. Because of the auto-advance feature of the zoom window, I can write continuously even though I have a relatively small space, half of a horizontal 9.7″ screen. You can see an example and more explanation of this feature at the bottom of this page, but check this out, too.

I can also copy and paste right along side my hand writing, and if I don’t like the way something looks, I can erase and rewrite it or cut and paste it somewhere else — yes, even the handwriting.

Wrapping up

I read at odd times throughout the day. Maybe it’s in the thirty minutes I have just before the students come streaming in, or maybe it’s while they are taking a quiz. Coffee shop, office, whatever — no matter when and where, I have my notes with me. Being able to share my notes with others is pretty sweet, as well.

GoodNotes and the Apple Pencil work so well together that taking reading notes sometimes feels like art. I can’t imagine a better digital notetaking environment.

A couple more pics:

Hebrew Just Takes Longer

Compared to Greek, I think it takes about twice as long to make it through the elementary grammar phase of learning biblical Hebrew. This is discouraging for many students. I know it was for me. If you are struggling with first or second year Hebrew, just know that this is normal — you’re OK.

Why is Hebrew so much more difficult? Morphology. Think about how much time you spent on morphology in your Greek classes compared to Hebrew. Some spend an entire year on Hebrew morphology before moving on to syntax. Others have a more balanced approach, but all spend more time on Hebrew morphology than Greek.

If you are at least halfway open to the idea that our approach to teaching Hebrew might be skewed, check out William P. Griffin’s essay “Killing a Dead Language: A Case against Emphasizing Vowel Points when Teaching Biblical Hebrew.” Why do so many give up on Hebrew? Griffin answers,

We are not teaching one language, but two; if we emphasize the accents, make that two and a half. We demand that our students understand and replicate an elaborate cellophane overlay that is more complicated than the language it attempts to clarify.

Griffin has written a grammar that de-emphasizes the vowel points, Hebrew for Reading Comprehension. I could not find a print copy online, but the grammar is sold by Logos and Griffin has a website devoted to it where you can check out some samples. I don’t know if this is the answer or not, but I am intrigued.

I was never able to master all the morphological rules for weak verbs though I certainly gave it my best effort. I have multiple notecards for every chapter of Fuller’s grammar, and I think I’ve gone through the book from cover to cover three times. It just doesn’t stick, and I’m OK with this. I can read Hebrew, and if I need to look up some rule on weak verbs, I know where to turn.

If you struggle with Hebrew, grace and peace to you. Don’t listen to that little voice coming from your skewed grammatical conscience that says, “You can’t start reading your Hebrew Bible if you can’t recite all the rules for germinate verbs. That’s cheating!” Read. Keep at it, and know that you aren’t alone. Hebrew just takes longer, and the fog doesn’t start to lift until you start reading.

Comparing OT Texts in Accordance

After saving a workspace, you can launch it with just a couple clicks. This is one of my favorite features in Accordance. As I show below, it only takes a minute to set up, and a second or two to launch. I regularly use this feature to quickly see several ancient versions of the Old Testament in parallel.

Set up the texts

Open your Hebrew Bible, and use the Add Parallel button to add the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls and all the other ancient versions you have in your library.

Save the workspace

Order the columns however you like, and then go to File > Open Workspace > Add Workspace and name it something like OT Texts.

Next time

Now, the next time you are in an OT text and want to check the readings of other ancient witnesses, simply two-finger click (or right-click) on the verse reference and go to My Workspaces > OT Texts. This will open a new workspace in a separate window with all the ancient versions in parallel. When you are finished, close that window and your back to your text.

Video Example