March 26, 2015

Old Testament Database Wins 'Oscar' of Scientific Community

A groundbreaking Old Testament database co-developed by an Adventist researcher has won a top award from the scientific community.

SHEBANQ, a Hebrew Bible database that allows researchers to address research questions by developing and sharing queries with other researchers, was awarded the prestigious “Best Digital Humanities Tool or Suite of Tools” for 2014.

The award is the highest recognition available within the academic world of digital humanities, the fastest-growing research field in the humanities today.

“To receive this award for a tool that has been developed for Old Testament research — a marginal field of research compared to sociology, psychology, politics, and other fields of science that are usually regarded as being much more relevant — feels like an Oscar for Old Testament scholarship,” said Oliver Glanz, one of three members of the SHEBANQ team, and an assistant professor of Old Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.

SHEBANQ — or System for HEBrew Text: ANotations for Queries and Markup — was recently launched on the website after several decades of development. Its three team members are Wido van Peursen, leader of the Eep Talstra Center for Bible and Computer, which produced SHEBANQ; Dirk Roorda, a senior researcher and programmer for the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences who wrote most of the code; and Glanz, a data expert at the Eep Talstra Center for Bible and Computer who developed ISO standards for linguistic categories and query constructions for research and teaching.

While everybody can sign up for an account and start using the tools for free, SHEBANQ would be difficult for the average Bible reader to use because it requires knowledge of biblical Hebrew, Glanz told the Adventist Review.

But, he said, the database will have an indirect impact on many lives. For example, many professional Bible translators consult the Hebrew database that drives SHEBANQ, and several of SHEBANQ’s core users belong to Bible societies working on Bible translations today, he said.

In addition, Bible software is widely used among pastors and some laypeople today, and popular software like Accordance and Logos are in the process of implementing the Hebrew database that SHEBANQ has made accessible to the public.

“In that way the average Bible software user will get access to the most advanced database available on the market,” Glanz said.

Gerald A. Klingbeil, a research professor of Old Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, praised the database and Glanz’s contribution.

“Anybody in Europe, Africa, South America, or Asia with an Internet connection can use this Old Testament database, the most accurate that there is right now,” said Klingbeil, associate editor of the Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines.

He said the project highlights the fact that "research is not just something done in an ivory tower, but blesses the church and connects to real people.”

Glanz said digital humanities is so popular because analyzing art, music, literature, sociological phenomena, and linguistic activity can no longer be imagined without the IT support that guarantees interpretative consistency and concise pattern detection.

Candidates for the annual Best Digital Humanities awards are nominated by the public and finalized by an international committee headed by James Cummings of the University of Oxford. No financial prize is attached to the award.

The 2014 runnerup for Best Digital Humanities Tool or Suite of Tools went to The Buddhist Canons Research Database at Columbia University. Previous winners of the award include the web publisher Omeka in 2012, and Commons In A Box, a free software project linked to the City University of New York, in 2013.