Thursday, June 14, 2007
  Unicode for Biblical Studies (on WindowsXP)

Ancient History (aka the 1970s-1990s)

In the "bad old days" computers did not understand non-Roman alphabets (like much in this post this is a gross over-simplification, if that troubles you you are in the wrong place - try Alan Wood’s Unicode Resources for a more complete presentation). To overcome this biblical scholars (at least those who were also geeky enough to want to process words in Hebrew, Greek...) needed to install special fonts that fooled the poor machine into thinking that a lowercase "x" looked like this: ח or, on other occasions like this: Χ, in other words the font represented Hebrew, Greek etc. characters, while telling the computer that they were proper American ones (the coding system was called ASCII "American Standard Code for Information Interchange").

This was simple, until you wanted to give your document (on a "floppy" remember those - once they were floppy too!) to someone else. At that point they had fun decyphering text like this: "d#r&k m*H$s@" and most gave up saying "It's all Greek to me!" at which point one informed them gently that it was actually Aramaic and everything went downhill from there!

I've seen the present - and it works!

All that is changing.

WindowsXP and most programs designed for it (like your Wordprocessor or Browser) understand Unicode. Like ASCII, Unicode represents characters by number codes. Unlike ASCII (which only had 128 characters, 33 of which wouldn't print anyway!) Unicode even in its simpler forms has THOUSANDS of characters so "x" means x and not ח or Χ which each just stand for themselves. And... when you send your document to someone else there is a very good chance the "foreign" alphabets will be readable, even if still without good fonts they may not be pretty. (The sad exception to this is complex accents and the like which risk showing up as little rectangles. The good news is though that whatever font they download that contains these signs will display them this sometimes looks untidy, but it is way more readable than "d#r&k m*H$s@".)

How to do it: Unicode for (Biblical Scholarly) Dummies

It is not difficult, just download the Tyndale House Font Kit. Install it, (you can pretty much take the defaults), so that basically means a double click after you download and then double click again on the install file.

After installation, at the bottom of your screen you will see a new little square with two letters (these represent the language you are using, EN = English, FR = French etc. - for these purposes Americans are understood to be using "English" ;-) If you click on the button (once will do, do NOT get overenthusiastic, Jean) you will see a popup like this:

This will allow you to select Greek or Hebrew as your input language (temporarily) Greek includes transliteration characters for Hebrew transcriptions too (just use shift lock). At first you will probably need the keyboard layout, so print out the file called: Keyboards.doc in the C:\Program Files\Tyndale Unicode Font Kit directory.

That's all folks!

Post Scriptum:

Except to add that as Daniel mentions in his comment below:
Another cool thing about Unicode is that when you copy and paste text into your word processor from a program like Logos Bible Software the fonts This painlessness is what persuaded Logos to adopt the Unicode Way back in 2001...
Thanks, Daniel, yes it has been a good feature that Logos adopted early, Bibleworks is still playing catch up in cutting and pasting.

BW users need to know that they have to go: |Tools| |Options| |Fonts| and tell the program that the "Export Fonts" should be Unicode, rather like this:

Post Scriptum II

Daniel (below) also points to Windows Keyboards for Ancient Languages as well as Greek and Hebrew (and transliteration) include also Syriac and one tailored for the entry of Coptic. If you have Logos installed these are probably both the easiest and best Unicode keyboards to use. If you use BibleWorks or another (non-Unicode) program then the Tyndale Font Kit is probably the easiest way to go. Either way your text will be readable by more people! (Everyone using WinXP+ or MacOSX+ if you use no accents... for accents they will require a suitable scholarly Unicode font but it does not matter which one they have :)

Post Scriptum III

Bible Texts in Unicode (for cut and paste if you do not have Logos and can't make BibleWorks export in Unicode):

  • TanakhML Hebrew Bible Browser (nb. at the right under "Display" you have a choice of turning vowels, accents and other marks "On" or "Off" to make your text maximally readable turn accents "Off" - they will show as little empty boxes for people without the specialised fonts, while the basic consonants and vowels should display OK even for them)
  • Greek NT and LXX

Labels: , , ,

SEARCH Tim's sites
Posts listed by topic
My academic CV

Write to Tim

January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 /

biblical studies blogs:

other theology/church blogs:


Powered by Blogger

Technorati Profile

Yellow Pages for Auckland, New Zealand