Bible Review 4:1, February 1988

Computers and The Bible

By Emanuel Tov

Computers can find patterns hidden in obscure recesses of biblical literature. Knowing what patterns to look for, however, still requires human intelligence. What these patterns mean, once they are identified, is also a matter that requires human, rather than computer, intelligence.

Perhaps someday the computer itself will be able to decide what patterns to look for and what the patterns mean. This is surely not beyond imagining. But we are not there yet. On the other hand, who would have imagined, when computers were invented, that they would be a useful tool in biblical studies? We have already come a long way.

Is a text the work of one author? How did the language itself develop over time? Will certain patterns help us to date the text or to unravel the layers of tradition within it? What was the original text of a translation?

These are the kinds of questions we are beginning to ask our computers. We do not yet have clear answers to all these questions. But we have taken the first modest steps that are a necessary prerequisite for asking meaningful questions—and for finding meaningful answers.

The first step, which has now been largely accomplished, is to put the Bible on the computer, so that it will be, as we say in the trade, machine readable. This is not as easy as it sounds.

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