Powerful, Secure Bible Software for Closed Countries … and You!

(video demo of the software discussed below)

Digital Bible Society

I’d like to an organization that you’ve probably never heard of: Digital Bible Society (DBS). For the last 10 years or so, they’ve been putting together something called Chinese Treasures which was a CD (and later a DVD) full of Chinese language Bibles and theological resources. It was distributed throughout China, and Christians were encouraged to “pirate” the disk (i.e. make copies and redistribute them) as much as possible.

Even 10 years ago, this was a big deal because the Chinese government was largely hostile to Christians not associated with the government church. Now that China is more open, DBS is making some shifts.

First off, CDs are out, SD chips are in (they are super fun to smuggle). Second, other closed countries (that speak languages like Farsi) are new areas of distribution. Third, the focus is not just desktop software, but mobile devices (which are common even in illiterate cultures). Finally, audio and video are often as important as text depending on the culture. The SD chips that DBS puts together have Bibles in a variety of formats (HTML, PDF, ePub, etc.) which means that most devices – from modern laptops to cheap eReaders to basic mobile phones – should be able to do something with the content

The Software (BibleWebApp 2.0): Sofia Bible Browser

About a year ago, the folks at DBS asked if I could take some of the work I’ve done on web-based Bible apps like http://biblewebapp.com/ and make it a part of the suite of applications DBS is developing for their SD chips. It’s labelled “Bible Browser” in the title, but I also call it “Sofia” for short.

Now, there are already lots of amazing Bible website and applications out there today built by wonderful Christian brothers and sisters, so it might seem unnecessary to build yet another Bible application. Each of these has a place in what God is doing in the world, but the software that DBS creates has some special requirements that necessitates something new:

  1. Must be able to run without Internet access
  2. Must be able to run without being “installed”
  3. Must be able to run in any browser on any device

In a country where it’s illegal to follow Christ or ask about Christianity, installing Bible software and accessing Bible website are big no-nos, so this security is absolutely paramount. The best solution we have so far is to create an HTML/JavaScript application that runs on whatever browser the user has installed.

The challenged is that HTML-based applications can be a bit slower than full desktop software (like the awesome apps Logos, Accordance, or SWORD) and since we are designing them to run without Internet access (like the amazing YouVersion or Biblia) they can’t have a powerful server to do things like process search queries. This makes for some interesting programming challenges, but it’s also part of the fun of doing something different to serve the church at large. The app also needs to be able to run on very basic phones with limited HTML/CSS support, another fun challenge.

For those technically inclined, the basic setup is that each chapter of the Bible is a separate HTML file linked together by jQuery Mobile which makes browsing the Bible work really well on basic phones all the way up to iPhone/Android. Then a desktop application reads these same HTML files and uses them to produces the multi-pane application you see in the video above.

Unique Features of Sofia

In addition to the unique focus on an HTML app that runs in the browser off an SD card, there are few unique features of “Sofia.” While the main focus of the application is providing access to the Bible in every language, I’m also building in some powerful original language features for Bible students of all levels:

  • Verse and Word matching – In the desktop version, as you put your mouse over verses and words, the corresponding verse and word in other versions get highlighted, so you can see the relationships and how the word was translated into a given language or English translation.
  • Morphological Highlighting – A feature normally only seen in big packages like Logos, the morphological filter lets you add color codes to
    (1) specific Greek or Hebrew words,
    (2) Greek tenses and noun cases,
    (3) rare words.
    You can choose to a color for the word itself, choose a background color, or underline the word with a color.
  • Media Gallery – We are also adding a number of media rich feature, including images linked to verses, audio versions of the Bible, and even versions of the Jesus Film. Below is an example of images of Nicodemus from John 3. The UI for this might change as we add additional resources like maps.
  • Audio read along – Based on some great work by Weston Ruter, I’m also planning to match up the text of the Bible with the audio down to the version and even word levels.

Special Thanks

Before I say any more about the project, some special thanks are in order because every Bible project builds on the hard work of many others. First, CrossWire, the makers of several amazing open source Bible applications has provided the KJV2006 project which is a version of the KJV with embedded linguistic data (Strong’s numbers) linking the original Greek and Hebrew words with the English translation.

Second, on this demo site, I also have the NET interlinear and NASB interlinear thanks to bible.org and Lockman respectively who’ve generously given me permission to use their data on biblewebapp.com.

Finally, much of the data in the popups, including the strong’s dictionary, was provided by open source data initiatives from the Open Scriptures group especially the work of James TauberDavid Troidl, and Ulrik Sandborg-Petersen.

Where To Get it?

Another great feature of the Digital Bible Society’s work is that they are releasing what I’m building as an open source Bible reader that you can use on your own website (if you have permissions for a particular version). Here are some links:

Please download  it, fork it, contribute, and/or give any feedback here or on github.com.

For every tribe, tongue, and nation!

Published by

John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

28 thoughts on “Powerful, Secure Bible Software for Closed Countries … and You!”

  1. Sounds cool, but don’t you need to keep this a bit more under the radar so the countries where Bibles are illegal don’t get wind of it and try to sniff out people who have it and make their lives difficult?

    1. Dr. Bierma,
      In theory, yes. But currently there isn’t any available data for me to use. There are some expensive packages, but not anything that’s really publicly available.

  2. Could have sworn I’d seen this already but am seeing it again today. Great work as usual John. My personal project is going in this direction to some degree. Am smarting a bit in not jumping into doing something like this until now. Guess that’s on me. Glad to see all the parts of the body that came together for this. That’s probably the best part of this project.

  3. How can I add another bible version into the app. I know where they’re located but wondering if there were some tips on how to do this.

    By the way, Nice work!

  4. John, terrific work! Unbelievably helpful.

    Zack, I didn’t have any problem getting Phm. Works on the online and on the desktop too.

    Using Firefox under win Vista.

    John, I have the autoscroll thing happen too in the Psalms WLC pane… to replicate:
    Click into the reference box
    manually enter 25:4
    Press Enter
    The pane scrolls backward until Ps 24:1 is visible, then stops. Unfortunately, this also changes the text in the reference edit box.

    Interestingly, SIL Ezra font handles dagheshes poorly in browsers (both Firefox and IE), but the same font handles them correctly in a desktop app like BibleTime.

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  6. Hi, I am able to run this software locally when i run “node generate.js”. However I have the files on my APACHE server how do I configure this software from there. More Power to your elbow for such great work. Thanks..

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  8. Thank you so much for building this great tool! The morph highlighting between Greek and many of the English translations is really insightful. I’m feeling inclined to donate to DBS.

    I noticed that I get a warning when I try to visit the app using HTTPS:// . I wonder if enabling that could be a quick win for those in “monitored” access countries?

    Thanks again!

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