The Hebrew Bible: Help

This help file is organised as a set of questions and answers, in the style of a "frequently asked questions" document.

What are the browser and system requirements to view the Hebrew Bible? (Or, why do I see gnarly accented characters instead of Hebrew letters?)

One of the principal goals in preparing this on-line Bible was to enable anybody to read it on the Web without the need to download and install a special application. This edition of the Bible uses the ISO-8859-8 font, supported by most Web browsers, which includes both standard ASCII characters and a subset of the Hebrew alphabet (no vowels or points; the letters shin and sin are not distinguished). If your browser supports this font, Hebrew characters should display correctly. Note than on some systems you may have to install a "language pack" to supply the required font. The Hebrew Bible has been tested with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 and 6.0 on Windows 98 and 2000; Mozilla 1.0 on Windows 98 and 2000, Linux, and Solaris; Galeon 1.2.3 on Linux; and Nautilus 1.0.6 on Linux.

If your browser does not support the Hebrew font (or the requisite font is not installed on your system), Hebrew letters will appear as accented lower case Roman letters. Hebrew is written right to left; these documents use "visual directionality", in which the characters in the Web documents are pre-arranged in the order they appear on the page; browsers need not support bidirectional text to correctly display such files.

To reduce the size of the documents and reduce the time required to download them, the "Cascading Style Sheet" feature is used to specify formatting of various components of the documents. Your browser must therefore also support this facility (all modern browsers do). If things look strange, make sure you haven't disabled Style Sheets in your browser's preferences settings.

When operating systems and Web browsers which support Unicode become widely available, all of this complexity will evaporate back into the clouds of chaos whence it originated, and there will be no difficulty whatsoever including characters from any number of different languages in a single document.

Where did you get the text for the Bible in machine-readable form?

The Hebrew Bible on-line edition at this site was based on a transliterated version of the Bible prepared by Steve Gross. You can download that document from the archive directory at the Shamash site. Steve Gross employed a different Hebrew transliteration scheme than is used here; a description of his transliteration is included in the archive.

Which version of the Hebrew Bible are these documents based?

The Koren Tanach, the traditional Hebrew Bible based on the Masoretic texts. The other principal version of the Hebrew Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensis (BHS), is substantially different from the Koren edition. A machine-readable BHS text is available from the Center for the Computer Analysis of Texts at the University of Pennsylvania, but requires signing a user agreement and is thus not totally free of strings.

What happened to the vowels and points?

The machine readable database upon which these documents were based follows the usual convention for computer-based Hebrew documents in omitting all vowel signs and points (dagesh) within letters. Other than rewriting the entire text by hand, there is no way to restore this information. Since most E-mail systems and Web browsers lack the ability, at present, to render Hebrew letters along with these marks, computer users have become accustomed to doing without them. I know of no freely available edition of the Koren text which includes vowels and points. The BHS text mentioned above does contain markup for these signs, but it is not available without restrictions and is regarded as a scholarly text rather than an authentic Hebrew Bible.

How accurate is the text?

One can never be sure of the accuracy of any machine readable document (or, for that matter, a printed one) without exhaustively comparing it against an authoritative edition. In preparing this HTML edition of the Hebrew Bible, I have used the Steve Gross text as published, and have not personally verified its accuracy either exhaustively or statistically.

I did, however, perform a "reality check" which persuaded me that the text is, if not perfectly accurate, very close to perfection, at least for the portion I was able to verify. The test consisted of comparing the five books of the Torah with an independently-compiled Torah database which is considered accurate. That database, however, consists of just a string of letters--there are no spaces between words, punctuation marks, or final forms at the ends of words. Comparing just the letters, then, the Steve Gross Torah agreed perfectly with the other database. Erroneous word breaks, etc. may still exist, but at least the letter sequence is correct. I have, to date, located no reliable comparison document for checking the balance of the books of the Bible.

So what transliteration scheme do you use, anyway?

The documents use the ISO-8859-8 character set, which is identical to ASCII and ISO-8859-1 in the first 128 character positions, but substitutes Hebrew letters for decimal character codes 224-250. Note that final forms of the letters Kaf, Mem, Nun, Pe, and Tsadi are assigned their own character codes, each one less than the corresponding non-final form. The following table gives the character names, decimal character codes, corresponding character in the ISO 8859-1 Latin-1 character (which is what you'll see if you edit a Hebrew document in this encoding with a conventional programmers' editor), and Hebrew letter glyph. Names of Hebrew letters are as used in the Unicode standard. (Obviously, if your browser cannot show Hebrew letters in the other documents, you won't see them in the "Hebrew" column of the following table either.)

Hebrew Letter Decimal Latin-1 Hebrew
Alef 224 à
Bet 225 á
Gimel 226 â
Dalet 227 ã
He 228 ä
Vav 229 å
Zayin 230 æ
Het 231 ç
Tet 232 è
Yod 233 é
Final Kaf 234 ê
Kaf 235 ë
Lamed 236 ì
Final Mem 237 í
Mem 238 î
Final Nun 239 ï
Nun 240 ð
Samekh 241 ñ
Ayin 242 ò
Final Pe 243 ó
Pe 244 ô
Final Tsadi 245 õ
Tsadi 246 ö
Qof 247 ÷
Resh 248 ø
Sin/Shin 249 ù
Tav 250 ú

I'm puzzled by the Hebrew chapter and verse numbers. Could you refresh my memory how numbers work in Hebrew?

Certainly. First, let me clarify that what we're talking about is numerals as opposed to cardinal or ordinal numbers. In English, for example, "2" is a numeral, "two" is a cardinal number, and "second" is an ordinal number. In Hebrew, letters are used as numerals, thankfully in a much simpler fashion than Roman numerals. Letters are assigned numerical values as follows:

Units Tens Hundreds
Name Letter Value Name Letter Value Name Letter Value
Alef 1 Yod 10 Qof 100
Bet 2 Kaf 20 Resh 200
Gimel 3 Lamed 30 Sin 300
Dalet 4 Mem 40 Tav 400
He 5 Nun 50
Vav 6 Samekh 60
Zayin 7 Ayin 70
Het 8 Pe 80
Tet 9 Tsadi 90

Numbers are then written as a sequence of letters which, when their numerical values are summed, produce the required value. Letters in the sum appear in descending order of magnitude (since Hebrew is written right to left, the largest valued letter will be rightmost in a number). Note that this is not a positional number system and that there is no digit for zero. Hence, the number of letters needed to express a given quantity bears no simple relationship to its magnitude. One writes 100 as , 101 as , 110 as , and 111 as .

The numbers 15 and 16 would, if written as the sum of ten and 5 or 6, form fragments of the Divine Name. Consequently, these numbers depart from the norm and are written as the sum of nine plus 6 or 7. Thus fifteen is written as and sixteen as .

I've copied all the files from your site into a directory on mine in order to establish a mirror. Why does the Hebrew font work on your site but not on mine?

Multiple language support on the present-day Web has much in common with a barrel of greased, sharp fanged, venomous snakes. It's difficult to get your hands around anything and, even if you do, you'll probably regret it. The original edition of this online Hebrew Bible was created in 1998 using the Dynamic Font technology developed by Bitstream, Inc. This permitted a document to supply its own fonts, which would be automatically downloaded and rendered by the user's browser. Given a browser which supported dynamic fonts, users could display documents in any font or language whatsoever without the need to install fonts or language support in the system or browser.

Regrettably, this facility, which provided an efficient and effective means for Web pages to provide their own custom fonts, was destined to become a victim of the "browser wars": current browsers no longer support dynamic fonts and Bitstream have retired the technology. If you have a browser which still supports dynamic fonts and you'd like to try it with that version of the Hebrew Bible, it's still available.

With the demise of dynamic fonts, the only more or less platform and browser independent way to display Hebrew documents remaining is the ISO-8859-8 hybrid ASCII/Hebrew font widely used for Hebrew language E-mail and Web pages. Most modern browsers support it, although some require additional fonts be installed. This edition of the Hebrew Bible uses this ISO-8859-8 encoding of Hebrew, defining it as the document character set and thereby requesting the browser to render it with a compatible font. In general, if the browser correctly displays other Hebrew pages on the Web, it should have no trouble with this Bible.

The process a browser uses to decide how to display a document involves declarations in the document itself, information sent by the Web server regarding the document, user preferences in the browser, and the system configuration and fonts installed on the system on which the browser is running. In short, there are lot of things which can go wrong and when one does, the result is usually, in keeping with the grand tradition of the Web, gibberish on the screen with no direct clues pointing to the culprit.

If your browser is able to display Hebrew documents from other sites but Hebrew pages you place on your own server do not display in a Hebrew font, check whether your Web server is enforcing a default document character set. Due to security problems some years ago, many Apache Web servers have been configured with an "AddDefaultCharset ISO-8859-1" statement in their httpd.conf file. While this should be able to be overridden by a request for the ISO-8859-8 Hebrew character set within a document, this, in fact, does not appear to work and Hebrew characters are output as accented lower case Roman letters. To test whether this is the problem, try displaying the Hebrew document from a local file using a file: URL; if it displays correctly, server configuration is likely to be the problem. If you're using a Microsoft server, I can offer only sympathy, not suggestions.

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