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?

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 Unicode character set with UTF-8 encoding, which is supported by most modern Web browsers. Users of older Web browsers may be able to use the ISO 8859-8 edition of this Bible.

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. His transliteration of Hebrew into ASCII characters was translated to Unicode in preparing this edition.

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.

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.

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 א 1 Yod י 10 Qof ק 100
Bet ב 2 Kaf כ 20 Resh ר 200
Gimel ג 3 Lamed ל 30 Sin ש 300
Dalet ד 4 Mem מ 40 Tav ת 400
He ה 5 Nun נ 50
Vav ו 6 Samekh ס60
Zayin ז 7 Ayin ע 70
Het ח 8 Pe פ 80
Tet ט 9 Tsadi צ 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 ק, 101 as אק, 110 as יק, and 111 as איק.

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 וט and sixteen as זט.