Pondering and plotting: Biblical resources tips?

Because of some classes, lately I’ve been thinking a little and would like to bounce something off of anyone who’d have some input. I’d be particularly interested in hearing from those who’ve been through a seminary or similar program, and/or those who have planned and implemented a really successful Bible Study program in their parish.

I’m thinking of putting together a short list (or two) of Bible Study resources for the use of seminarians not only for their own use and edification during seminary, but that would also be of permanent value in planning out Bible Study programs in their parishes after seminary, and in fact of permanent value for personal study.

Now, I’m quite familiar with the Bible, the wider ancient Near Eastern cultural context, the history of scholarship, and so on. But in seminary, we’re seeing people, my fellow students, who don’t know the general outline of, much less the stories of the Old Testament, and never mind the cognate languages and cultures and the history of the ancient Near East and such relevant matters. These people are, however, need to be brought up to speed within four years, so that they can help others to learn these things. I think I can help, and I’m not going to abandon my fellow students just because the task is a daunting one. Already I’m helping them as much as I can. One has even affectionately termed me, “The guy who knows too much!” So droll. But it’s a serious issue. If one can help in such a situation, one not only should, but must.

They’re also going to need to have a set of resources available that will be useful in planning Bible Study programs in their parishes, particularly if they’re ordained and find themselves in charge of all the educational programs of a parish, or in fact need to introduce such programs, starting them from scratch, as the case may be.

Now, my problem is that I’m familiar with rather technical works, original language lexicons, chief reference works, advanced monographs, and so on. I’m not familiar at all with the level of references and helps available to the middle range of Bible students who want solid scholarship. I’d like help from my very helpful readers who’ve had experience in these areas. I’ll make some suggestions below in various categories, and maybe we can refine them through discussion in the comments. If we go about this right, the results could (and should!) be generally useful for everyone in a similar situation.

I don’t want to get into a huge discussion over which software is “best” or anything like that. I think it’s clear right now that we’ve got three major players: Accordance for the Mac, BibleWorks for Windows, and Logos for both. Accordance and Logos both have mobile device versions, which is very useful. The pricing for the three varies, but essentially they share the same approach: a basic application is purchased to which one may add various purchased modules. These modules may be entire collections of books, etc, or individual ones (particular versions of the Bible, single books, etc). Logos has a staggering array of materials available, but they are not cheap. Accordance likewise has a large number of materials available, but not too much on the free end. BibleWorks is the only one of the three which makes it easy to import fully any Bible version files (or anything else for that matter). I tend to think of Accordance and BibleWorks as roughly equivalent in search and analysis capabilities, but with BibleWorks being better for importing. The mobile Accordance is great (I have it on my iPhone and iPad). Logos I have used for many years not for Bible study, but as an electronic book reader. I think that’s really what they used to be, primarily. I have a large number of books and journal runs in Logos format. It’s very nice for that. The mobile version of Logos is also great, but there’s an important proviso: one must own one of the various base packages offered by Logos (see here) in order to access your electronic library in the mobile version. So, even if you own hundreds of books in Logos, if you don’t have one of those base packages, you won’t be able to see any of those books in the mobile Logos. That’s something to keep in mind.

Now, all three of these programs can of course be used in a basic, midrange, or advanced manner. So I think that the combination of either Accordance or BibleWorks (depending on platform) along with Logos (available for both Mac and Windows) would be one item.

And within those programs, in addition to a variety of English Bibles, the user should make certain to have the following:
1.) a Greek New Testament (in the case of us Orthodox, both the UBS/NA critical text and a representative of the Byzantine Text)
2.) the Septuagint (in both the original Greek and the New English Translation of the Septuagint and/or the Brenton translation)
3.) the BDAG NT Greek lexicon
4.) the “Great Scott” (the Oxford Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon)
5.) [if the user has Hebrew] the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible
6.) the HALOT Lexicon
I think those are a core of necessities.

To Logos could be added all of the above, and any other books discussed below (though I’ve found that things with illustrations are awkwardly displayed in the mobile version, with images not being zoomable, which lack simply results in useless illustrations) if they are available in the Logos format. It’s great to have a book in Logos, as it’s searchable! There’s no need to curse the lack of an index or a poorly done index.

I’m rather eclectic in my commentary collecting. Electronically, I like to have commentary sets that are both recent and close to complete or indeed complete. I’ll buy individual volumes in hard copy from commentary series that for whatever reason don’t cut the mustard in toto when those volumes are said by reliable sources to be excellent. But I don’t think this is a very practical way of going about it. Multivolume commentaries may simply be too much in several dimensions: cost, size, potential uselessness. Perhaps a one-volume commentary would suffice in some cases?

So, what would be a good commentary set, particularly for Eastern Orthodox Christians? The Ancient Christian Commentary is cute, but it’s not fully a commentary, is it? (I don’t own any of these.) Blurbs from Church Fathers does not a commentary make. Is there a good set that would fulfill the following requisites: 1.) not too technical: enough detail to clarify, but not so much detail as to obfuscate; 2.) relatively conservative; 3.) references the Church Fathers: a boy can dream!; 4.) good interaction with historical-critical method: discussion of the perspective of historical-critical issues, even if it doesn’t wholly accept them; 5.) coverage of ancient world: that is, it should provide some discussion of the context of the ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman cultural spheres; 6.) coverage of the extended canon: the Orthodox Bible includes not only all of the books of the Protestant Bible, but those of the Catholic Bible and then some: 1 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, Prayer of Manasses, Psalm 151 and 4 Maccabees.

For one-volume commentaries, a while ago I picked up a copy of the Eerdmans Commentary of the Bible. I find it to be quite nice, a good balance of the above requirements, if a bit short in coverage. That’s the nature of one-volume commentaries. A definite plus of this single-volume commentary is that it covers all the books in the NRSV/RSV (which both include all the books of the Orthodox Bible) as well as including a commentary on 1 Enoch, which is a first, as I recall.

Here, I’m all ears. I love my Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, my Carta Bible Atlas and The Sacred Bridge, and even the Oxford Bible Atlas (although the fourth edition really needs to be bound differently so that the double-page-spread maps don’t lose content in the gutter). I also have the ESV Bible Atlas, which is a very nice production and probably exactly what I would recommend in this case. Any other ideas?

Any ideas on collections of electronic maps? These would be useful for presentations. I haven’t really looked into this, as I’ve never (yet–I shudder to think) had to do such.

For this, I think the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible wins hands down. For a more advanced approach, I would recommend the Logos electronic edition of the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. But perhaps there are other recommendations, as well?

Something that provides a good way to track down subjects that span multiple books of the Bible so that the reader can plan a thematic Bible Study program of some sort. I know there are lots of these things, but I don’t know of any in particular. Can anyone recommend something or several?

How about some books on planning a Bible Study curriculum itself? I have some books on individual Bible Study (Traina, Methodical Bible Study, McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible, Jensen, Independent Bible Study, and Bullinger How to Enjoy the Bible, and some others probably kicking around here somewhere), but nothing on preparing a group Bible Study.

Anything else? Have there been any particular books or types of books that have been essential or very helpful in preparing Bible Study programs? That helped you learn more about the Bible itself when you were starting out? That work well for several levels of familiarity with the Bible?

Those of you readers who’ve done this kind of planning or studying already, who are in or have been through seminary or a similar program, particularly those with a robust program in Bible and some sucess in implementing a successful, appreciated, and well-attended Bible Study program, please do share some suggestions. We need all the help we can get!