iPhone Apps for Reading Hebrew Bible

I’ve been using two iPhone apps over the past few months to read the Hebrew Bible and I thought I would pass on my thoughts about both of them.

Olive Tree COMPARED TO HebrewBible

I was first using Olive Tree’s BibleReader with BHS (I also have the GNT, but we’ll focus on the Hebrew here). Then I was contacted by the developer of the HebrewBible (Ze’ev (Bill) Clementson of Clementson Consulting) and he kindly gave me full access to the app so that I could try it out.

HebrewBible $4.99
Olive Tree BibleReader (Free); GNT & BHS for BibleReader $46.99

The main difference between these apps (beside the price) is that HebrewBible is a gateway to information on the web and BibleReader is like Logos/Accordance/BibleWorks Lite for the iPhone (with many separate resources available for purchase).

HebrewBible accesses the texts available at Mechon Mamre and then gives you the options of displaying the text eight different ways:
* Hebrew (with vowels)
* Hebrew (without vowels)
* Hebrew/English
* Hebrew/French
* English
* Hebrew Torah (with commentary)
* Aramaic Torah (with vowels)
* Aramaic Torah (without vowels)

This means that with HebrewBible you must be connected to the internet in order to access any of its features. However, if you have enough room on your iPhone, you can cache books that you want to read offline. When reading a book or chapter (regardless of the version selected), it is also possible to listen to the Hebrew version of the selected book/chapter being read by pressing the “Play” button at the top of the page (again, you have to be online for this unless you download the audio files).

By contrast, the Olive Tree BHS is downloaded to your iPhone when you purchase the resource. The free BibleReader then utilizes a library of all the free and paid resources you have acquired. The BibleReader package comes with KJV and ASV. There are 8 other free translations available for download. Additional translations (NIV, NKJV, ESV, NLT, NRSV, NAB, NASB, JPS, and many others) are available for purchase ($4.99-$26.99 for the ones I looked at). The Olive Tree Bible Software website has additional resources available for purchase and download. Any resource you have in your BibleReader library can be accessed even when offline.

Look & Feel
This is such a personal preference, so I’m just going to give you two side by side photos. After all, a picture is like a thousand words. Olive Tree BibleReader BHS is on the left, HebrewBible is on the right.
Olive Tree BibleReader BHS    HebrewBible
The main thing to notice is the vowel pointing (and cantillation marks). It really is beautifully rendered and accurate in the Olive Tree product. The HebrewBible app is not able to render the vowels completely accurately. The developer is aware of this and responded to me with this information:

The placement of the pointing (n’kudot) is an Apple font rendering issue and I’ve already submitted a bug report to Apple about it. It’s not just a problem on the iPhone, it’s also a problem on Macs. For vowels, the rendering is not too bad; however, for cantillation marks (ta’amim), the Apple rendering is sometimes horribly wrong. I’ve written a blog post where I illustrate the correct rendering and show what Apple’s rendering looks like using different Hebrew fonts. I had planned to include in my app a Hebrew Bible version with cantillation marks; however, I’ve shelved that until Apple fixes the font display.

The other main difference (at least for me) is in how the split screen appears. In the Olive Tree BHS, each text is in its own window (one on top of the other), in the HebrewBible, the Hebrew/English version is side by side. A minor irritation in the Olive Tree BHS is that the verse numbers do not always scroll correctly for the Hebrew and English psalms. In other words, when the verse numbering is different, I would prefer that the text and translation line up together, not the verse numbers.

Here is where HebrewBible shines. In addition to the texts, there are three categories of resources (the following summaries are from the HebrewBible website).

  • Words
    This is useful for learning more about specific Hebrew words and for discovering related words. There are two different ways to learn more about words:

    • Roots: The Roots lookup is done on an external site (www.2letterlookup.com) and some hints on how to identify the root of a word (if one doesn’t know Hebrew very well) is [sic] on that site. By selecting the first two letters of the root, a listing will be displayed of all Hebrew words (and, optionally, Aramaic words and/or proper names) that begin with those two letters. Once the list is displayed, double-tapping on a word will open up a further level of detail about the selected word.
    • Translate: A generic translation facility (which uses Google Translate to do the translations) is also provided. One can either copy/paste words/sentences from the Hebrew Bible or directly enter text to be translated. Note: in order to enter Hebrew (or any) text correctly, the relevant keyboard needs to have been enabled in the iPhone Settings application (under General/Keyboard/International Keyboards). The input and output text automatically adjusts to the appropriate “left-to-right” or “right-to-left” text orientation based on the translation languages that have been selected.
  • Topics
    There are links to key topics (over 200 people/places/things) in the Wikipedia online encyclopedia. One can access topics by:

    • Bible book: for example, one can select all topics for the book of Exodus.
    • “Meta” Topics: topics that deal with concepts that relate to the Hebrew Bible in general (e.g. – the Hebrew language).
    • All Topics: one can also toggle from a “Book”-based list of topics to an alphabetical list of all available topics.
  • Maps
    There are maps of almost every location (over 1,000 locations) mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (the lattitude/longitude locations are based on data from the OpenBible.info site; however, the application does not access that site). It is possible to display multiple different locations on a map and to clear previously selected locations from a map. One can access Maps by:

    • Bible book: for example, one can select maps for locations that are mentioned in the book of Exodus.
    • All Maps: one can also toggle from a “Book”-based list of locations to an alphabetical list of all available locations.

The topics usually take you to a Wikipedia article. And this is why the App is rated 17+. Here’s the explanation from the developer:

Apple made me change the rating of the app to “17+” to indicate that there are “Frequent/Intense” types of “Mature/Suggestive Themes”. Their reasoning for this was:

“Our review indicates that the application content is not consistent with the current rating. HebrewBible allows unfiltered access to wikipedia.org, where content with mature or suggestive themes can be accessed.”

The map feature taps into the power of Google Earth. This is a fast map function and is actually really very easy to use. With only a few taps you can quickly find a visual reference to locations you are reading about. You can zoom in and out. Now, there may be some debate about the choices for some of the locations (as noted above, the lattitude/longitude locations are based on data from the OpenBible.info), but I really like this feature. Great in a classroom.
Google Maps Babylon  Google Maps Babylon  Google Maps Babylon
BibleReader’s BHS package does not have all these resources included (although you can find much of the same information in some of the study resources you could purchase).

While BibleReader’s fingertip resources are not as varied as HebrewBible, its search capabilities far outshine its cousin. This is where Olive Tree’s product feels more like the digital Bible tools that have sophisticated search options.
Olive Tree Search  Olive Tree Search
But be forewarned, if you are spoiled with using Accordance for searching, you will have to remember that this is not a tagged text (yet). Eventually, Olive Tree plans to expand the language tools available for BHS (parsing, lexicon, etc). I am not sure if that would be an additional package or an upgrade to the current Orig. Languages package. This could make for a very powerful tool in your pocket. Olive Tree, are you listening?

Bottom Line
Well, the bottom line may be the bottom line for you. At $46.99, Olive Tree BibleReader’s BHS is a real investment. But, you get what you pay for. You own the actual text on your iPhone and don’t have to be online to access it (and it takes less memory than if you cache individual books with HebrewBible). The text is rendered beautifully and the search capabilities are good (for when you are away from Accordance on your Mac).

However, HebrewBible gets high marks for ease of use and access to online resources with just a few taps. And, you can’t beat the price!

So, I will keep both on my iPhone. Either one is preferable to carrying around a print BHS all the time. And maybe a little less geeky. OK, maybe not.

11 thoughts on “iPhone Apps for Reading Hebrew Bible

  1. Karyn Post author

    Thanks, Stephen, for stopping by and for the encouraging news about the parsed BHS coming this fall. Sounds like it will be available at SBL?

  2. Carl Hostetter

    Thanks for these reviews, Karyn. I’d been “holding out” for an Accordance iPhone app, but since there’s still no sign of that, I’ve opted for both of these.

  3. Hebrew Scholar

    Thanks for this extremely interesting and informative article about reading the Hebrew Bible on the iPhone. The pictures of the Hebrew text told me all I had to know. The font rendering on BibleReader BHS is exceptionally clear and high quality, with all Hebrew nikud and teamim correctly positioned. Many thanks.

  4. Karyn Post author

    Thanks, Hebrew Scholar, for visiting my blog. I hope you enjoy using the iPhone app as much as I do. It is really a useful tool to have in your pocket!

  5. Stephen

    We plan on it being out by SBL. Sometimes Greek and Hebrew updates take a long time in the Apple review process. So baring a long Apple review, they should be out. If you will be at SBL this year, you should come by our booth and say hi.

    Thanks for the great review 🙂

    Senior Software Engineer
    Olive Tree Bible Software

  6. Ze'ev Clementson

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for the great review. I have been away for the past 2 weeks in Israel and Jordan and have only just read your review. Your comments on my Hebrew Bible iPhone app were all accurate. However, one thing that readers might assume from your article is that only a subset of the Bible text can be downloaded and stored locally (cached) on the iPhone. In reality, the user has the option to download either individual Bible books/chapters or entire Bibles (any or all of the eight Hebrew Bible versions that are currently supported) at no additional cost. In addition, they can download the root lookup functionality pages to provide an offline way of researching Hebrew words. If the user wants to minimize the amount of storage space taken up by the program on the iPhone, then they can choose to access all content over the Internet. For people who always have access to high-speed 3G or wifi connections or who have little remaining space on their iPhone, this makes the program usable while consuming minimal iPhone storage.

    I am looking at a number of ways to further enhance my HebrewBible application in the future and would appreciate comments/suggestions from anyone. Feel free to contact me at hebrewsoftware@gmail.com with any suggestions for improvements or enhancements.

    Shalom and best wishes,
    Ze’ev Clementson
    Clementson Consulting

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  8. Albert Ayal

    I was thinking about
    – HOK LE’YISRAEL Application
    – TIKKUN SOFRIM (mizrahi) Application

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