Finding Hebrew (and Multilingual) Bibles

In the process of learning Biblical Hebrew, I had to solve the problem of how to read the Hebrew Bible. I needed one or more good Hebrew Bibles for several reasons:
  • To work through class reading assignments,
  • As a tool for language-learning, practice, and word-study,
  • Because the goal of learning the language in the first place was to be able to read the Hebrew Bible, so a good Bible should take its place on my shelf long term as a primary reading source
Note that we are only talking about the Old Testament at the moment, the books originally written in Hebrew (and Aramaic). Hebrew translations of the New Testament exist, but that is a separate subject.

The Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia (BHS) and BHK

Dr. Barick's OT 503 course required a copy of the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia, or BHS, so this became an obvious priority. The BHS is the current standard academic Hebrew Bible. It is a critical edition of the Leningrad Codex of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew books of the Old Testament). A critical edition is an authoritative edition of one particular text. This is to be contrasted with a "polyglot" which is an edition pieced together from multiple texts. The Medieval Leningrad Codex is not the earliest Hebrew Bible we have, but it is the most complete one. Rudolf Kittel attempted to edit and produce such a critical edition of the Leningrad Codex with the Masoretic notations ('critical aparatus', the inline 'lesser Masoreh' and the separate commentary of the 'greater Masoreh') but died before completing the work. His partial work was known as the Biblia Hebraica Kittel or BHK. The BHS is the successor to that Bible.

Bound BHS, BHK, or BHQ

New bound copies of the BHS are available for order but are expensive, so looking for a good used copy is an alternative. The text, especially the tiny vowel markings and accents can be hard to read, so it is well worth getting a hard-bound large print edition. The full text, especially in large text, is very large, however, so it is not portable nor even useful for, say reading while sick in bed. The newest edition of the Biblia Hebraica, the Quinta or BHQ is available in folios, or smaller, separate volumes as they are being completed. A BHQ of just Genesis is much more portable than a full BHS. Obtaining each volume of the BHQ, however, currently around $70 each, can quickly become a small fortune.
Personally, I watched for a time until I could find a good used large print BHS and was happy with the result. The BHS is intended for people with any number of native languages. Make sure your used copy comes with the English index and reference insert!
If you are not required to have the newer BHS, you may also find a used BHK for very little money. Again, prefer the larger print editions: even if you have good eyesight now, you won't when you are done, and mistaking subtle markings can be maddening to the student! Think about possibilities for a stand or display both to make reading easier and to display your Bible.

Multi-lingual or Parallel Bibles

Some years ago, I found a multi-lingual Genesis/Exodus with the Hebrew Text (based on the BHK) in the center. A word-for-word translation to English was provided underneath each line and two columns gave different English translations alongside. It also had a decent Hebrew language reference at the front. This was an excellent early learning tool, before I had a handle on the Hebrew grammar. You can quickly see both the way the Hebrew scribe ordered the text and the way different translators chose to represent the concepts in English. Multilingual editions of the full BHS are available as well as various Hebrew (OT)/Greek (NT)/English Bibles. Clearly any multilingual text has to either have smaller printing, larger size, or both as compared to a single language Bible.
As my familiarity with the language grew, I found the inline presentation distracting: it got in the way of seeing and reading the Hebrew for itself. As I needed a BHS edition for the class, anyway, I opted to go for a Hebrew-only Bible for my normal reading (with lexicons and references as necessary alongside) and looked for an electronic multi-language text (see below) for learning. I found a good home for my interlinear to get someone else started.

Electronic Bibles are Portable and Flexible

For more casual/portable reading, an electronic text has certain advantages. Sometimes, you can access one for free, such as the Hebrew text in BibleHub or Bible Gateway. Both of these have Android apps. You can then access the text anywhere, although you will want to read the app fineprint to find out if you need an Internet connection or not. I found the BibleHub app useful for some time. Note that neither of them are BHS Hebrew texts and you may have issues with fonts using them in a web browser, but being able to turn on and off the parallel English text, make the text larger or smaller as needed, and follow links to look up words is fantastically convenient. Unlike a printed multi-lingual text, you can focus on what you need at any particular moment.
The German Bible Society has on online Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia which can be accessed by signing up for a free account (donation appreciated). The text is decent quality, there are instructions for fixing font issues (see also my Hebrew/Greek Font Page), it is easy to navigate, and one can flip through different translations.
Similarly, Sefaria has an extensive community-supported library of Hebrew/English resources, including the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) TaNaKh and commentaries. The text can be viewed online with several different layout options. The column format with English on the right and Hebrew on the left, verse numbers in the center, is very natural to read. It is straight-forward to navigate and high quality given the same potential font issues as the German Bible Society's BHS. Going to the Table of Contents link takes you to a menu of different source texts, translations, commentaries, and download options for offline work. With an account (free), you can save notes and bookmarks. This is one of the best sources I have found for searching and reading the Hebrew commentaries.
There are Kindle(tm) or other e-book Hebrew Bibles or interlinears available, often with included concordance and lexicon. Although they work, and I paid for a few, I found them to be clunky. It is usually not possible to turn text features like translations and commentary on or off, navigation is often difficult, searching and indexing may be fragile (I have not found any such text in which I can enter and search Hebrew text reliably). Free e-texts or scans of the BHK are common. I have found that dedicated Bible Reading Apps to be the better route.
Aside from the BibleHub and Bible Gateway apps mentioned above, there are a number of other options. I use Linux on my desktop and laptop, so I use Xiphos, a free Sword-compatible application with many texts, commentaries, and resources available. E-sword is popular on Windows. Most of the time I use the MySword Bible application on an Android tablet (or sometimes on the phone). MySword includes access to a BHS module (several choices, actually, donated by the German Bible Society) and a number of other Greek, Hebrew, and English texts of varying quality. MySword is a free application with basic features. You can access more advanced features by donating to their project (which I do periodically), including parallel text options, adding your own notes, selectable fonts, reading plans, dictionaries, and commentaries, etc.
When not specifically reading the BHS text for class, I often switch between Tanakh+ (Hebrew), the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (ABP, Greek), and the English Revised Version (ERV). There is no NIV available for this program due to copyright restrictions. I can readily look up entries in Strong's, the BDB/Thayer Lexicon, Benner's Hebrew-Greek Lexicon of the Old Testament, or Benner's Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible (AHLB) or switch to viewing any of several dozen commentaries. There are some quality issues with the lexicons and they do not match my printed editions, but they are excellent for looking up words in multiple references quickly: I can then go to the shelf and get the real book to follow up something particularly interesting. I can also make notes in the built-in journal or cut-and-paste text into Evernote (usually, anyway: sometimes cut-and-paste behaves oddly).
Another decent option on Android/iPhone is Olive Tree's Bible App. Anyone old enough to remember Palm Pilots may recall that Olive Tree has been doing electronic Bible references for a long time-- and doing it well. Olive Tree has a very high quality, polished app which makes MySword look clunky by comparison. They also have access to a very good quality BHS, NIV, and ESV, texts difficult to find in other apps. I like Olive Tree's app very much-- but I seldom use it because I passionately dislike their licensing for individual texts. The basic app comes with some free texts, piggybacking on the same kind of content which people have produced for the various sword-type apps over the years, but you are limited to what Olive Tree chooses to let you access rather than installing modules from community archives. Olive Tree then lets you purchase some very good texts from their store, but they are expensive and limited to their app. If I buy a NIV or a decent lexicon through their app, I can only access it in their app. If I decide to use something else over time, I lose the text forever. Personally, I don't mind paying money for a good religious text, but if I do, I want to know I can keep it.
If these restrictions do not bother you, Olive Tree is the way to go, but I would rather deal with the slight quirkiness of MySword Bible and know I can use their open-format content whatever I do in the future. I can then donate the money I would have spent to several different projects.

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