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Word Games For Learning Biblical Languages | Eep Talstra Centre for Bible and Computer

When I was young I used to do wordsearch puzzles all the time. They were of course in my native language, English. But they helped me learn to recognise many words very quickly and to pick them out of a page. In learning the languages of the bible one thing that is often hard to come by is common use of the language – use just as one would use any living language. Ultimately it is everyday familiarity and use of the languages, real competence with them, that one wants. In this vein then I was interested in creating puzzles that would develop the same facility with biblical languages that one develops with ones’ native tongue. Puzzles such as wordsearches, crosswords, anagrams and many others help one develop such skills.

In order to do the same thing in biblical languages I needed a text that was queryable programmatically and some code to layout the result.

A couple of years ago now I discovered ETCBC’s Text-Fabric, a Python framework for working with morphologically tagged Hebrew and Greek bible texts. This enabled me to create a Python based wordsearch generator using Text-Fabric behind the scenes to retrieve the words from the user selected bible verses. Currently, the wordsearch interface provides only the selection of words on the basis of verse references. However, this barely scratches the surface of the data in the ETCBC data sets. One could easily expand the input criteria to select words based on part of speech, gender, number, lexeme and much more, customizing the wordsearches to drill recognition of specific types of words.

For the technically inclined, this is implemented as a pair of lambda functions (one for Greek and one for Hebrew) on Amazon Lambda called via the API Gateway. This is perhaps not the ideal use of a lambda function as the response time is a little long, particularly for the Greek. No doubt a little performance tweak here or there will assist. In addition the model might suit a batch style of request and response via email approach quite well.

While, this is at present little more than a proof of concept you can create Greek and Hebrew wordsearches from a selection of verses in the Greek or Hebrew bible texts. Future plans include broadening the search criteria beyond simple verse references, so that one may create a wordsearch for nouns, or participles, and so on. I would also like to create other word games based on this library, such as those mentioned above. Hopefully this will provide a fun way for people to spend a little more time with Greek and Hebrew.

The wordsearches may be accessed at http://puzzles.fortysevenrooks.com/wordsearch.html .