In 2005, after beginning the second year of my MA, I was introduced to Dr. Robert Hiebert of ACTS seminary–a consortium of seminaries under the Trinty Western University umbrella. I was asked to become part of a project for which he was editor. The project was to create for publication a critical edition of a mostly unfamiliar work to me, the book of 4 Maccabees; a work composed in the first century around the same time or slightly before that of the writing of the Gospels that is included with the books of the Septuagint–the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and the scripture used by the New Testament writers and the early church.
While much can be said about all that encompasses the creation of a critical edition, in short, it is the undertaking to collect and compare all copies of a given book and to attempt to establish the most likely original text. This task is difficult in that manuscripts preserving the text often differ from one another in the text they preserve due to changes that were introduced intentionally and accidentally as they were copied by hand. For instance, It was not uncommon for Greek terms that were antiquated to be updated with modern equivalents so that the meaning of the text would not be lost on the contemporary audience who did not have recourse to the vast information on the Internet or even a dictionary to examine the meaning of old words–think of how English has changed in even the last one hundred years and then imagine how Greek might have evolved over the hundreds of years in which these texts were passed down. Needless to say, the endeavor of comparing all the copies of a book and, noting all the instances where and how they differ and then establishing the most likely original text is not a task to be taken lightly nor one that is done easily.
Shortly after becoming involved with this project I proposed that the creation of a database and software could help us understand the textual history of the book and how the text was transmitted. This was a new way to approach this task that had been previously done with a word processors like Microsoft Word and an intimate knowledge of the text. Quantitative data to substantiate decisions on which manuscripts were most alike was based on many hours of counting similarities, a task I hoped to accomplish by leveraging computing power. As not all of the information from the comparisons of manuscripts ends up in the final print edition of a critical edition, the advantage of my proposal was that all the data would be preserved and accessed in one location for evaluation at anytime with the ability to select only that which one required for output in the final print edition. And so began my foray into software creation.
Phase 1 (2005-2008)
Much of 2005 and 2006 was spent transcribing all the handwritten data collected by the Septuagint Institute in Göttingen Germany, for whom the publication is being done, electronically. In 2007 I was introduced, through a friend, to a company in Vancouver that develops web-based software and came to an arrangement with them to develop the database and statistical software I required. By July 2007 the data was imported and we were seeing the results from using the software, which proved to be very helpful and exciting. Dr. Hiebert and I presented on both the results and the software at an international conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia in July 2007.
Phase 2 (2008-2009)
In 2008 I created a project plan to develop a user-interface (UI) to allow for the ability to edit the data in the database and put it out to be bid on. Thanks to grant money awarded to Dr. Robert Hiebert for his research we proceeded to hire a software developer who bid on the project in October 2008. He worked with us until July 2009 and provided us with the ability to edit the data and to output it in a format that partially conformed to the publication requirements of the Göttingen print editions. During this time in April 2008 Rob and I presented on his work on the book of 4 Maccabees and the development of the software at the 100th year anniversary of the Göttingen Septuagint Institute during which time my daughter Shayla was born. Also during this time, Rob Hiebert began planning for writing a commentary on the Septuagint book of Genesis for the SBLCS (Society of Biblical Studies Commentary on the Septuagint), which led me to explore the possibilities of expanding the web application to facilitate his work on the commentary. Work began on the design of the commentary module and was reported on at an international conference in Helsinki, Finland in 2010 following a paper on research related to the text module and Rob’s research on 4 Maccabees.
Phase 3 (2009-present)
September 2009 proved the beginning of an amazing adventure that has defined our work until this day. It began with the renaming of the software to WATER (Web Application for Textual and Exegetical Research–water.twu.ca) and a change in developers. Over the previous couple of years I had ongoing discussions about the project with my bother, David, who was enrolled in a computer science degree at The Kings University College in Edmonton, Alberta. By September of 2009 he was far enough along in his degree to take over the development of WATER and use his work on it for two practicums and one research project. Much of his work for his practicums involved adding new and correcting old functionality in the system the previous developer had constructed. During this time much discussion emerged concerning the expandability of the current system with the conclusion that it was very rigid, not easy to expand and not well organized. At this time it was also only capable of supporting one project and had limited security, which was a significant problem in that I intended for it to be used for other critical editions of the Göttingen Septuagint–in particular the challenging book of Psalms with its more than 1000 manuscripts–and the creation of commentaries. After much thinking and discussion we decided that that only way to move forward was to start from scratch and redevelop the application for the ground up. This redevelopment has taken us to the present time with many delays and changes along the way. As of August 2013 we had the first signs of a new viable application that will eventually allow us to do all that we required. We have been able to move all the old data to our new system and are in the midst of editing the data while putting the new system through its paces. We hope to be able to extend an invitation to a select few to test how it works and provide feedback soon.
The Next Steps
We hope to wrap up phase 3 of development by the end of October 2013 and begin developing UI for the companion commentary module. Along with this we hope to also release a free and publicly available Greek online lexicon wiki to enable those with knowledge of Greek from around the world to begin a collaborative effort to add to the knowledge of the Greek words used in the Septuagint. My hopes are that this will form one of the authoritative works used by any who pursue to engage with the Greek of the Septuagint or of the New Testament and related literature. Most important to me is that is facilitate discussion of the language and create an interest in studying it.