Gutenberg's digital descendant spreads the word
February 7 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Gutenberg's digital descendant spreads the word | Friday, Feb. 7, 2003

Friday, Feb. 7, 2003

Gutenberg's digital descendant spreads the word

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

When Johann Gutenberg built his printing press and started publishing books in 1450, Bibles were painstakingly copied by hand. Only a privileged few had access to scripture, most of them priests.

One of Gutenberg's primary goals was to make the Bible available to the masses.

"Let us break the seal which binds these holy things;" he wrote. "Let us give wings to truth that it may fly with the Word, no longer prepared at vast expense, but multitudes everlastingly by a machine which never wearies to every soul which enters life."

More than 500 years later, a spiritual descendant of Gutenberg is doing his own part to distribute scripture more cheaply and widely, this time via a Bible study software program distributed freely over the Internet.

Rick Meyers, a California native who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., says that his spiritual gift is teaching - and that he has a God-given desire to program computers.

Dissatisfied with commercial Bible study programs, Meyers decided to write his own. He started writing code in January 2000, completed e-Sword version 1.0 by April, and immediately posted it on the Internet. By September, he had upgraded to version 2.0, and users were beginning to discover the program.

A third version followed in January 2001, and soon there was so much demand that Meyers had to find greater bandwidth for his server. Favorable reviews drove more traffic to the site. Version 4.0 appeared in May, and by June 2001 more than 100,000 users had downloaded the program.

As demand continued, Meyers found a series of supportive friends to donate server space and bandwidth, moving from a T-1 to a T-3 line, then ultimately to Columbus, Ohio-based Fiber Network Solutions, which provides access to a Tier One national Internet backbone.

In November of 2001, the company Meyers worked for went bankrupt, and Meyers began working on e-Sword full-time. He still offers the program at no cost, though users are invited to make donations to "Equipping Ministries Foundation," a non-profit organization he founded to support the ministry.

Meyers continued to add features to the program through 2002 - now up to version 6.5 - with downloads growing. "Every day, users download more than 2,000 copies of the base program and about 700,000 additional files are downloaded each month," he said.

The program allows users to download separate modules, choosing which Bible translations and study resources they want. Since the program is free, most of the translations and study materials offered are in the public domain, and many popular translations are unavailable.

Still, users can choose from more than 40 different Bible translations in 14 languages, including versions in Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, and most European languages. The King James Version is available with Strong's numbers, which key the text to dictionary references showing the underlying Hebrew or Greek word.

Potential add-ons include multiple commentaries and Bible dictionaries, an atlas, charts, and artwork related to the Bible.

The on-screen layout provides quick and intuitive access to most of the program's features, and extensive help is available.

A built-in word-processor allows users to import text, add their own notes, highlight key passages and print. A new feature includes a pop-up daily calendar with a place to record and follow-up on prayer requests.

Meyers is gratified that e-Sword provides a free alternative to commercial Bible study programs, which can cost hundreds of dollars. But he is even more excited about the accessibility of e-Sword in countries that normally frown on Bible distribution.

Since the program requires only a PC and an Internet connection, people who once took their lives in hand to obtain smuggled Bibles can now take their mouse in hand and download scripture in their own language at no cost and less risk.

In November 2002, for example, Meyers told the Biblical Recorder that Chinese modules were downloaded more than 5,000 times, and Russian modules were downloaded more than 2,000 times.

Users from more than 100 countries on six continents have downloaded the program, Meyers says, with total downloads now exceeding 800,000.

Papa Gutenberg would be proud.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - readers can access and download e-Sword from its website at www.e-sword.net)

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2/7/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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