Leveraging Competence into Excellence: A Review of Nota Bene 7.0
David might not have been the delicate amateur who knocked out the gigantic warrior. He was the ingenious underdog who disregarded the traditional rules of close-quarter combat, leaving his mainstream, albeit extraordinary, opponent with little chance of success. A word processing software that continues to provide word-smiths with an unsurpassed amount of control of words, phrases, languages, text retrieval, bibliographies, formats, and documents since 1983 evokes this classic story of cleverness triumphing over brute power. While David had abundant public relations people who spread his fame in the biblical period, the merits of Nota Bene are not sufficiently known beyond the present international community of scholars who regard Nota Bene as the Cadillac, or BMW, of word processing programs.
Nota Bene's Scholar's Workstation — version 7.0 was introduced in late 2003 — is an integrated suite of three programs: a word processor with specialized features designed for scholars; Ibidem, the citation and bibliography manager, expanded to include IbidPlus, a customizable database program that can range from addresses, telephone numbers, and record collections to interview summaries; and Orbis, a multi-file search and text retrieval program. The Lingua Workstation adds multilingual word processing capability in Greek, Hebrew, and Cyrillic, along with the International Phonetic Alphabet; extended alphabets expand the range of languages integrated in the Workstation to Coptic, Syriac, Ugaritic and Akkadian (these are optional modules). Hebrew (and Syriac) not only handles right-to-left text entry, including correct automatic word wrapping, but can moreover be mixed with left-to-right text on the same line.
Before I describe some of the specialized features that are of immense benefit to Biblical scholars, it should be pointed out that the creators of Nota Bene — scholars designing software for scholars — presume that the users of the program suite are intelligent academics who more often than not want to adapt the program to their specific needs. While many of the well-known commercial programs essentially provide default settings that can be customized only within narrow parameters, Nota Bene allows the user constant access to code parameters, inviting him or her to customize anything from keyboard layouts, document formats, entry templates of the bibliography manager to headers, footers, and footnotes. The exercise of freedom is sometimes difficult, but the dialogues and the help files that Nota Bene provides make such tasks manageable even for academics who do not regard themselves as software or programming experts. À propos help, Nota Bene comes not only with tutorials and sample files but also provides printable help files that allow the novice to print his or her own 570 page manual (a PDF version of the printable help files designed to be printed with 2 pages on each sheet can be downloaded from the Nota Bene web site). The Nota Bene screen signals to users of other Windows programs that the focus is unequivocally on word processing and text manipulation: the icons do not access graphic oriented features such as "clip art" but dialogues which control the formats of texts and the layout of documents.
Steve Siebert, the brain behind Nota Bene, informs me that the single biggest challenge that they have is to convince people that the program is not only useful for high-end users but can be readily adopted by the average user. It is indeed true that Nota Bene is easy enough to use "out of the box," without requiring any complicated customizations: the defaults that the program offers probably serve the vast majority of users just fine.
The power of Nota Bene is best illustrated using a specific example. Assume that you want to research and write a project on Noah in biblical and extra-biblical traditions. The first task might involve establishing a preliminary collection of primary texts: the relevant texts from Babylonian sources such as the Sumerian Deluge Story, the Gilgamesh Epic XI, the Atrahasis Epic, the Enki and Nimnah story; Israelite and early Jewish texts including Gen 5; 6-9; 1 Chron 1, Isa 54, Ezek 14; Tob 4, Sir 44, Wis 4, Apoc. Abr., Apoc. Adam, 3 Baruch, 1-3 Enoch, 4 Ezra, Jubilees, Pseudo-Philo, Sib. Or., T. Isaac, 1Q19, 1QapGen, Aramaic Levi, 4Q534, early synagogal prayers; New Testament texts such as Mt 24, Lk 3, 17, Heb 11, 1 Pet 3, 2 Pet 2; Jewish sources such as the Sefer ha-Razim, the Targum and rabbinic literature; and patristic sources. If your expertise includes, besides Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, also Ugaritic, Akkadian, Latin, Coptic, and Syriac, Nota Bene allows you to write the primary texts in the original languages and to provide for the uninitiated transliterated texts and translations. To type in Hebrew, you select the Hebrew alphabet with Ctrl+Shift+H; Ctrl+Shift+G selects the Greek alphabet, the extended alphabets are accessed via Ctrl+Shift+X. The compose key F6 provides a quick and powerful way of entering a wide variety of specialized characters — accents and other diacritical marks to letters in the Roman, Hebrew, Greek or Cyrillic alphabets (multiple accents can be added to virtually any letter in virtually any combination). You can cut and paste text into Nota Bene files from other software, such as Bible Works, Gramcord, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, and PHI 7. If you want to provide comments on the texts and the translations, Nota Bene allows you to have up to three independent sets of footnotes in the same document, e.g. for text-critical issues, for lexical matters, and for comments on the scholarly debate; you can make decisions about the style and format of each set independently: you could have two sets of lettered footnotes printed at the bottom of the page and another set of numbered notes printed at the end of the document. Since Nota Bene has an add-on component that allows you to print PDF files, you will be able to share your documents which contain foreign language characters with other scholars, with your students via your website on the internet, or with your publisher. Alternately, you can share your Nota Bene files as RTF files, whose superb filter supports export to Unicode, Linguist's Software fonts, and the SBL fonts.
Secondly, you would want to compile a bibliography. Having worked with Nota Bene since 1987 as a New Testament scholar, and never having done any research on Noah, a simple search for "Noah" in my Ibidem general bibliography (in which I have accumulated 34,000 records) yields about 50 titles, mostly in the area of Second Temple Judaism and New Testament studies. A meticulous use of the keyword field makes Ibidem an extremely helpful tool for creating bibliographies (for research projects, syllabi, lists of commentaries, etc.). This initial bibliography would have to be expanded through bibliographical searches in various databases and in published monographs and articles on Noah and related subjects. Ibidem allows the import of bibliographic data from BookWhere, EndNote, ProCite, Citation, and custom formats. Bibliographic "hits" found through BookWhere 4.2 (from WebClarity Software), an add-on to Nota Bene sold by the company, which searches over 1,800 databases in libraries in the US and abroad via the internet that use the Z39.50 protocol and is regularly updated, can be exported into Ibidem, which makes it possible to grow one's electronic bibliography easily and rapidly, without typing a single word (apart from the keyword field). You can select the publishing style for in-text citations (there are options for footnote/endnote, short form, or reference number formats) for numerous journals and professional associations, including MLA, Chicago, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, SBL Handbook, Turabian, and for the "reference list," e.g. the bibliography at the end of the book that you are writing. The footnote/endnote style list presently has 308 items, and there are another couple of hundred short-form formats. If you happen to be the editor of a journal whose citation style is not included, the chances are good that the Nota Bene programmers will be more than willing to include it as a new document style in the next update.
Thirdly, you compile research notes on Noah, as well as lectures, essays and articles that you have written or intend to write on relevant texts and related topics. The Orbis search and text retrieval module gives you instant access to thousands of pages of existing text and research notes, lectures, book reviews, lists, paragraphs from previous papers and chapters of books. Multiple documents can be searched simultaneously with the results displayed for easy reference or retrieved for use in a current document — up to 1,000 files in each of 1,000 folders can be searched simultaneously. Orbis allows you to find any term, phrase or paragraph which you have ever written. In addition to single word, wildcard, and Boolean searches, Orbis allows concept based searches based on synonym lists (called "Nexus" in earlier versions); you could use the synonym list to retrieve all entries dealing with Noah — entries that include words like flood, ark, Shem, covenant, judgment, etc. You can create specialized databases for particular projects: the features of Orbis permitted powerful searches of the files belonging to a 1,800 page project that I have just completed, enabling me, e.g., to locate doublets that needed to be weeded out, to coordinate arguments in different sections of the book, and to harmonize spellings of ancient place names (and publishers). Orbis also allows searches of Bible versions and Greek and Hebrew texts, available from Nota Bene.
Fourth, when you are ready to write up the results of your research, you need to decide which document or publishing style you want (or need) to adopt. Nota Bene's Document Framework feature allows you to insert a "framework"in your document — the formats of the academic style manuals of APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian, several document outline structures from a Framework Library (standard, paragraph, legal), or user defined frameworks. The outline format activates framework controls that can be used to insert and to move, promote or demote outline points; Nota Bene automatically numbers and letters outline points in accordance with the framework that has been chosen. Standard and customized snaking columns, cellular tables and bulleted items can most easily be created within a document. Since the integration of graphics images into Nota Bene documents is possible only since version 6 of the software, there are still limitations in how this is handled.
Fifth, if your publisher requests that you submit a camera-ready or printer-ready copy of your "Noah," there will be no stipulation that Nota Bene is not able to fulfill. If your publisher asks you to send an electronic copy of your work, Nota Bene allows you to convert your files to many different formats, including MS Word, WordPerfect, and, most importantly, RTF (and, as an add-on, PDF).
Nota Bene is, without question, unrivalled in its dedication to serving the needs of academics who teach, research, and write. There is no other word processing program that comes even close to Nota Bene's combined and integrated features of writing, organizing, presenting and editing texts and documents. As David was convinced that he would be able to meet the challenge set before him triumphantly because he single-mindedly focused on the task at hand, so Nota Bene gives its users the confidence that they will get things right—from the first sentence to the last footnote, from the title page to the indexes. For more information, see http://www.notabene.com
Eckhard J. Schnabel is Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL.
Citation: Eckhard J. Schnabel, " Leveraging Competence into Excellence: A Review of Nota Bene 7.0," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited May 2004]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=265