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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bible study goes digital

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By Jeff Kunerth
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Nelson Saba, CEO of Immersion Digital, shows off Glo's screen buttons that offer varied ways to browse Scripture, and additional features.


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ORLANDO, Fla. For a generation growing up with digital media, the word printed on paper has little appeal even if it's the word of God.

It's for them that an Orlando, Fla., company came up with the multimedia digital Glo Bible.

"You have entire generations of people that don't engage paper very well," said Nelson Saba, founder of Immersion Digital. "If you look at Bible literacy among younger generations, it's dismal. This is designed to be a digital alternative to the paper Bible."

A Gallup poll in 2000 found that about a quarter of people ages 18-29 read the Bible weekly about half the rate of those 65 or older. Part of that, Saba contends, is that generation's aversion to the printed word.

"There is nothing wrong with paper. I have lots of paper Bibles, but it's just not the media they engage," Saba said.

The Glo, released in October, recently won the Bible of the Year award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

The company is now working on an application that will allow Glo to go mobile. By the end of the year, Glo software will be available on iPhones and iPads, Nelson said.

"The paper Bible, you have to carry it with you," Saba said. "The biggest advantage of Glo is you can access the Bible through whatever device you have in your hands."

Glo is currently available only for personal computers, but the intent from its inception was to apply it to mobile devices, Saba said.

Saba said he experienced a religious conversion in 1994. Two years later, he left his corporate career as a technology executive in a financial institution to join a company that conceived the Glo's predecessor, the iLumina. The iLumina, released in 2002, has many of the same features as the Glo but was aimed at households as biblical-reference material, more of an encyclopedia than an interactive Bible, said Saba, who started Immersion Digital in 2008.

The Glo has buttons that allow users to explore the Bible through text, a biblical timeline, an atlas and specific topics. You can select a topic such as "parenting," and the software will produce all Scripture referring to parenting. You can see an aerial map of Jerusalem, zoom down to a specific spot, such as the Dome of the Rock, and take a virtual tour inside the shrine.

The Glo has 7,000 articles, 2,000 high-definition images and more than 500 virtual tours.

"I think the appeal is in this Internet society people need to see things visually," said Skip Brown, a customer service representative at Long's Christian Book and Outlet store in Altamonte Springs. "You can get a feeling for what it was like in Christ's time, what Jerusalem looked like, what the streets looked like."

The Glo sells for $80, about the same as a leather-bound Bible or an illustrated study Bible. The downside of the Glo, Brown said, is that it requires a high-power computer with a fast processor and the visual-memory capacity of a video-game system.

"The plus of this is for people who want to study God's word in a multimedia fashion and understand the concepts visually," Brown said.

Tech-savvy churches have started using the digital Bible in their services.

In Lake Nona, Fla., the Rev. John Rallison of Journey of Life Lutheran Church uses Glo in his Sunday sermons to project maps on screens in the front of his church. The Glo allows him to zoom down from an aerial perspective to street level. He can show worshippers what a particular place looked like in Jesus' time and what it looks like today as an archaeological site.

The Glo not only supplements his paper Bible, Rallison said, but also the more expensive scholarly biblical software and the electronic-text versions of the Bible he has on his laptop and personal computer. At 43, he finds himself using his printed Bible less and less.