Visualized Bible: Cross-references Imaged

Recently the Guardian Data Blog brought together a number of data images of the Bible in a post entitled "Holy Infographics: the Bible Visualised." The above image is the first of those images. I think that the image itself is actually quite beautiful in the rainbow like arcing of color, especially when the high resolution image is viewed (find that here). The image is attributed to  

"This is about how the bible speaks to itself - or the textual cross-references within it. The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible. Books alternate between white and light gray and the length of each bar denotes the number of verses in the chapter. Each of the 63,779 cross references found in the Bible is depicted by a single arc - the color corresponds to the distance between the two chapters, creating a rainbow-like effect."

This appears to be the Guardian Data Blog description given by Mona Chalabi, although it is a rewrite of Chris Harrison's description on his website


"340,000 cross-references between the Old and New Testament." These cross-references are said to be "primarily" from the following: "public-domain sources, especially the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, which provides most of the data. It also includes data from my Topical Bible and Twitter Bible Search. I created this experiment because it was hard to find Bible cross-reference data on the web. Download all the cross-reference data (2 MB .zip)." (I am unclear as to the "I" speaking here is, re: "my Topical Bible and Twitter Bible Search"). A note at the bottom of the web page indicates that all Scripture citations are coming from the ESV, but I understand that the cross-references are drawn from a larger set of information and not necessarily from the ESV.

These two images raise a number of questions. First, we have quite a discrepancy of Bible cross-references: 63,779 to 340,000. Quite a shocking difference actually. The second question, especially with such a discrepancy, is what is being classified as a "cross-reference." In biblical studies, the issue of usage of biblical texts between Old and New Testaments is the question of whether we have a citation, an allusion, an echo, or something else. And if we have a citation or allusion or echo, are the NT authors using the Hebrew or Greek version? And what Hebrew text or Greek text? Are they the texts that we have now? For example, Matthew seems to prefer the Septuagint (Greek OT) over the Hebrew, but what OT text is he referring to in Matthew 2:23, when Matthew writes: "and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene." Scholars debate what prophet and OT passage Matthew means by this. So what is it cross-referenced to? Some Bibles will indicate multiple cross-references. If Matthew intended one and the cross-references list more than one, we already have a data difference in just one NT verse.

A third issue comes down to what the cross-references listed in various sources indicate. I have spent the most time working with ESV cross-references. And these cross-references can mean multiple things. Sometimes they are indicating citations such as Psalm 8:4-6 in Hebrews 2:8; other times allusions such as the allusion to Jacob in John 1:47. And on other occasions the cross-references are merely noting similar wording between verses even though there is no contextual similarity between the texts like the phrase "covenant of salt" in Numbers 18:19 and 1 Chronicles 13:5. I would say that this latter example is not "the Bible speaking to itself" but rather similar language found within the Bible. 

A fourth issue can be found in cross-references within books of the Bible. With the ESV references in particular, when the first instance of a phrase occurs in a book, say "the Son of Man" in Mark, the cross-references listed here may list all or most of the instances of the phrase in the rest of Mark or just the next instance. Then the next may only list the cross-references to the next, thereby creating a chain of references. Each reference may only be linked to one or two others when in reality there are many more uses of similar language. This way of listing cross-references would create the sort of asymmetry between OT and NT mentioned in the description of the second image (the red and blue one) above found at OpenBible.info. In other words if similar language is all that is being referred to the OT passages may list cross-references to the NT but not the other way or vice-versa. And again, this does not mean no cross-reference exists. It just means the source one is looking at does not list a cross-reference.  

These sorts of images would actually be more helpful and worthwhile if they focused primarily on citations of the OT in the NT rather than all similarities of language and other aspects within the Bible. There is more agreed upon data to work with in citations (although the line between citation and allusion can be debated). Cross-references on the other hand are more often in the eye of the beholder or editor. 

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