Friday, November 21, 2008

Referencing the Bible: Multicolor Edition

Reference Rainbow
Graphic by Chris Harrison
Carnegie Mellon University
(Image from Christianity Today)

In "Reference Rainbow," Christianity Today (November 20, 2008) links to the above image of cross-references among the Bible's 1,189 chapters.

I'll let the Christianity Today provide the brief explanation:
When Christoph Römhild, a Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, Germany, sent Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. student Chris Harrison a list of 63,779 cross-references between the Bible's 1,189 chapters, the two became enthralled with elegantly showing the interconnected nature of Scripture. Each bar along the horizontal axis represents a chapter, with the length determined by the number of verses. (Books alternate in color between white and light gray.) Colors represent the distance between references. The graph won an honorable mention in the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Science journal.
I presume that "[e]ach bar along the horizontal axis" refers to each of the vertical bars hanging like stalactites from the horizontal line that serves as the base for the reference rainbow. Each stalactite is a chapter whose length correlates to the number of verses in that chapter with cross-references to other chapters in the Bible. These chapters belong to books in the Bible, of course, and the dividing line between books is indicated where the stalactites change from white to light gray (which cannot be seen here but can be viewed perfectly well at Chris Harrison's website Visualizing the Bible). The varying colors of the various arcs represent distances between the cross-referenced chapters, but I haven't quite figured out the color sequence . . . though I suppose that it follows the color spectrum.

The result is rather beautiful, but I'm not quite sure what it truly represents, for I don't know how "cross-reference" was defined, so I don't know what the 63,779 cross-references signify.

Direct quotes should be fairly simple to cross-reference -- but what about the synoptic gospels? If one accepts that Matthew and Luke used Mark, then arcs need to indicate links between Matthew and Mark and between Luke and Mark, but what about between Matthew and Luke? If these two texts were composed independently, then neither one was cross-referencing the other. To draw arcs between them, in that case, would mean that the graphic represents not authorial cross-referencing but reader cross-referencing.

If non-quotes are also cross-referenced, then the graphic becomes even more subjective and therefore obscure in significance.

Let me explain one problem by refering to one of the illustrations. Look at that longest stalactite, the one near the center of the horizontal line. Which book of the Bible does that chapter belong to? What does its great length mean? Quotes? Also paraphrases? Even vague allusions?

Another problem that occurs to me is the sequence of books. Does this follow the biblical order? Which Bible? Does it include the Apocrypha? And what about Jude's reference to the Book of Enoch?

The questions just pile up . . . and perhaps deserve a graph of their own.

But maybe I'm being a quibbler here, for the result is quite lovely to contemplate.

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