Blog RSS Feed

Archive for the ‘Visualizations’ Category

The four kinds of one-year Bible reading plans

Thursday, December 29th, 2016 currently has 91 yearlong reading plans. By graphing these plans with time on the x-axis (January on the left, December on the right) and verse on the y-axis (Genesis at the bottom, Revelation at the top), we can divide them into four categories, labeled below:

An 8x12 grid of 91 reading plans.

First are continuous plans, which proceed in a sequential pattern through the Bible. They’re at the top of the above chart, characterized visually by strong lines proceeding from the lower left (January / Genesis) to the upper right (December / Revelation). They tend to cover substantial portions of the Bible, usually either the whole Bible or the complete New Testament. They generally ask you to read four or fewer distinct passages per day, with each passage about a chapter long.

Next are semi-continuous plans, which are the hardest kind to define. They feature stretches of reading that immediately follow from what you’ve just read, coupled with days of reading that are… not what you just read. You can see some lines go up to the left, similar to the continuous plans, and then they stop or dissolve into smaller sections. Defining a continuous vs. a semi-continuous plan is a matter of opinion; you could argue that some of the plans I’ve classified here as semi-continuous should be continuous. The most-interesting one to me is #34, the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office, whose pattern follows the liturgical year and doesn’t resemble any other plan on the chart. (Ten years ago I plotted both years of the Book of Common Prayer on a similar chart.)

Third are chronological plans, identifiable by their unique pattern of parallel passages in Kings and Chronicles (the parallel orange lines). Not all plans in this category are strictly chronological, but they have a similar organizing principle that produces the recognizable pattern of parallel paths.

Last are selections, which follow no discernible pattern and typically involve shorter readings–a few verses from multiple places in the Bible rather than reading full chapters. This kind of plan often includes devotional content related to the selected verses. The average plan in this category covers about 1,800 verses per year, or about 6% of the Bible’s 31,000 verses.

All the plans together

Here’s what all 91 plans look like overlaid on each other:

Paths radiate from Genesis in January to Revelation in December.

Paths radiate from Genesis in January through Job later in the year, varying mostly in the pace you’re reading the bulk of the Old Testament. In other words, if your reading plan starts by reading Genesis at the beginning of the year, you’re likely to proceed sequentially through the Old Testament until you reach Psalms. Similarly, paths converge on Malachi and Revelation in December.

Where are the digital-first plans?

The similarity among these plans suggests to me that they originate from a print-first mindset: what’s convenient to read in a physical Bible. You’re not, for example, going to flip to passages all over your print Bible every day unless you have unusually strong dedication to your reading plan.

But digital reading plans don’t have this limitation. Thanks to transclusion, a digital plan can collect content from all over the Bible (and elsewhere) and show it to you in one place, which means you can read much more widely on a single day if you like.

For example: let’s read through the Gospels chronologically in one year–that’s about ten verses a day–and also include ten cross-references for each verse every day. During a year, you read 14,104 different verses, or just under half the Bible. Here’s what the plan looks like schematically; you can see the paths through the Gospels, and overall it doesn’t look like any other plan:

The chronological Gospels plan shows a different pattern from other reading plans.

And here’s what the content for a single verse from one day’s reading could look like (because there’s so much related text for each verse, this plan requires a little information design): the current Gospel verse is at the top. Below it are three columns: one for Old Testament references, one for other Gospel references, and one for non-Gospel New Testament references. I also included the same color-coding as in the other charts in this post.

Matthew 5:5 with three columns of text.

Beyond transclusion, interactivity is a key property of digital systems. You could add interactivity by allowing the plan follower (with an interactive plan, they’re not just a “reader”) to configure the number of cross-references they read. Or tapping a cross-reference could open other verses they’ve read or will read as part of the plan–letting them explore more deeply and follow patterns as they desire. Adding interactivity to a system opens new avenues for insight.

Reading plans for augmented reality or audio-only interfaces will similarly vary in form from existing print-based plans. I would suggest that they will probably be even more conversational and dynamic than what I describe here.

I don’t know what shape future digital Bible reading plans will take, and the current approach of converting print-first plans to digital will certainly persist. But new digital-first reading plans will also come into being, and it’s important to experiment with what new technologies allow.

Visualizing Bible chapter similarity with Quid

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Quid, a natural-language processing and visualization startup*, last month produced a network graph of chapter similarity in the King James Bible. It does a good job clustering the gospels and epistles in the New Testament, though I might argue that you can largely distinguish them simply by the presence of “Jesus +said” vs. “Jesus -said”. Their full post details their methodology and colors the same visualization several different ways, including by sentiment and by popularity.

Read the article on Quid's site.
Credit: Quid

* They actually call themselves “a platform that searches, analyzes and visualizes the world’s collective intelligence to help answer strategic questions.”

How violence, disease, and Donald Trump are signs of the end times

Friday, December 9th, 2016

At least according to searches for end times on Bible Gateway:

Bible Gateway searches for end times peak during certain events.
(The farther away the point is from the center of the circle, the more searches there were on that day.)

This image comes from The Three Kinds of Popular Keyword Searches on Bible Gateway, which talks about the three keyword search patterns Bible Gateway sees: perennial (not much variation throughout the year), event-driven (spikes around news cycles, like end times), and holiday-themed (spikes at the same time every year).

Bible Gateway doesn’t see much of a fourth pattern I might expect: a “seasonal” pattern that’s similar to “holiday-themed” but is more spread out and not driven by a particular day. For example, plotting Google Trends data for jacket using a similar methodology as above yields a much longer-lived rise and fall, where 75% of yearly searches happen between September and March, but there’s not a single, strong peak:

Google searches for jacket peak in the fall and winter.

I think–but haven’t been able to locate independent research to prove–that most search keyword data will fall into one of these four patterns (perennial, event-driven, holiday-themed, and seasonal) when plotted on this kind of chart.

The immediate inspiration for this visualization was Google’s Rhythm of Food (also see the associated Wired article), which explores this kind of seasonality in food searches on Google: they identify “seasonal” and “holiday-themed” patterns. Rhythm of Food plots absolute numbers of queries, so you can see that searches for kale have been falling since 2014 (it’s clearer in the animation if you click through):

Google searches for kale peaked in January 2014.

My interest in the Bible Gateway data wasn’t to track absolute numbers of queries but to explore yearly continuity, so each point on the Bible Gateway chart reflects the percent of queries on that day for the year (smoothed over the preceding and following three days). The downside of using percentages is that they can magnify small absolute differences.

Bible Gateway’s 2016 Year in Review lets you explore these patterns for 1,000 popular queries on Bible Gateway in 2016.

The Washington Post spins this report as More people searched the Bible for “end times” because of same-sex marriage than because of Trump.

If you’re curious how these thousand searches fit the concept / quote / entity / story framework I proposed for Bible queries in 2011, here’s how I categorize them:

Type Description Example Count
concept “Show me verses about…” love 593
quote “I’m looking for a specific verse.” I can do all things 253
entity Person or place Abraham 101
story Shorthand for a longer passage David and Goliath 53

Visualizing historical English metaphors related to the Bible

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

The images that come to mind when you think of heaven aren’t the same ones you would’ve conjured had you lived a hundred, five hundred, a thousand, or two thousand years ago. The word heaven accretes and shifts meaning over time–the cosmology of the Israelites who first heard the creation story in Genesis, for example, uses the metaphor of a “firmament” to explain the structure of the heavens, while your idea of the physical heavens probably involves outer space and Pluto.

Or take angels. Before the Renaissance, you wouldn’t have pictured a cherub as a chubby baby, yet today the first image that comes to mind when you think of angels might very well be this:

Detail of Raphael's Sistine Madonna showing two child-looking cherubs.
From Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, 1512

Linguists can pinpoint precisely when English speakers started to use cherub to refer to a child in this way: 1705. (The OED entry for cherub elaborates that this image developed further during the 1800s. Thank you, Victorians.)

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have created a website that explores how metaphors from different semantic domains (“angels” and “children,” for example) bleed into each other over time: Mapping Metaphor.

While the website lets you visualize the data in a number of ways, I thought it would be interesting to combine a couple of their visualizations to clarify (for myself) the historical cross-pollination of some Bible-related metaphors in English.

The first chart shows how metaphors have shifted over time for heaven and hell. The arrows indicate the direction of the metaphor. For example, an arrow points from height to heaven because linguistically we apply the real-world idea of height to the location of heaven: the metaphor points from the concrete to the abstract. Conversely, when the arrow goes the other direction, as from heaven to good, the metaphor points from the abstract to the concrete. When we say, “This tastes heavenly,” for example, we’re applying some qualities of heaven to whatever we’re eating.

Historical metaphors for heaven and hell.

The second chart explores the application of metaphors relating to angels and the devil. The Mapping Metaphor blog discusses this metaphorical angel/devil dichotomy in some detail.

Historical metaphors for angels and the devil.

There’s also data for Deity (i.e., God), but its historical connections overlap so much with other (mostly Greek) deities that it’s not so useful for my purpose here.

Finally, I want to mention that the source data for the Mapping Metaphor project, The Historical Thesaurus of English, is itself a fascinating resource. It arranges the whole of the English language throughout history into an ontology with the three root categories represented by color in the above images: the external world, the mental world, and the social world. Any hierarchical ontology raises the usual epistemological questions, but I think the approach is fascinating. The result is effectively a cultural ontology (at least to the extent that language encodes culture).

I compared a few Historical Thesaurus entries to the Lexham Cultural Ontology (designed for ancient literature) and found a surprising degree of correlation: all the entries I looked up in Lexham mapped to one or a combination of two entries in the Historical Thesaurus. Considering that we know (pdf, slide 33) that people who write linguistic notes in their Bibles are more interested in the meanings of English words than they are in the definitions of the original Hebrew and Greek words, I wonder whether an English-language-based ontology might prove a fruitful approach to indexing ancient literature–at least for English speakers.

Via PhD Mama.

A Sixteenth-Century Bible Study Flowchart

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Many printings of the Geneva Bible after 1579 contain the following flowchart by T. Grashop. This flowchart reflects the Renaissance obsession with ordering the world using tree diagrams and presents a systematic approach to studying the Bible. I share it here to show that “mind-mapping” Bible study isn’t a new idea; it has extensive historical roots.

Scan of the Grashop page from the Geneva Bible.

Below is a reproduction I created with modernized spelling and design. I particularly want to note the reference to Isaiah 29:36 in this chart. This verse doesn’t exist. If anyone knows what verse Grashop might have meant, especially as it relates to “Superstition be avoided” when studying the Bible, I’d be interested in correcting this 400-year-old typo. Sean Boisen in the comments presents a plausible case that it should be Isaiah 2:6.

Revised version of Grashop's flowchart.

Also available in PDF: 8.5×11 inches or 8.5×14 inches (full size).

I consider all these Grashop-related files to be in the public domain; if you want to reuse them, you don’t need to credit anyone.

Seasonal Interest in Bible Reading Plans

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Just in case you wonder how seasonal people’s interest in reading the Bible is, here’s a chart from Google Trends showing five “read through the Bible”-related search terms. The peaks every January speak for themselves. You can see a secondary peak in August or September when classes get underway at many schools.

If we take some of the above data, plot it by week rather than by month, and add it together, the effect is even more vivid:

This chart shows peaks every January.
(This chart goes through December 27, 2014.)

You see huge peaks just before and after January 1 each year, along with a small bump around Easter and the aforementioned mellow spike in August or September. The interest related to the new year is almost entirely gone by February. You could interpret this drop as “Everyone who’s interested has already found their reading plan for the year,” or you could interpret it as, “Well, Genesis was interesting. Maybe I’ll read through the Bible next year.”

Inspired by Google Trends of Popular New Year’s Resolutions.

The Bible on Twitter in 2014

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Bible Gateway recently shared their most-popular Bible verses of 2014, and I wanted to discuss this chart a little more:

Popular Bible verses by day in 2014 on Bible Gateway

The chart stems from the idea that if someone is equally likely to see a verse on any day of the year, each day should have 1/365, or 0.27%, of a verse’s yearly popularity. This chart shows days when there’s a spike in pageviews for each verse for a particular day (whenever it was over 0.4% of the annual total).

The theme of the chart is that people follow certain paths through the Bible during the year; I labeled a few of them on the chart. But there are definitely a few patterns I can’t explain:

  1. At the beginning of the year, two lines emanate from Genesis that look like they’re on track to read the full Bible in a year, but one of them is faster than the other. Why are there two?
  2. At the bottom right of the chart is a shallow line that looks like it involves reading Genesis and Exodus starting in May and ending in December. There’s a similar line in the New Testament running through Matthew from June to November. What are those?

I was curious whether the same patterns would appear in Twitter for the year, so I ran a similar analysis on the 43 million tweets this year that mentioned Bible verses. The answer is that, yes, you can see many of the same paths in both charts:

Popular Bible verses by day in 2014 on Twitter

They even include the same two (or three or four) fast readings of the Bible at the beginning of the year and the slow reading of Genesis and Exodus in the second half of the year. You can see similar peaks around the Passion stories leading to Easter and the Nativity story leading to Christmas. (Christmas is the last day that appears on this chart.) The Twitter chart more clearly shows the weekly rhythms of the devotional life, with vertical lines just barely visible every Sunday. The main difference is that there’s not as clear a path through the New Testament.

The Twitter chart also shows some horizontal bands where sharing is pretty light. These “sharing shadows” appear in the opening chapters of Numbers, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles.

Prolific Verse Sharers

A quirk of the Twitter chart is that some Twitterers tweet (and are retweeted) a lot. I suspect many of them are bots, but it’s hard to say whether they constitute “Bible spam”–many people do appear to find them helpful by retweeting them. The top fifty or so Twitterers are responsible for 16 million of the 43 million tweets this year. The chart doesn’t look too different if you remove them (mostly, the frequent repetition of Matthew disappears), but that just could be because I didn’t remove enough users to affect the results meaningfully. For all I know, this chart mostly just shows how Twitter bots share the Bible during the year. The consistency with the Bible Gateway data (in which I have more confidence), however, leads me to think that this picture is reasonably accurate.

Here are the top non-bot (as far as I can tell) sharers of Bible verses–these people tweeted the most Bible verses (and, more importantly, were retweeted most) throughout the year. Some of these people I recognize, and others… not so much. The “tweet” numbers reflect only tweets containing Bible verses and include others’ retweets of their tweets.

  1. JohnPiper (105,836 tweets)
  2. DangeRussWilson (87,382 tweets)
  3. WeLiftYourName (52,638 tweets)
  4. JosephPrince (50,889 tweets)
  5. BishopJakes (49,109 tweets)
  6. siwon407 (48,994 tweets)
  7. RickWarren (42,637 tweets)
  8. JoyceMeyer (39,703 tweets)
  9. jeremycamp (32,003 tweets)
  10. DaveRamsey (28,173 tweets)
  11. RCCGworldwide (26,731 tweets)
  12. AdamCappa (25,976 tweets)
  13. Creflo_Dollar (24,422 tweets)
  14. sadierob (20,068 tweets)
  15. Carson_Case (19,846 tweets)
  16. TimTebow (18,303 tweets)
  17. Kevinwoo91 (17,230 tweets)
  18. levimitchell (16,355 tweets)
  19. jesse_duplantis (15,755 tweets)
  20. kutless (14,806 tweets)

Most-Popular Verses

Here are the most-popular verses shared on Twitter in 2014:

  1. Phil 4:13 (613,161 tweets)
  2. 1Pet 5:7 (261,417 tweets)
  3. Prov 3:5 (218,019 tweets)
  4. John 14:6 (212,883 tweets)
  5. John 13:7 (207,084 tweets)
  6. 1Cor 13:4 (197,379 tweets)
  7. Matt 28:20 (187,407 tweets)
  8. Ps 118:24 (183,475 tweets)
  9. 2Tim 1:7 (182,758 tweets)
  10. Ps 56:3 (180,139 tweets)

You can also download a text file (411 KB) with the complete list of 2014’s popular verses.

John 13:7 (“Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'”) is the oddball here, but it turns out that it’s mostly from over 100,000 retweets of a single tweet in April. (Since it was a one-off, I omitted him from the list of top sharers above, although his tweet count of 163,497 would put him in first place.)

How do the year’s most-popular verses compare among Bible Gateway, YouVersion, and Twitter? The answer: there’s a good deal of variation. Below are the top ten from each service; only Proverbs 3:5 appears in all three lists, and YouVersion and Twitter only have one verse that overlaps, which surprises me (given that they’re both based on sharing).

If we look only at Bible Gateway and Twitter, the average verse differs in its ranking by about 3,000 places, or nearly 10% of the Bible. The largest differences in rank: 1 Kings 20:14 is much more popular on Twitter (rank 4,380) than on Bible Gateway (rank 27,119), while Ezra 5:14 is way more popular on Bible Gateway (rank 13,995) than Twitter (rank 30,018).

Ranking Bible Gateway YouVersion Twitter
1. John 3:16 Rom 12:2 Phil 4:13
2. Jer 29:11 Phil 4:8 1Pet 5:7
3. Phil 4:13 Phil 4:6 Prov 3:5
4. Rom 8:28 Jer 29:11 John 14:6
5. Ps 23:4 Matt 6:33 John 13:7
6. Phil 4:6 Phil 4:7 1Cor 13:4
7. 1Cor 13:4 Prov 3:5 Matt 28:20
8. Prov 3:5 Isa 41:10 Ps 118:24
9. 1Cor 13:7 Matt 6:34 2Tim 1:7
10. Rom 12:2 Prov 3:6 Ps 56:7

Bold entries appear in at least two lists.

Data Source

The Twitter data is from Bible Verses on Twitter. A program connects to the Twitter Streaming API with a query for every chapter of the Bible (“Gen 1”, “Genesis 1”, and so on). I run a Bible reference parser on the tweet to pull out all the references. Then an SVM algorithm tries to guess whether the tweet is actually talking about a Bible verse or just happens to contain a string that looks like a Bible reference (“Gen 1 XBox for sale,” where “Gen” is short for “Generation”).

Sidenote: How I Calculate Verse Views

A note on methodology: I’ve never documented how I determine a particular verse’s popularity; now’s a good time, because you can do it a number of ways to reach different answers. Let’s say that someone is looking at Genesis 1, which has 31 verses. That counts as one pageview, but if you’re looking for the number of pageviews that, say, Genesis 1:1 receives, how do attribute a chapter-length view like this? You could give each verse credit for a full pageview, but then verses in long chapters will appear to have a disproportionately high number of pageviews. Instead, I prefer to divide the pageview into the number of verses in the passage: in this case, each verse in Genesis 1 will receive 1/31, or 0.032 pageviews.

Now, what if someone is looking at, say, Genesis 1:1 and Matthew 1 (25 verses) on the same page? In this case, I divide the pageview by the number of separate passages: Genesis 1:1 receives credit for a full 0.5 pageviews, as does Matthew 1. Each verse in Matthew 1 therefore receives 0.5/25, or 0.02 pageviews.

I feel that this approach best respects people’s intentions whether they want to look at multiple verses, several independent passages, or just individual verses.

Christmas Timeline Visualization

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Christmas Timeline Visualization

Over at the Bible Gateway Blog, I have a post discussing the above Christmas Timeline Visualization, which uses the same xkcd-inspired format as the Holy Week Timeline from 2011.

Sequencing the events of the Christmas story in the Bible to produce this visualization raises a few questions I’d never considered before (not that they’re unique to me):

  1. When does Mary conceive Jesus? Everyone (including several commentaries) says that it happens before Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. John the Baptist’s leap for joy in the womb is generally thought of as a response to Jesus’ proximity, but the text says that Mary’s voice prompts it. Even Elizabeth’s blessing doesn’t necessarily imply that Mary is already carrying Jesus.
  2. Did any of the shepherds who visited Jesus on the night of his birth have children whom Herod would later kill in the “Slaughter of the Innocents?” If so, that adds a chilling undertone to the story.
  3. Did the magi stay in the same inn at Bethlehem that didn’t have room for Mary and Joseph?
  4. Why do angels always inspire movement? Every time they show up in the story, someone heads off somewhere.

Thanks to my assistant for putting together the spreadsheet (CSV) containing all the data used in the visualization.

Re-visualizing Cross References (Interactively)

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Visit an interactive visualization of Bible cross references.
Browse this grid interactively.

This visualization is arranged by book, showing cross-reference sources on the y-axis and targets on the x-axis. Within each square, the first verse in the book or section is at the top, and the last verse is at the bottom. Here’s what a detail of a square looks like:

Cross references between Genesis and Daniel

Genesis 1 is at the top left; Genesis 50 is at the bottom left. Daniel 1 is at the top right; Daniel 12 is at the bottom right. The most-striking cross references between these two books, to me, involve Joseph’s interpretation of dreams in Genesis 40-41 and similar stories in Daniel.

Also see a previous cross reference visualization.

Applying Sentiment Analysis to the Bible

Monday, October 10th, 2011

This visualization explores the ups and downs of the Bible narrative, using sentiment analysis to quantify when positive and negative events are happening:

Sentiment analysis of the Bible.
Full size download (.png, 4000×4000 pixels).

Things start off well with creation, turn negative with Job and the patriarchs, improve again with Moses, dip with the period of the judges, recover with David, and have a mixed record (especially negative when Samaria is around) during the monarchy. The exilic period isn’t as negative as you might expect, nor the return period as positive. In the New Testament, things start off fine with Jesus, then quickly turn negative as opposition to his message grows. The story of the early church, especially in the epistles, is largely positive.


Sentiment analysis involves algorithmically determining if a piece of text is positive (“I like cheese”) or negative (“I hate cheese”). Think of it as Kurt Vonnegut’s story shapes backed by quantitative data.

I ran the Viralheat Sentiment API over several Bible translations to produce a composite sentiment average for each verse. Strictly speaking, the Viralheat API only returns a probability that the given text is positive or negative, not the intensity of the sentiment. For this purpose, however, probability works as a decent proxy for intensity.

The visualization takes a moving average of the data to provide a coherent story; the raw data is more jittery. Download the raw data (400 KB .zip).

Update October 10, 2011

As requested in the comments, here’s the data arranged by book with a moving average of five verses on either side. (By comparison, the above visualization uses a moving average of 150 verses on either side.)

Sentiment analysis of the Bible, arranged by book.
Full size download (.png, 2680×4000 pixels).

Update December 28, 2011: Christianity Today includes this visualization in their December issue (“How the Bible Feels”).