Visualizing the Meanings of Biblical Words by Context

Context plays a major role in modulating the meaning of a word. Consider the example of the word “check” in modern English: in a restaurant, a “check” is a bill that one must pay; in a classroom, a “check” is a mark on a graded paper; and, in a mechanic's shop, a “check” is a procedure for inspecting an automobile. This is not to say that an auto mechanic will never make a “check” mark on a paper, but context, at least to some extent, modulates the meaning that we expect. Despite widespread acknowledgement of the role of context, many resources related to biblical words continue to treat meaning based on the model of concordances that focus on absolute frequencies of glosses or senses. Partly this has been due to the limitations of a paper format. A resource with multiple concordances for a given word, perhaps one based on literary context and one based on cultural context, would soon get out of hand. This has also been partly due to a lack of resources. While a significant amount of literature exists on context and meaning in the bible, much of this literature has not existed in the form of data that would be helpful for exploring how context affects the meanings of words. The landscape, however, is changing. Digital resources now provide a means for displaying data in faceted and interactive ways. A wealth of contextual data is being amassed that could allow interaction with the meanings of words based on context. Some of this contextual data exists at fairly abstract levels (e.g., the level of genre), yet, as the contextual information becomes more and more fine-grained, the possibilities for exploration will continue to deepen. Making use of Python’s Pandas library along with sense and contextual data from several datasets within Logos Bible Software, this paper will be an exploratory attempt at moving beyond concordancing by absolute frequency to creating data visualizations that provide more insight into how context modulates the meaning of a word. Attention will be given at the end of the paper regarding how such visual aids could be used to promote higher order thinking about context and meaning in a classroom setting.