the bible: now in color

So what are you looking at?

I will tell you. And once I do, you will be absolutely fascinated by what you see.

What we’ve got above is a graphical representation of the Bible that was constructed by a Lutheran pastor and Chris Harrison, a doctoral student studying Human Computer Interactions. Together they took a list of over 63,000 cross-references in the Bible and displayed them graphically.

Across the bottom of the chart you see a bunch of vertical gray lines – each of these individual lines represents a chapter of the Bible from Genesis 1 on the left to Revelation 22 on the right. Each arc in the graph represents a unique cross reference. For instance, a passage about ‘God’ in Genesis 1:1 is linked with an orange arc to a passage about ‘God’ in Revelation 22:21. Likewise, a passage about a ‘Dove’ in Mark 1:10 is linked with a blue arc to a passage about a ‘Dove’ in John 2:16. The color of the arc is directly dependent on the “distance” of the cross reference, with short references being blue or violet, and longer references being green or orange – this creates the rainbow effect you see.

To truly appreciate this you need to take a look at this high resolution version.

Now What?
The first time I saw this it just really struck me. There’s something incredibly complex, yet strangely simple about this graph.

Look at the symmetry. I think it’s amazing how a document that spans some 2000 years maintains the same ideas and themes throughout. There’s consistency and everything is interrelated.

But also look at how you can pick out sections of the Bible you’re familiar with just by glancing at the graph. I can see three sections pop out based on the groupings of arcs – the Gospels & Letters on the right third of the graph, the History books on the left third, and the wisdom literature throughout the middle.

The books of the Prophets are going to fall slightly right of center – the purple arcs that you see branching off to the right from these books are literally the prophecies about the Messiah being fulfilled in the Gospels.

The letter to the Hebrews is traditionally thought to be written towards a Jewish Christian audience because of it’s strong emphasis on ancient traditions and themes. Now you’ll have to look at the hi-res version for this… notice how slightly in from the far right side of the graph an array of green and yellow arcs drop down, seemingly out of nowhere. This is the author of Hebrews explaining the gospel story in a language a Jew would understand – by referencing the ancient texts and speaking directly to those who believe in the God of Moses, Isaac, and Jacob.

And So…
There you go… I don’t know what you’ll pull from this, but this chart continues to amaze me each time I look at it. At the very least hopefully it will be a greater appreciation for the most influential and powerful text of all time.

My thanks to Jon for first sharing this chart with me a few months back. And if this sort of thing piques your curiosity you need to go check out some of the other visualizations Chris Harrison has posted on his website. Fascinating stuff.

    • jon arnold
    • April 9th, 2008

    thanks for the mention. i love this graph.. i’d love to get a big hi-res print of it framed on my wall..!

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