New Testament Names: a Semantic Knowledge Base
NTN (for New Testament Names) is a semantic knowledge base describing each named thing in the New Testament, about 600 names in all. Each named thing (an entity) is categorized according to type (or class), including God, Jesus, individual men and women, groups of people, and locations. These entities are related to each other by properties that. All this information is represented in a standardized language with formal semantics, and is shared on the Web for others to use and extend.
NTN is the first semantic Bible information available on the Web (see below for what this claim really means). Of course, there are many wonderful websites with Bible texts, search tools, reference materials, maps, and the like. These are all designed for human readers, but they don't allow standardized machine processing of the information. Some Bible providers (and blogs) are now using RSS to provide e.g. a daily Bible verse: however, these are still primarily web services and text containers, with little semantic information or meta-data included. NTN provides a reusable Web-based Bible resource for the Digital Age, a first step toward incorporating content from the New Testament into the Semantic Web.
The main classes are:
- Agents (encompassing God, people, and other supernatural beings, whether real and malevolent (Satan) or supposed (Zeus, Artemis))
- GeographicArea, with sub-classes of City, Province, Island, bodies of water, and a few other types
- Groups of people, either defined by beliefs (Jews), ethnicity (Israelites, Samaritans), residence in a particular area (Galileans), or membership in political or religious organizations (Pharisees, Sadduccees)
Several other classes are either included to help the class organization, to maintain consistency with other ontologies, or to represent less frequent name classes: Characters (Alpha, Omega), Languages (Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew)
Why Do We Need This?
There's more background on the motivation for creating semantic representations of Bible information in this overview of the Semantically-Annotated New Testament Project (SemANT). Building a resuable knowledge base of Bible information. The W3C's Semantic Web home page is a great jumping-off point for information about the whole endeavor of bringing the Web up to the next level of usefulness by adding semantics.
Data, not a tool: foundation of many applications. Can be incrementally extended (SEMant)
Ultimately, all this work is just one tiny step in the direction of more conceptual annotation of the Scriptures, which is the grand vision of the Semantically-Annotated New Testament (SemANT). That's still a distant dream, but every bit of progress helps clarify the rest of the journey.
About the Semantic Web
It's represented in OWL, the Ontology Web Language which is a new recently released as a W3C recommendation. OWL in turn is built on RDF, and expressed in XML. If you look at the NTN data with a text viewer, you'll see a dismaying number of angle brackets, pound signs, and other notation. While the file is human readable, it's not very understandable unless you know about OWL, RDF, and XML: it's really meant for processing by program. Most people will want to view it using special editors like Protege (get the OWL plug-in) that understand OWL and provide a more friendly interface. Here's a screenshot of (most of) the classes, and some of the instances of the Woman class, displayed in Protege.
Reusable data for processing
What's it good for
Though my main focus is developing the data rather than building applications, you need at least a few examples of what it's good for to motivate more progress. My next step will probably One goal is I'm interested in building some visualizations of this data. For example, how about FOAS, for "Friend Of A Saint", namely who knew who in the New Testament? This can be easily approximated by linking any two names that occur in the same verse (though the geneologies in Matthew and Luke should be excepted). We all know about Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John. But there's a host of other, less-well-known names: who did Silvanus relate to? All that information should be straightforward.
To the best of my knowledge, NTN is the world's first Bible information expressed in RDF and OWL and available on the Web. I hope others will be motivated to build on this foundation and extend both the ontology, and the scope of information it covers, to include more and more of the content of Scripture. If you know of other similar resources or efforts, please let me know.
Copyright 2004 sean boisen
Theme Design by Bryan Bell