Friday, March 24, 2006

I was excited to learn that my paper has been accepted for the next Society for Biblical Literature annual meeting, in Washington DC this November. The title probably won't surprise regular Blogos readers: "Weaving the New Testament into the Semantic Web". Here's the abstract:

The World Wide Web, as a network of documents, has become a staple of everyday life, including Biblical scholarship. Recent activity by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) envisions moving beyond a web of HTML documents to a web of concepts and meaningful data called the Semantic Web. Foundational concepts include the use of Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) to describe resources, the Resource Description Framework (RDF) for describing properties of resources, and the Web Ontology Language (OWL), now a W3C recommended standard for representing ontological relationships in a web-friendly way. This paper will briefly overview what the Semantic Web is, and why it is relevant to Biblical scholars. It will also describe several Semantic Web projects underway at For example, the NT Names project ( is producing a freely-sharable semantic catalog of people, locations, and other named objects in the New Testament, as well as various kinship, interpersonal, and locational relationships between them. Other projects address the creation of semantically-organized lexical resources, and semantic relationships within and between the Gospels. The paper will close with additional suggestions for how Semantic Web technologies can enable better integration, access, and search for Biblical data.

Perceptive readers will easily spot recent Blogos topics like lexical resources and the Composite Gospel Index. I'm hoping to make some real progress on the Imperatives and some other classification efforts as well.

It's been fortunate that the last two congresses (Philadelphia last year, DC this year) have been close enough that i could easily attend: as a self-funded amateur, i'd have a harder time justifying the expenses if i had to cough up a plane ticket too. But i found last year's meeting (my first) stimulating, and enjoyed giving my presentation on Visualizing the Gospels, so i'm definitely looking forward to another one. Hopefully this time i'll be better able to set my introversion aside and take more time to interact with others, especially those i know from cyberland.

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Bob Pritchett of Logos Bible Software comments here on my mis-remembered verse "you will know them by their words", and points out that Logos has a Fuzzy Search feature that brought up the correct verses at the top of the list with high confidence. I agree with Bob's assessment: "Pretty cool!"

However, i can't help but wonder what might make this feature even stronger. There's a whole host of academic work on this subject in the field of information retrieval, though none that i know of specifically on searching the Bible. While the top-ranked (and correct) matches were at 90% and 87% respectively, the next two were still fairly high, but not such good matches:

  • "For this is what the LORD says: 'I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword." (Jeremiah 20.4, NIV: 76% match) 
  • "And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 7.4, ESV: 76% match)

These last two matches strongly suggest that the algorithm is looking for the most matching characters, in the right sequence: so "sword" and "Lord" are both 'close' in this sense to "word". But of course, these are only close in character space, not semantics: this technique would fail miserably for ESV's translation "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." (Matt.7.20), even though that's (semantically) the "correct" verse!

Since i admitted my fuzzy verse recall, i wanted to share the opportunity for humility with Bob too ;-)

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"... it is important that we know who Christ is, especialy the chief characteristic that is the root and essence of His character as our Redeemer. There can be but one answer: it is His humility. What is the Incarnation but his heavenly humility, His emptying himself and becoming man? What is His life on earth bu humility; His taking the form of a servant? And what is His atonement but humility? 'He humbled himself and became obedient to death.' And what is His ascension and His glory but humility exalted to the throne and crowned with glory? 'He humbled himself ... therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.' In heaven, where He was one with the Father; in His birth, His life, and His death on earth; in His return to the right hand of the Father -- it is all humility. Christ is the expression of the humility of God embodied in human nature ..." (reflections on Phil.2.5-11from Humility, by Andrew Murray)

Oh, for the humility of Jesus in myself and around me! 

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