The Study of Word Co-occurrence Networks in the Greek New Testament

Istvan Czachesz (Universität Heidelberg): 

This presentation offers a case study of the application of network theory to the analysis of historical texts. I will speak about the generation and analysis of word co-occurrence networks in the Greek text of the New Testament, using examples from past and ongoing studies, and pay particular attention to the historical and psychological validity of such models. Whereas word co-occurrence networks can be thought of as statistical models of (large) textual corpora, at this place I will outline an approach working with smaller textual units, based on reading-theory and memory studies. As I have shown in previous publications, node and link centrality measures in word co-occurrence networks of biblical passages yield interesting observations about central thematic and compositional features of such passages (that go beyond the insights gained from traditional methods based on word frequency and concordances) as well as open up ways to reconsider how familiarity with certain texts influences the reading of other texts (offering new, quantitative perspectives on intertextuality). In terms of the psychological validity of the models, the cultural context of the first century Mediterranean has to be taken into account. This implies that the underlying psychological model of textual reception needs to be informed by insights from orality studies. Previous cognitive psychological work on memory in oral transmission is especially helpful in building culturally informed models that do justice to the ways contemporary audiences typically processed the text of the Gospels. Further, research on working memory, including empirical results on working memory span in sentence processing, can be integrated into the model in order to increase its cognitive psychological validity. Finally, I will consider how the syntactic features of Koine Greek (the dialect of the New Testament) can be taken into consideration to fine-tune the creation of networks. The textual examples are selected from well-known passages of the synoptic Gospels, such as the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and its Lukan parallels (Luke 6:17-49). Based on these examples, the relationship between network models, on the one hand, and traditional philological approaches, on the other hand, will be addressed.

Download the slides from the speech.