Friday, June 6, 2008

Accordance envy - the INFER command

I had noted in an earlier post that Accordance had just released a new version 8 of their Bible software (and now an 8.0.1 bug fix is also available). I have a limited edition of Accordance that I use on my PC under emulation (Basilisk) which I got to evaluate their fine Bible Atlas program. I follow their blog postings, however, and I try to keep up with what Accordance does in order to give at least a bit of advice to my (usually just a few) students who come to seminary with Macs. So, what follows are some observations that are not necessarily derived from first hand experience. (Now if anybody at Accordance is reading this posting and wants to send me more of their software to evaluate, I will be happy to do so!)

Two recent blog posts (HERE and HERE) have really intrigued me. New in this latest version is something they are calling an "inference engine" using an INFER command. You can use it to get "INFER-mation!" Here is how they describe it:

The idea was simple enough, and was first proposed by a couple of Qumran scholars: create a way to search one text for quotations from and allusions to another text. For example, what if you could search the Dead Sea Scrolls for allusions to Genesis, or the Mishna for allusions to the Dead Sea Scrolls? Such a tool would break new ground in intertextual studies. (And lest you assume this is only useful for scholars, such searches would work just as well in English to show literary relationships between various biblical books.) [from the first blog post]

How does it do this? By building a list of multi-word phrases found in one text and then searching for those phrases in the other one. [from the second blog post]
I would be very interested to see this at work. My dissertation, Psalm 22 and the Crucifixion of Jesus, was basically a study of the history of the interpretation of this psalm from the biblical through the early Church / rabbinical writings. [BTW, I'm now in the process of editing it down for publication with T&T Clark.] A huge chunk of my work was trying to establish networks of influence between Ps 22 and other biblical, interbiblical, Qumran, NT, Church Fathers, etc. I finished my dissertation back in 1996, so it was largely done using concordances, reading a ton of texts, and doing some work using the textbase in NotaBene (DOS!). It certainly would have helped to have this type of "infer engine" available. For now, Bible software certainly allows for some sophisticated searches across a wide range of texts. In BibleWorks7, I could also use the KeyWord In Context (KWIC) tool. In Logos, I would likely use the Bible Word Study among other tools. In any case this INFER command appears to me to be a great new development. (So if Accordance wants to send me an update, I would be happy to evaluate its functionality using PC emulation...)

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