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the wordle bible

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How well do you know the Bible? More to the point, how well do you think you know it?

Maybe you’re like me: comfortably familiar with the Bible and its themes. You’ve been around the Bible your whole life (probably the NIV, too) and that familiarity may have made you less able at times to focus clearly on what it has to say. After all, who doesn’t find it hard to pay attention when convinced they already know what’s going to be said? If that sounds familiar, if your eyes glaze over as you’re reading the 23rd Psalm or the Christmas story for the thousandth time, or when your come to yet another genealogical passage, The Wordle Bible is for you.

Maybe you’re not so familiar with the Bible. You know what it is, you know a few of the highlights, and you may have even read a little of it, but the themes aren’t exactly on the tip of your tongue. Further complicating matters, you may look around and see people who say they believe what the Bible says living very different lives from those around them (sometimes very different even from other Christians). So you want to see what it is about this book that drives so many people, but perhaps you don’t yet feel quite up to tackling the full text, then The Wordle Bible is for you.

Or maybe you don’t know the first thing about the Bible. You’re starting fresh, and you’re interested in getting a better idea of what the Bible really talks about before diving into the real thing. I think The Wordle Bible is also for you.

I believe the Bible has more to offer than we know. I am certain, though, that I won’t get any deeper understanding of what the Bible is and what it can teach us if I don’t periodically try to look at it from different angles. Here’s how Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, summarizes and agrees with another theologian’s take on Bible translation:

“I like what Kwame Bediako, an African theologian-scholar, says, and he’s talking about Africa, where they have a lot of different languages. He said, every time the Bible is translated, it gets fresh meaning, because every language has its own unique quality. And so every time it’s translated, another language gets to put in its two cents’ worth in… Like a stone, a gemstone, that you turn it a little bit and new light comes off of it, the stone doesn’t change, but the light, the hue, the vibrations, they change a little bit. So every time the Bible’s translated [it] expands. It’s not diluted, it’s larger. And I think that’s true.” (source)

Now I’m no theologian or scholar, but The Wordle Bible is my humble attempt to do just the sort of thing Peterson was getting at, there. If you have spent much time online, it should already be apparent to you that images are the internet’s lingua franca. And what new language is complete, then, without a Bible to call its own? A generation is growing up now that does not remember life before the internet; they are simultaneously growing into and developing a world in which images are among the most basic building blocks of communication. I have no idea how much time people generally spend with The Word these days, but it may be that some are still in need of something that will help pull them in, something that gives them a glimpse of the beauty the Bible has tucked away in its 1,189 chapters. The Wordle Bible is for them, too.

So much of life depends on our perspective, and a change in perspective is always a good thing. For those of us who know the Bible and its stories almost too well, The Wordle Bible is just that: a new angle at an old book. For those of us who don’t know the Bible well, or at all, perhaps The Wordle Bible can simply be a first taste. Either way, it is my hope that this project of mine will help you see the Bible in a new way, that the Spirit might use this to draw you closer to the Christ, through whom all things were made. If I have succeeded in helping that happen for just one person, I will consider The Wordle Bible a success.

About the tool, the format, and the process

Wordle is a tool created by Jonathan Feinberg. It has been available online since 2008, and in my opinion, it is both interesting and tremendously fun. As the website puts it,

“Wordle is a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.”

In a slightly smaller nutshell, in a Wordle, the more often a word appears in the source text, the larger it appears in the cloud. The notable exception is that commonly used words (“the”, “and”, “it”, etc.) can be, and were in the case of The Wordle Bible, omitted from the generated cloud.

The format for The Wordle Bible is simple: one Wordle for each chapter of the NIV Bible. Each book is given its own gallery, and each gallery ends with an identically formatted Wordle that uses the book’s entire text as its source.

The process I followed in compiling The Wordle Bible was, for the most part, fairly straightforward: one chapter at a time, one Wordle at a time. I tried to avoid making too many changes to the Wordles once they were first generated. I am human, though, and there were times when I simply couldn’t help myself. Genesis chapter seven, for example, obviously lends itself to a particular color scheme. Similarly, with Song of Songs, trite though it may have been, I felt a color scheme traditionally associated with love seemed appropriate.

There is one book for which I deviated purposefully from my otherwise laissez-faire approach: Job. It is such a unique book, with several distinct voices, and I felt that preserving that distinctness might help preserve visually its dialogue-heavy nature. How well I succeeded in that is for you to decide, but I rather enjoy the results.

About the NIV

The Wordle Bible was supposed to be an ebook, and I was going to make it available both for free and for a small price (for those who wanted to give me a little something for my trouble). The NIV folks said I couldn’t sell it, so I’m just putting the whole thing online for free.

Join Me & Read More

I do hope you enjoy The Wordle Bible for what it is, and I’d encourage you to create Wordles of your favorite passages parts of the Bible and/or other texts you love and see what there is to see. I predict you will almost certainly see something you had not seen before, and that’s almost always a good thing.

And of course, if something in The Wordle Bible grabs your attention, I’d encourage you to look to the source.

Remember: it’s all about perspective.


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