Accordance Blog
May 20, 2011 David Lang

Finding Repeated Words in a Passage, Part 5

This week we've been discussing the interpretive value of looking for repeated words in a passage of Scripture, and I've been showing how to do this using Accordance's highlighting tools and other shortcuts. Going through a passage inductively and highlighting like that is a great way to discover key words in context, but it takes time. In the past couple of posts I've shown how you can speed up this process by doing individual searches and highlighting the hits, but you can save even more time by doing a search for all the words in a passage and analyzing the results to see which words are used most frequently. Up to now, we've been working through an English translation, but today I'll be working with the Hebrew text directly.

To search for every word in the Hebrew Bible, I'll set my search text to BHS-W4, click the Words button, and enter an asterisk (*) in the search field. The asterisk is a wildcard symbol which, by itself, simply means "find every word." To limit this search to 2 Samuel (the passage we've been studying), I need to create a range in the range pop-up menu of the Search window. (NOTE: Because of a difference in the way the RANGE command works, I can't use the RANGE command in this instance. I'll explain that in more detail in a future post.) When I run this search, every word in 2 Samuel 11 will be highlighted.

RepeatedWords5-1

At first glance, a search for every word in a passage may seem kind of pointless. But now that we've found every word, we can use Accordance's statistical tools to analyze the search results. To do that, choose Analysis from the Details pop-up menu.

An Analysis tab will open listing every word that was found by this search. To see which words are used most frequently, I need only change the sort pop-up menu from Alphabetical to Count down.

RepeatedWords5-2

As you can see, the most frequently used words are Hebrew particles like prepositions, articles, and conjunctions. If I'd like to filter these from the list so I can more easily focus on significant words, I can go back to my wildcard search and exclude the particles by adding an at symbol (@), a minus sign (-), and selecting Particle from the Enter Tag submenu of the Search menu. In the dialog box that appears, I could specify a particular type of particle, or I could simply click OK to exclude all particles. My search should now look like this:

RepeatedWords5-3

The Analysis window will automatically update to reflect the new search, and should now look like this:

RepeatedWords5-4

As you can see, I now have a list of all the Hebrew words which get repeated in 2 Samuel 11, and I can immediately begin drawing conclusions about this passage. For example, we see immediately that David and Uriah are the most frequently mentioned characters, but where is Bathsheba? This is supposed to be the story of "David and Bathsheba," but Bathsheba is only mentioned by name one time. The rest of the time she is mentioned as "the woman" or "the wife" of Uriah. Is this an indication that the narrator is more interested in setting up a contrast between David and Uriah than in detailing David's illicit relationship with Bathsheba?

Or notice the frequency of the verb "to say"? Seeing this might prompt us to examine how the narrative progresses through the dialog of the characters themselves.

We've already seen how frequently words like "to send" and "house" are used in this passage, but if we didn't know that already, we would clearly see it in this analysis.

As you can see, searching and analyzing all the words in a passage can alert us to important words and concepts in a matter of seconds. By relying on these kinds of tools to speed up the process of observation, we can better concentrate our efforts on the tasks of interpretation and application.


 

May 19, 2011 David Lang

Finding Repeated Words in a Passage, Part 4

This week we've been discussing the interpretive value of looking for repeated words in a passage of Scripture, and I've been showing how to do this using Accordance's highlighting tools and other shortcuts. Yesterday, I showed how, having noticed a repeated word, you can quickly search for other occurrences of that word and highlight the results with one click. But I ended that post by discussing the challenges of searching for repetition in a translation rather than in the original Greek or Hebrew:

In most cases, the repetition of a word in a translation actually reflects the repetition of a word in the original Greek or Hebrew, but that's not always the case. It may be that a Greek or Hebrew word is translated by different English words in the same passage, in which case our search for repetition in English would miss instances of repetition in the original. Conversely, it may be that the same English word is used to translate different Greek or Hebrew words, in which case we would be seeing repetition in the English which is not actually present in the original.

So if you're working in English, how can you be sure you're finding repetition which occurs in the original texts? The answer is to use an English Bible tagged with Key numbers that link you to the original Greek and Hebrew words. Accordance has quite a few such texts available (ESVS, HCSBS, JPSS, KJVS, NAS95S, NKJVS, NRSVS, NIV-G/K, and even the Spanish RVR60S), so you likely have at least one such text already.

Yesterday, I did a search for every occurrence of the word "sent" in 2 Samuel 11, and I found 9 occurrences in the HCSBS. How can I be sure that all nine occurrences translate the same Hebrew word? Well, I could hover my cursor over each occurrence and see which Hebrew word appears in the Instant Details box, or I can simply click the Details icon of the Search window and select Analysis from the pop-up menu.

AnalysisinMenu

If I do the latter, an Analysis tab will appear listing all the words that were found by my search, as well as all the Key numbers attached to those words. This tells me right away that all nine occurrences of "sent" translate the Hebrew word shalach.

AnalysisSent

Now, how can I be sure that my search for the English word "sent" found every occurrence of shalach in 2 Samuel 11? The easiest thing to do is to search for the Hebrew word itself. We can do that by right- or control- clicking the English word "sent" and choosing Key Number from the "Search for" submenu of the contextual menu.

SearchforKey

This will open a new tab showing every word in the entire Bible which has been tagged with the Key number representing shalach. Since I'm only interested in the occurrences of this word in 2 Samuel 11, I would then limit the search by specifying that chapter as the search range.

Now I can see clearly that my English search actually missed two additional occurrences of the Hebrew word shalach. If I want to highlight those additional occurrences, I can simply shift-click my highlight style again to apply that style to all the hits from this Key number search.

Obviously, I would have saved a step if I had searched by Key Number to begin with, and I'd recommend you make a habit of searching by Key Number rather than by English word. I began with the English word search in yesterday's post purely for teaching purposes.

Now that I've found all eleven times the Hebrew word shalach is used in 2 Samuel 11, I'm ready to begin analyzing each occurrence to see how it develops a theme and decide what that theme communicates. Again, using Accordance to speed up the process of finding all this repetition frees me to do the work of interpretation that no software can do for me.

So far, we've been using an English translation as a gateway to study the original Hebrew, but those of you who are comfortable working in the Hebrew directly can go even further. In tomorrow's post, I'll show you an even more sophisticated way to find repeated words in a passage.


 

May 18, 2011 David Lang

Finding Repeated Words in a Passage, Part 3

This week we've been discussing how finding repeated words in a passage can make you aware of its major themes and motifs. On Monday, I showed how to use Accordance's highlighting tool to highlight key words so you can begin to notice patterns. Yesterday we applied this method to 2 Samuel 11, highlighting every mention of cleansing and then unpacking how those key words are used to develop a particular theme. Today I want to look at another oft-repeated word in 2 Samuel 11 and show you a few helpful shortcuts along the way.

SentHighlight If you work your way through 2 Samuel 11 and just begin highlighting the actions taken by the main characters, a pattern very quickly emerges. Can you see it? In this handful of verses, the word "sent" is used over and over again.

The advantage of highlighting key words as you work your way through a passage is that it can alert you to repeated words like this. But once you've noticed a pattern, there is no longer any point in working your way through the text looking for every remaining occurrence of that word. Once the pattern has emerged, that's the time to switch gears and have Accordance complete the pattern for you.

In other words, now that we know the word "sent" gets repeated, we want to find all other occurrences of the word "sent" as quickly as possible. That way, we can move immediately from gathering the relevant data (observation) to analyzing that data (interpretation).

One obvious way to find all the other occurrences of "sent" in 2 Samuel 11 is to search for it. You can do that by right- or control-clicking the word "sent" and choosing Word from the "Search for" submenu of the contextual menu.

SearchforWord

This will open a new tab showing every occurrence of the word "sent" in the entire Bible. Since I'm only interested in the occurrences of this word in 2 Samuel 11, I would then limit the search by defining a range for 2 Samuel 11 in the Range pop-up menu or by using the Range command. Either approach will show me that "sent" is used no less than nine times in this chapter.

Searching for the word "sent" in this way has two advantages. First, it's instantaneous (as most Accordance searches are), where reading through the passage looking for each occurrence is time-consuming. Even more importantly, I can be confident that every occurrence of the word has been found, where I might easily miss one or more occurrences when trying to spot them myself.

Now that I've found every occurrence of "sent," I can instantly highlight the ones I haven't already highlighted by hand. To do this, simply shift-click the desired highlight style on the highlight palette. Shift-clicking a style will apply that style to every "hit" word resulting from a search. Using this method, you can very quickly highlight key words in a passage. And once again, the advantage of such shortcuts is that it moves you more quickly from the work of observation to the more engaging process of interpretation.

Up to now, I've been looking for repeated words in an English translation (the HCSB). For most of us, that's how we have to work through a passage, and that's perfectly fine. In most cases, the repetition of a word in a translation actually reflects the repetition of a word in the original Greek or Hebrew, but that's not always the case. It may be that a Greek or Hebrew word is translated by different English words in the same passage, in which case our search for repetition in English would miss instances of repetition in the original. Conversely, it may be that the same English word is used to translate different Greek or Hebrew words, in which case we would be seeing repetition in the English which is not actually present in the original. In my next post, I'll show you how to make sure the repetition you're seeing is really present in the original.


 

May 17, 2011 David Lang

Finding Repeated Words in a Passage, Part 2

Yesterday I described how you can use Accordance's highlighting feature to mark key words in a passage. Using different highlight colors for different key words enables you to see clearly which words and concepts are oft-repeated, which in turn can help you identify important themes or motifs. Today I want to show you how this works by looking at a specific example: the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11.

Cleansing Everyone knows this story begins with a bath, so let's start by going through this passage and highlighting every mention of bathing or cleansing. Here's what you should end up with:

If we examine these three mentions of bathing, we notice several important aspects of the narrative. First, Bathsheba's act of bathing leads quickly to the act of adultery. Yet it is described without any moral judgment on the part of the narrator. There is no indication that Bathsheba was intentionally trying to be seen or that David made a habit of rooftop voyeurism. At this point, only the essential facts are given: Bathsheba was bathing and David saw her.

Second, the explanation that her bathing was an act of purification from menstrual uncleanness introduces an element of irony and foreshadows the trouble to come. The irony is that an act of cleansing from menstrual impurity led to the far greater defilement of marital infidelity. (There's even an easy double alliteration for you preachers!) The foreshadowing comes from the fact that the end of the period of purification would have been the time when Bathsheba was most likely to conceive. For all his calculated scheming, David failed to take that into account until it was too late.

Finally, David attempts to cover his sin by sending Uriah home with the encouragement to "wash his feet"—a euphemism for enjoying all the comforts of home. Yet Uriah refuses to "wash," and thereby manages to be the only person in this story who remains clean. (If you're looking for more double alliteration for your sermon, I personally think maddening integrity works well.)

As you can see, I've just highlighted three words which develop a theme of cleansing, and already I've got the basic outline of a sermon! What's more, it's a sermon which derives its points directly from the text and which lends itself to a variety of applications.

Obviously, not every motif in every passage will lend itself so easily to serving as the foundation of a sermon, but I hope you can see how powerful these simple observations derived from the simple act of highlighting really can be.

Now you try it. Highlight all the times the word "house" is mentioned in this passage. Then ask yourself how each occurrence of that key word helps to develop a theme. What is that theme and how does it give you insight into the narrative as a whole? You're welcome to share your observations in the comments if you'd like.

Tomorrow we'll look at another oft-repeated word in 2 Samuel 11, and I'll use that to show you an easy way to highlight every occurrence of a word in a given passage.


 

May 16, 2011 David Lang

Finding Repeated Words in a Passage, Part 1

Whether you're a pastor, scholar, or inductive Bible study afficionado, one of the best ways to identify key ideas or themes in a passage is to look for repeated words and concepts. One way to do this is by going through the text and highlighting key words in various colors. Then you can easily see the words which get repeated most often.

If you've never used Accordance's highlighting tools, you can open a palette showing all your highlight styles by checking Highlight Palette in the Window menu. By default, Accordance supplies one predefined highlight style labeled Important, but you can easily define other styles for various purposes. To do that, go to the Display menu and choose Define Highlight Styles….

DefineHighlights

In the dialog box which appears, you can simply click New to add a new style, then give that style a name and choose its color, intensity, shape, and pattern. You can create styles that look like color markers, that draw boxes around selected words, that underline or strikethrough the text, etc. For highlighting key words in a text, you could create styles labeled simply "Key Word 1," "Key Word 2," etc., or you could assign specific roles or functions to each style, such as "Protagonist," "Antagonist," "Actions," "Places," etc. Accordance gives you the flexibility to develop whatever system works best for you.

HighlightsDefined Once you've defined several different highlight styles, click OK to dismiss the dialog box. All those styles you defined should now appear in the Highlight palette. To highlight some text in a passage, you simply select it and then click the style you want in the palette. You can also use the keyboard shortcut command-8 to apply the most recently selected highlight style to a selection. Command-8 is a great shortcut to remember when you want to work your way through a text highlighting every occurrence of a specific key word.

In tomorrow's post, I'll give you a specific example of how highlighting repeated words can give you insight into a passage. Later in the week, I'll also show you some powerful shortcuts for finding repeated words in a passage.