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News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Friday, May 30, 2008  

INFER-mation

Yesterday, I recounted a little of the INFER command's development history. Today, I want to teach you the basics of this ground-breaking new feature.

Why is it called the INFER command? Because it gives you a way to infer literary connections between two texts.

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.

How do you use the INFER command? Start by establishing your base text. You might do a verse search for a particular passage or portion of a text. Or you could do a word search and then use the resulting verses as the basis of your INFER search. For now, let's just use an English Bible text (I'm using the HCSB) and do a verse search for Deuteronomy.

Once you've got a base text, you need a second window containing the text you want to search for inferences to that base text. Let's say I want to see how much the prophet Amos quotes from, alludes to, or appeals to the book of Deuteronomy. To do this, I will duplicate the tab containing Deuteronomy (keyboard shortcut: command-D), switch to searching for Words (command-;), and then enter the INFER command (shift-command-I).

If there is only one other tab which can act as a base text, Accordance will insert an INFER command with the default number of words (6) and the name of that tab. If there is more than one window which could serve as the base text, a dialog will appear so you can choose which tab you want to use. This dialog also lets you use more advanced settings, but for now, just stick with the defaults.

Now that I have the INFER command set up, I can limit my search to the book of Amos either by selecting a predefined range from the range pop-up of the More Options, or by entering the AND command (shift-command-A), followed by the RANGE command (shift-command-R), and replacing the question mark inside the RANGE command with "Amos."

When I click OK in this second window, Accordance builds a list of six-word phrases from the book of Deuteronomy (my base text) and then searches for each of those phrases in the book of Amos. By default, the INFER command allows for one word either to be dropped from the phrase or inserted into the phrase, so that approximate rather than exact matches can be found.

This search actually takes a couple of seconds, which is remarkably fast when you consider the number of phrases being searched for. For example, the book of Deuteronomy in the HCSB begins with the words "These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel." From this small portion of just one verse, we can derive four distinct six-word phrases: "These are the words Moses spoke," "are the words Moses spoke to," "the words Moses spoke to all," and "words Moses spoke to all Israel." Imagine how many distinct phrases can be derived from the entire book of Deuteronomy! Now consider that the book of Amos is then being searched for every occurrence of each of these phrases, while accounting for the possibility of omitted or inserted words! There's a lot going on here, and obviously, the larger your base text or your target text, the longer your INFER search will take.

The results of an INFER search are always fascinating. In this case, Accordance returns a series of five-word phrases (remember any one word of the six-word phrases from Deuteronomy can be omitted) in the book of Amos. Many of these, such as the first one in Amos 1:2, (He said: The LORD roars from Zion) can probably be dismissed as merely picking up common expressions rather than demonstrating any kind of literary connection.

We can, of course, test any one of these results by looking at where they came from in the base text. The easiest way to do this is to click in the verse reference of Amos 1:2 to select it, then click and hold the Search button on the Resource palette to bring up the pop-up menu. The second item in the pop-up menu is a new "Search Back" command. Choose this, and Accordance will automatically set up an inference search to find where these phrases come from in the base text. In the case of Amos 1:2, we get Deuteronomy 33:2: "He said: The Lord came from Sinai." Given the fact that in Amos, the LORD is roaring from Zion and in Deuteronomy, the LORD has come from Sinai, I would consider this connection relatively coincidental. Still, Accordance did find the same pattern of expression. In both cases, someone is speaking of something the LORD did from somewhere.

A more significant inference can be found in Amos 2:10: "I brought you from the land of Egypt and led you 40 years in the wilderness." This is actually a series of phrases from Deuteronomy, and if we use that nifty Search Back command (which you can also get by control- or right-clicking on the verse reference for Amos 2:10), we find six verses in Deuteronomy which speak of the Israelites being taken from the land of Egypt or led in the wilderness. In this case, Amos is picking up on an oft-repeated Deuteronomic expression to contrast the LORD's faithfulness to Israel with her unfaithfulness to him.

The INFER command, used in conjunction with the Search Back command, helps to draw your attention to possible literary connections between texts. Obviously, the work comes in sifting through the results and deciding which connections are significant and which are merely common forms of expression. We've done these searches in English, and even a cursory glance has shown at least one interesting connection. Doing such searches in the original Hebrew or Greek would enable us to establish even stronger verbal similarities.

So if you're starting your Ph.D. and aren't sure what to do for your dissertation, you could always start researching literary connections between various passages of the Bible; portions of the Bible with extrabiblical texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocryphal Gospels, etc.; or various extrabiblical texts with each other! Your professors will think you're brilliant, and you don't have to tell them how you're finding all these connections. (Although we'd appreciate it if you do!)

Okay, what if you're not a Ph.D. student, but a pastor trying to prepare a sermon? Will the results of an inference search "preach"? It's not hard to see how the connection in Amos 2:10 would. You could take the verses in Deuteronomy which we found using the Search Back command and read through each of those to demonstrate the importance of the Exodus event to the establishment of God's covenant with Israel. If you wanted to carry this exodus theme even further, you could look for inferences to these verses in the New Testament. It shouldn't take long to find much that will preach!

In my next post, we'll pick up where we left off and do even more with these results. Oh and by the way, I'm deliberately coming up with these examples on the fly, rather than following some carefully planned sequence which I know will provide interesting results. I want you to get a feel for how the connections you discover via the INFER command can spark new ideas and new insights which in turn can lead to deeper study.





Comments:
OK, I need more. I think I want to use this, but I haven't fully grasped it yet. As a Pastor and owner of Accordance, I would like to use Accordance more if I could.

P.S. Don't your mean *shift*-cmd-A for [and] and *shift*-cmd-R for [range]?

Thanks for the further development of this feature!!
 

Very interesting. Thanks for this post.

I can't figure something out — does INFER work with original languages? If so, it is using the lexical forms not the inflected forms I imagine.
 

David,
I tried to move from the 6 verses we found in Deut. to doing an infer search in the NT ([Range Matt-Rev]).
Each time I do this, the program crashes... am I doing something wrong?
 

Anonymous,

I don't expect you to fully grasp this feature just yet. I'll be blogging about it more.

And thanks for pointing out my leaving off the shift for the keyboard shortcuts. I've now corrected that.
----

Danny,

It does work with original languages and does default to searching by lexical form. However, you can specify inflected forms by placing "=i" (without the quotes) immediately after the INFER. Like This:

[INFER=i 6 BHS-W4]

Cool, huh?
----

Ross,

I'd suggest you e-mail support [at] accordancebible [dot] com and send a screenshot of the windows you set up to do this. Without seeing it, I have no idea if you made a mistake or not. Even if you did, Accordance shouldn't crash, so we need to see if we can reproduce it.

I did the following and it worked for me: I duplicated the window HCSB 4, then changed the HCSB 3 in the INFER command to HCSB 4. Finally, I added an AND command and RANGE command, entering the range Matt-Rev as you did.

Hope this helps.
 

Awesome Feature!!!

When I do a "Search Back" two windows open for me, is that normal? One for the search back, then another one with just the verse I searched back from. Also, are you guys getting close (within a year) to releasing UBS Bible Handbooks?
 

Justin,

Yes, it's normal for two windows to open (we'll call them window #3 and window #4). Window #3 simply sets the base text to the verse you've selected. Window #4 looks for phrases from that verse in the base text for the original inference search (i.e. in Deuteronomy, which we set up by doing a verse search in window #1). It's a little complicated, but that's the beauty of the Search Back command: it sets the whole thing up for you so you can focus on the results.
 

Following your steps (NIV as base text) I too had a crash. As the two windows open for the search back feature the program crashes. I have reproduced the same effect each time so I will contact support to see what I may be doing to encounter this error.
 

Ron sent me a series of screenshots, and here is my reply:

A picture (or 6 of them) is worth a thousand words or more!

You have the field set to chapter in each window. This is a bad idea in general as it always slows the searching but only applies when doing AND or NOT searches and wanting them to cross Verse boundaries. I get 91 hits in 22 verses when I stick to the usual Verse field (60 in 19 verses in Chapter field). However, the search back still works for me from that same word that you show. It does not crash.

When I used independent windows as you did instead of a workspace I did repeat the crash, though only with the Chapter field.

This is an obscure bug and we will fix it for the next rev. In the meantime use the Verse field and/or keep your windows as tabs in a workspace.
 

Here's what I'd like to see a demonstration of, David (when you have time).

Let's say I have a specific phrase in the Greek NT that I'm studying and I'd like to see where similar phrases occur in non-biblical works such as Philo and Josephus (Greek texts).

How would I do that kind of infer search?
 

Or perhaps, this is where the new fuzzy search is better suited?
 

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