Want to impress your professors? Show them that you know how to do original/independent research using the INFER command in Accordance. Discover intertextuality not only between the books of the Bible, but also between the Bible and related literature of the time period.
One of the more challenging tasks a student in biblical studies will face is that of pursuing original research. Easily, we can ask, after 2,000 years of Christian study of the Bible--and even more than that for Jewish study--can anything original truly be found? At one time that question might have been more difficult to answer, but with features like the INFER search in Accordance Bible Software, there continue to be opportunities to make new discoveries.
Let’s start with just the Bible itself. As far back as I can remember, I had access to a Bible with cross references. These references that run parallel with a biblical text indicate where there is a similar theme, quotation, or allusion. This is fairly straightforward and most who have spent any time with any copy of the Scriptures are familiar with cross references. What many do not realize, however, is that most of these kinds of tools were created in a pre-digital age. That means someone had to read through the Bible, and based on his or her knowledge of the entire Bible, wrote down these cross references. Obviously, that is not a perfect system because our brains are not perfect.
Truth be told, though, when we’re discussing the Old and New Testaments, odds are probably against finding allusions or quotations that no one else has seen before. This is where that 2000 years of history works against us. However, the sister of original research is independent research. At the very least, you can use the INFER search to verify not just cross references but also works such as Beale & Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. In your paper, to show your instructor your independent research—or your original research if you do happen to make a new discovery—you can write something like “Using the INFER search in Accordance Bible Software, I verified…” [or “…I discovered…”].
So what, exactly, does the INFER search do? The INFER search can be used to find allusions or quotations between two independent bodies of literature. This can be done not just between books of the Bible and the testaments of the Bible, but more importantly, between the Bible and extrabiblical literature. As an example of the latter, a couple of years ago at a conference, a doctoral student approached me with a question about how to use Accordance to find any allusions in the extrabiblical Dead Sea Scrolls to a very particular passage in Leviticus about which he was writing. Since we not only have the Hebrew Bible in Accordance, but also the sectarian DSS, I used the INFER search and found multiple passages for him to explore. In recent years, I’ve heard about students and scholars finding these kinds of parallels that had been previously overlooked back in the era when this had to be done simply with the eye and the limits of one’s recall.
I hope I’ve whetted your appetite about using the INFER search. It’s one of the more powerful searches in Accordance, first introduced in Accordance v. 8, but often overlooked by those who don’t know about it. I’m not going to go into detail here about how to use the INFER search since it’s been covered fairly well elsewhere, but I will provide you a few helpful links.
INFER and SEARCH BACK (Lighting the Lamp Video Podcast #89)
And, of course, don’t forget the Accordance Help System. Really solid instruction for the INFER search can be found in the Help at Biblical Research and Analyses > Search Criteria > Search Commands > [INFER 6 ?]
Final tip for the INFER command: as you follow the steps laid out in the links above, don't forget the very import SEARCH BACK command as your final step.
Don't miss previous installments in our Strategies for Students series!
One of the most powerful and unique features of Accordance is the INFER command, yet it's quite possible you've never even heard of it. This command is designed to let you search two different passages for "inferences" from one to the other.
An inference can be a direct quotation, a paraphrase, or even a relatively vague allusion—really any use of similar language. For example, the gospel of John begins with the phrase "in the beginning," a clear allusion to Genesis 1:1. Understanding that connection helps us better understand what John is saying. In the same way, a Hebrew scholar might want to find where the book of Isaiah alludes to the book of Deuteronomy.
Historically, finding such allusions has been tricky. Scholars had to trust to their own ability to spot similar language by memory, which required an intimate knowledge of the texts they were comparing. We can spot the connection between John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 because we are quite familiar with those two verses, but imagine trying to spot any allusion to Deuteronomy in the entire book of Isaiah! With the INFER command, researchers now have a way to find measurable data on relevant inferences.
Okay, so you're not writing a dissertation on "intertextuality"; what does the INFER command have to offer you? Well, let's say you're teaching a Bible study on Genesis 12:1-3, God's call to Abram to leave his home and travel to the land of Canaan. Do other parts of the Bible allude to this passage? You can find out in seconds using the INFER command.
To use the INFER command, you first have to set up a Search tab containing your "base" text: in this case, Genesis 12:1–3. To do this, just click the Verses button, enter Gen 12:1-3 in the search box, and hit Return. Your Search tab should now display only those three verses in the Bible text you chose to search.
Now you need to create a second Search tab where you'll search for inferences to your base text. I find the easiest way to get this second tab is duplicate the first one using the keyboard shortcut command-D. This will open a tab using the same Bible text. Now just click the Words button in this second tab, then choose INFER from the Enter Command submenu of the Search menu (or use the keyboard shortcut shift-command-I). A dialog box will appear asking you which Search tab you want to use as your base text, and offering a variety of options you can choose from.
Just click OK to use the default settings. Your search argument in this second tab should now look something like this:
When you click OK to perform the search, Accordance will search the entire Bible for any place that uses similar phrases to those found in Genesis 12:1-3. In some cases, you may find that these phrases consist of very common words and the connection with Genesis 12:1-3 may just seem coincidental at best. In other cases, you'll find some very interesting connections. Rather than analyze those for you, let me just ask those of you who have tried this yourselves: which of the passages found by this search strike you as the most interesting? Let us know in the comments on this post.
This is, of course, one very simplistic use of the powerful INFER command, but I hope it gives you a taste of what "the rest of us" (non-scholars who know little about "intertextuality") can do with it.