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January 8, 2010


A stunning visualization of the Bible’s 63,779 cross-references

by quaesitor

It’s weird – i could have sworn I’d posted this before as I’ve had it for ages – but clearly haven’t. So here goes…
Chris Harrison is a genius at creating novel ways to visualize data. A friend of his suggested taking the Bible as an interesting data set in itself, and this is what he came up with.

Here is his explanation:

This set of visualizations started as a collaboration between Christoph Römhild and myself. Christoph, a Lutheran Pastor, first emailed me in October of 2007. He described a data set he was putting together that defined textual cross references found in the Bible. He had already done considerable work visualizing the data before contacting me. Together, we struggled to find an elegant solution to render the data, more than 63,000 cross references in total. As work progressed, it became clear that an interactive visualization would be needed to properly explore the data, where users could zoom in and prune down the information to manageable levels. However, this was less interesting to us, as several Bible-exploration programs existed that offered similar functionality (and much more). Instead we set our sights on the other end of the spectrum –- something more beautiful than functional. At the same time, we wanted something that honored and revealed the complexity of the data at every level –- as one leans in, smaller details should become visible. This ultimately led us to the multi-colored arc diagram you see below.
The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible. Books alternate in color between white and light gray. The length of each bar denotes the number of verses in the chapter. Each of the 63,779 cross references found in the Bible is depicted by a single arc – the color corresponds to the distance between the two chapters, creating a rainbow-like effect.

As well as being stunningly beautiful as an image (which is what they were aiming for), it wonderfully provides a sense of the bible’s internal integrity despite it’s palpable complexity. The 176 verses of Ps 119 stand at the centre point, as if it were a mirror creating a vast symmetry. What is especially striking is the number of lines that stretch all the way from Genesis to Revelation.

Look and wonder. I ordered the poster – it’s even more amazing close up…

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 8 2010


  2. bl1y
    Jan 8 2010

    What exactly constitutes a cross reference in the Bible? I don’t recall any chapters of the bible sending with footnotes saying “See PQR: XX: X-X.”

    Does Matthew 5:38-39 have a line going back to Leviticus 24:19-21? That Matthew verse specifically refers to the Leviticus one, so it sounds like it should count as a cross reference. But, it certainly doesn’t show the Bible to have internal integrity. Matthew essentially says that the rule in Leviticus is bad and we should stop following it.


    • Jan 8 2010

      hi bl1y (name…?! why be anonymous?)
      no oops!
      Of course, ancient manuscripts of the bible (or indeed of any other ancient text) do not carry footnotes and references. But that hardly means such references are not there. The notion of cross-references can cover a wide range of things:
      – a direct quotation in NT of OT (100s of these all over the place); sometimes NT combines a number of different quotations (as Mk1:2-3 does with Malachi 3:1 & Isaiah 40:3; or )
      – an allusion or paraphrase (e.g. John 1:1 is clearly a deliberate allusion to Genesis 1:1, or Luke;s Parable of the Tenants in Luke 20 picking up from Isaiah 5)
      – reference to an incident or biblical event (e.g. Lk 17:26 picks up Noah in Gen 6-9)
      – a correction of a misinterpretation of a previous event/text – hence the reference you mention. This is not sophistry but a point widely recognised by commentators of many hues – Jesus is not contradicting Leviticus per se, but it’s application in the wrong place. Eye for an eye is about the principle of proportionality in justice, as administered by an impartial third person (i.e. a judge determines punishment that has to be in proportion and not excessive – i.e. you steal a pencil, you don’t end up executed). Jesus is responding, as he does throughout the Sermon on the Mount, by saying ‘You have heard it said… but I tell you” – picking up commonly held views – contradicting the idea that you can take justice into your own hands (i.e. punching back without recourse to a impartial third party. Hence his whole point in the paragraph about turning the cheek.
      Hope that helps

  3. Sandy
    Feb 11 2018

    How/Where can I order the poster print?

  4. Gwen L McElroy
    Apr 26 2019

    help!! I would really like to order poster…any ideas???

  5. Carson
    Apr 17 2020

    Please help me understand — what do the different colors denote?

    • Apr 17 2020

      afraid i have no idea!

    • Pat Edwards
      Feb 4 2021

      The colors represent the distance between the chapters. example-yellow green lines from early chapters ( Genesis arching over to end chapters Revelation) Looks like the artist just picked yellow and green but could have picked purple and reds to be the exterior arches.

  6. Brian Becker
    Aug 24 2020

    How can I order a copy of this in a poster?


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