Session 1-4

Extracting Factors of Small Stories from the Synoptic Gospels

  • Hajime Murai (Tokyo Institute of Technology)

In the Bible, the four Gospels of the New Testament record the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, putting them at the center of Christian thought over the centuries. Among these Gospels, various theological concepts are presented in the form of parables or stories told by Jesus, it is difficult to objectively identify the structure of concept relationships within them. One of the reasons is that the Bible includes abstract representation. It is difficult to interpret the meaning of each representation. Further, it is believed that the Gospels were written through complicated editing processes, therefore similar expressions and contents are found in multiple places. This is also one of the reasons why it is difficult to understand the entire structure of the theological concepts of the Gospel.

However difficult it may be to interpret the meaning of the abstract representation, it is possible to extract a word or phrase which, used characteristically, refers to a particular theological concept. Further, it might be possible to analyze the relationship of the words and phrases that indicate the various concepts scattered by the complex editing processes, and such an analysis may contribute to estimating the intention of the editor or editors of the Gospels.

In this study, the Synoptic Gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which are considered to have a high degree of similarity, are selected as the target. Based on an analysis of the co-occurrence words and phrases, the relationships between them are extracted in order to estimate the overall theological structure of the Gospels.

In general, similar contents are often expressed by different words. Even in the original Greek Gospels, similar content is represented by multiple words. In the exegesis of the Bible, it is important to read the nuances by analyzing in detail the use of such words. But this study focuses on estimating the rough structure of the theological concept of the Gospels; therefore, similar words are treated as a group of synonyms. The method for grouping words is based on the interpretation of the Bible scholars of later generations. Two different words are included in the same group if the two different words of the original text are translated into the same word in the translation. Four Japanese Bible translations and four English Bible translations were used as source data, and words were grouped together as synonyms of the original text if such grouping is common in the translation of five or more versions. As a result, synonym group of 192 species were obtained.

In order to extract the theological concept, which is composed of the co-occurring synonym groups and words, the factor analysis method was applied, based on the small story segments of the Gospels (referred to as “pericope” in biblical studies). To extract from major words and synonym groups a factor that related to the gospel as a whole, the variables of factor analysis were selected from synonym groups and words that appear in more than ten percent of all small story segments. As a result, 119 words and synonym groups were analyzed in the factor analysis. As a result of the factor analysis, 42 factors whose eigenvalues are more than 1 were extracted. The structure and relationship of the theological concepts in the Synoptic Gospels was expressed as a network based on the correlation coefficient of these factors. Also, the differences of factors in Matthew, Mark, and Luke were extracted based on the factor scores.

Bible, Goepel, structure, factor analysis, synonym