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Project Watch: Semantically-Annotated New Testament (SemANT)

Another of Sean Boisen's projects is called The SemANT Project, which he describes as "an ambitious vision to translate the New Testament into a formal meaning representation language based on open Internet standards, producing a sharable resource that supports automated processing and integration with other resources." Blogging about the "The Vision of a Semantic New Testament" he says, among other things, the following:

For example, suppose you want to search for Bible verses that address the sin of pride. Your only option is to imagine the various words that might express that concept in a particular translation. "pride" is an obvious choice: the adjectival version "proud" requires a little more thought. You'll probably need a thesaurus to come up with other synonyms like "haughty", "conceited", or "arrogant" (but don't forget "arrogance"). Only those with substantial Biblical experience are likely to think of figurative expressions like "puffed up". If you use the Message translation, you'll need to include "head" for 1 Timothy 3:6: "He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head ...": but of course, including a general word like this will bring in many other verses that have nothing to do with pride. On top of all this, any such search will mistakenly include a different sense of pride referring to legitimate pleasure in others: "I have great pride in you" (2 Cor 7:4, ESV).

The goal of the Semantically-Annotated New Testament Project (SemANT) is this:

To annotate the New Testament with a formal semantic representation based on open Internet standards, producing a sharable resource that supports practical applications like meaning-based automated processing and integration with other resources.

Admittedly, it is a truly ambitious project, not likely to see the light anytime soon. But there are already a few tools available that can be used by those interested in New Testament Semantic studies. Let's see:

First, there are two electronic resources worth noting: Friberg's Morphology (Analytical Greek New Testament) and its associated Greek Lexicon, available with BibleWorks, Bibloi, Libronix Digital Library System, QuickVerse, and WORDSearch, and Louw-Nida's Lexicon (Greek-English Lexicon of the NT: Based on Semantic Domains), included in the aforementioned programs (except for QuickVerse) and also in Accordance and PC Study Bible. Friberg's work follows a functional (rather than a formal) analysis. In my opinion is has been treated unfairly by adherents to a strictly formal analysis, but it can be really useful if handled with care. As for Louw-Nida, it was a ground-breaking endeavor that has already become a classic in its own right. This lexicon allows one to see "words" grouped according to the various meanings they display in different NT contexts. Those meanings are classified by "domains".

Secondly, there are certain electronic tools in some Bible software packages that can take advantage of the contents of the resources mentioned in the paragraph above. One very welcome addition is the ability to work with lists of words/hits returned by any given search. These lists can then be managed in different ways, but one of the most interesting uses is when you are able to build a custom list (with synonyms, antonyms, semantic families or what have you) and plug it back into an earlier or a new search argument (sort of like searching your search results and fine-tuning them). Another very powerful features is the option included in the Advanced Search Engine of BibleWorks to build search queries based on all or part of the items contained in Louw-Nida's domain. Suppose you want to use domain #22 (Trouble, Hardship, Relief, Favorable Circumstances), section D (Difficult, Hard). You would select any number of words (from 22.29 to 22.34), run the search and get all the verses in context with the appropriate word highlighted. By doing this, one single search is all you need to compile a significant number of terms that share a somewhat related meaning. Always remember that your results will be as good as the tagging and categorization of the texts used! And this holds true for both printed and electronic tools.

As you can see, the number of resources and the different ways these are electronically processed, is still relatively small. I have no doubt we are bound to see dramatic improvements in this area in the months/years ahead. In fact I would be extremely disappointed if we didn't, but don't hold your breath just yet. This is a mid-term race. It is costly, in terms of man-hours and moneys, but hopefully we'll get there!


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 7, 2004 10:49 AM.

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