Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Graphical Search

For a long time I have wanted to run a graphical search based on a comment made by H. Van Dyke Parunak in his article "Computers and Biblical Studies," ABD, vol. I, pp. 1112-1124, where he talks about a search for "all verbs that occur within three words of the phrase 'in Christ,' without intervening verbs."

Today I decided it was about time to put some Bible software programs to the test, so I fired up Accordance, BibleWorks and Logos to perform this particular search, using the different graphical search engines available in each package. The goal of this little exercise was simply to find out which one of them offered a cleaner, more intuitive way to build the search. Here are the results (in alphabetical order):

Accordance seems to be very straightforward, and I didn't need to refer to the online help at all.

BibleWorks took me a bit longer, because there are different ways to "filter out" intervening words, and I had to look them up.

Logos' search was more involved, since I had to specify the Greek words and their morphology independently. I also needed to refer to the help files.

As for the results, Accordance and BibleWorks agree in returning 34 hits. Logos, on the other hand, finds only 31 verses (missing 4 true occurrences and returning one spurious hit). The reason for this is that Logos doesn't really count words, but characters. So, even though I specified 0-3 intervening words, the program in fact takes it as 0-21 characters (i.e., each "word" would amount to seven "characters"). For Greek, that includes accents and breathing marks, not just letters. Therefore, this explains why in one case four intervening (shorter) terms were returned as hits, while in four other cases three intervening (longer) terms were missed altogether. I have been told that the new Logos 3, with its ability to perform syntactical searches, handles these types of queries in a better and more powerful way. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting for my copy, so I haven't been able to make use of the latest version. I'll be glad to update any relevant info once I get it. BTW, I want to thank Rick Brannan and Vincent Setterholm for their help in explaining the behavior of Logos's graphical search in this particular instance.

Now, I want you to be the judge. Apart from your own familiarity (or lack of it) with any of these three programs, which one of the screenshots strikes you as been the most "user-friendly"? Evidently, there's more to these searches than just what is displayed here (number of steps required, dialog boxes, and so on), but I'm more interested in letting you see the interface of the graphical query and interpret the information shown in each particular case.


- I forgot to explain that this search looks for all those verbs that not only occur within the set distance but also precede the phrase 'in Christ.'

- I hope I did not give the impression that I was looking for the more aesthetically appealing screenshot. What we are concerned about here is clarity and ease of use.

- Vincent (Setterholm) sends me a screenshot with a somewhat more organized layout, which I gladly reproduce below (slightly reduced in size). Note that some unnecessary proximity operators have been removed, and the morphological codes changed to full descriptions.

I am also told that the new database engine and syntactical tools in Logos version 3 do not have the same limitation noted above and, consequently, return the exact number of intervening words specified by the user.

Update (May 11):

- Rick Brannan blogs about syntactical searches, and the ways in which they can take us further than the current morphologically-based queries when it comes to doing exegesis. It's an interesting piece, but I am clearly at a disadvantage here, since I won't be able to speak intelligently about these new syntactical tools in Logos 3 until I actually use them. Got to be patient... Meanwhile I guess I should say that morphology and syntaxis must always go hand in hand, and the line between the two is often blurred. In fact, some morphologically tagged e-texts already take a more functional approach, and by doing so take us closer to what would be a typical syntactical analysis. But I digress, I'll get back to this fascinating issue in a future review. One thing is true, though: we have come a long way since Parunak's article was written.

- David Lang also interacts with my search over at Accordance blog, describing the steps that lead up to the construct window I showed above and commenting on some of the ways the resultant data can be handled by Accordance to enhance our research of this typically Pauline expression. I appreciate it, since I had no space to dwell on the implications of the search.

- Now, is anyone from BibleWorks going to give us some insights? I really wish they would set up an official blog ;-)