The First Hyperlinked Text: The Bible and its 63,779 Cross-References

By Adam J. Pearson

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63,779 Cross-References

I’d like to share with you one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring images I have ever seen. Period.

Professor Jordan Peterson recently and brilliantly described the Bible as the first “hyperlinked text,” that is, the first text that complexly references itself throughout the entirety of its structure in a vast series of internal interconnections. Think of Wikipedia, in which the articles all references and interlink to one another in a vast web of knowledge.

The Bible is hyperlinked in the same way, but for ancient stories and repositories of ancient myths, insights, narratives, wisdom, mystical poetry, and ethical theories. The difference was that instead of clicking, ancient readers would have to flip through the pages like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book.

What does this amazing image show, you may wonder? It is truly mind-blowing when you fully grasp it. Consider this staggering fact:

Every single one of the lines on the bottom of the image is a Biblical verse. The length of each line is proportionate to the number of times that verse is referred to in some way by some other verse in the Bible.

In other words, this image is a map. It shows the 63,779 cross-references in the Bible, this massive sweeping text written over thousands of years by hundreds of people from a wide variety of different backgrounds in three different languages: Greek, Latin, and Aramaic.

Starting at any one verse, imagine how many pathways you could take through all the interlinked verses through the text! There are nearly endless permutations and combinations and every verse and phrase is dependent on nearly every other verse and phrase to get the “full” meaning of what this sweeping collection of many books within a book says on any one subject…

Christopher Harisson offers even deeper insight into this amazing diagram he created when he says that it

“…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 the 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.”

In short, the Bible is an important book. Indeed, it is one of the most foundational texts on which our culture was built, the massive powerhouse that inspired some of our most-exquisite literature, films, music, poetry, philosophers, and theologians, influences the lives of millions upon millions of people, a text for which countless people were paradoxically both baptized at birth and killed in the name of, and which represented the very deepest insights that human beings were able to come up with over thousands of years, many powerful insights of which still have something to say to us this day.

And this point remains true even if we don’t read the Bible in a fundamentalist-literalist way, but rather take the majority of it as metaphorical and mythical with some intrusions of history throughout and a whole lot of cultural context infused into its nearly inexhaustible depths. It’s a really amazing and awe-inspiring book, to be sure, and with an amazing version like the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, which sheds light on the ancient cultures and contexts that inform its verses, can be a really fascinating and inspiring read.

Thus, when people ask why I devote my time to carefully studying the Bible, these are some of the reasons I mention. And they are only a few of the thousands that could be added… Indeed, as a Mystic first and foremost and a student of art, history, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and cultural and cognitive anthropology more secondarily, I am not concerned with establishing the “empirical truth” of Bible claims.

The question of whether God should be thought of as “existing” or not is entirely besides the point to me. I approach God or the Divine as a Zen student would, as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite would, or as an Advaita Vedantin neti-neti practitioner would, namely as That which is beyond all of our potential and actual human conceptions, even the concept of “beyond” itself. That, of course, would include and negate even the notions and metaphors of “being,” “matter,” existence,” “spirit,” “father,” “son” and so on, which can at best be metaphorical pointers, but never literally applicable.

Therefore, focusing on the “existence” or “nonexistence” of God can be seen as a moot point which reflects a fundamental misunderstanding; whatever God is, That must be, not another spatiotemporally-constrained empirical object with a finite subset of physical properties, but beyond he notions of “existence” and “nonexistence,” “space,” “time,” “property,” “object,” “subject,” and so on ad infinitum through all possible and actual human concepts.

A Mystic approaches the Divine with a naked mind, what the Zen master Seung Sahn once called “the mind that doesn’t know,” because that which it aims to approach is beyond all possible potential and actual knowledge. Or, as Qabalists would say, beyond Knowledge, beyond Understanding, beyond Wisdom, beyond the Crown of Oneness, beyond Limitless Light, beyond Limitlessness, and beyond our most elevated and subtle conception of Nothingness itself…

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Ev says:

    Excellent post! I too approach the Bible as a Mystic and I am a Zen practitioner.

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