Visualizing the Book of Genesis

Psychology and a dash of data science help visualize the Bible.

Posted Feb 04, 2020

Genesis is the first book of the Bible.  It covers the period from Creation to the death and burial of Jacob.  It also contains the flood and the story of Joseph, among other exciting events. 

Usually, to understand Genesis, you'd have to read it. But there are other ways to "understand" it.  One of my favorites is turning the entire Book into a single figure.  I recently created a tool to do this, which I call textSight. This is a tool to understand the psychology of language. 

What textSight does is take the words in a text and turn them into a visual display of the rise and fall of positive and negative language. When the language is positive (Good), then the line of the story moves upwards.  When the language is negative (Bad), the line moves downwards.

The figure below shows this for Genesis.  The red circles show you every time the word 'God' is mentioned. God is around a lot in the Creation story, but less so during the burial of Jacob at the end. 

What's the part in the middle where the story gets negative and God is around a lot?  To find out, you can go to the interactive version here, which will allow you to hover over that part of the story with your mouse to see the language at that point in the story. Make sure you drag the 'smooth out the sentiment' slider to the right, so you can merge the words into a smooth rise and fall to suit your mood. 

The most negative point in the story is when Joseph must bury Jacob, at the end. Creation, on the other hand, is pretty positive. There's a life lesson there. 

Thomas Hills
Visualized Genesis with textSight
Source: Thomas Hills

In the interactive version, you can also type in other words you might be interested in. For example, here is the word "blood."

Thomas Hills
'blood' in Genesis
Source: Thomas Hills

And here is the word "love."

Thomas Hills
'love' in Genesis
Source: Thomas Hills

The positivity or negativity of each word is determined by asking many people to rate a word on a numerical scale from less to more positive.  Words like "blood," as you can see from the figures above, are fairly negative.  Whereas words like 'love' are rated more positively. By taking these numbers and averaging across words in the text, one can visualize the story.

Tools like this are being used increasingly in psychology to evaluate the underlying psychology of natural language, either in newspapers, books, or in online reviews.  It's a big market and it's called sentiment analysis. 

If you're interested, you can enter your own text in this tool here, created by a good friend, Cynthia Siew.

And in case you're not satisfied without more colors, here's a word cloud, which shows words based on their frequency of occurrence.  God, as you see, is a key character.  A lot of stuff also gets "said."  This figure was created using one of the many online tools for word clouds.  

Thomas Hills
Word cloud for book of Genesis
Source: Thomas Hills

Enjoy.

Thomas on twitter