Sunday, January 14, 2018

Weighing the Alternative Gospels: Non-Gnostic Gospels

Resuming a long-term project here, this post continues a presentation of objective, computerized statistical analysis of all the various documents that are called gospels, both those that are in the Bible and those that are not.

In the previous post, we'd looked at several documents that are often classified as Gnostic gospels, and another that is sometimes nominated for the category of Gnostic gospel. In this post, we continue with another collection of that are popularly referred to as gospels, though not as Gnostic ones.

Again, the first task is to take the expectations that come with the word "gospel" and see if those expectations actually apply to these other documents. We're starting with a simple orientation to the relative size of the documents, and using English as a "rough analysis" basis for word-counts in a common language. As a point of comparison, the Biblical gospels run in length from the shortest as the Gospel of Mark at around 13840 words, to the longest as the Gospel of Luke at around 24180 words.

The relative lengths of the non-canonical documents here, in round numbers are:
  • Gospel of the Savior - 1420 words
  • Infancy Gospel of Thomas - 3210 words
  • Proto-Evangelium of James - 5310 words
  • Gospel of Peter - 1590 words
The four of these together are shorter than the Gospel of Mark alone. The longest of these, the Proto-Evangelium of James, is less than 40% of the length of the shortest Biblical gospel; it is mainly concerned with the events in the lives of Jesus' grandparents and parents leading up to his birth.

In the next installment I plan to look at another introductory question, the relative focus on Jesus, in both the Biblical and non-Biblical gospels. This will put us in a better position to have an overview of the documents in general.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Weighing the Alternative Gospels: The Gnostic Gospels

This post resumes a project that I had set aside and have always intended to continue: an objective, computerized statistical analysis of all the various documents that are called gospels, both those that are in the Bible and those that are not.

I had previously posted word clouds as an overview of several alternative gospels that are (or some contend might be) classified as Gnostic. This type of introduction is important because the word "gospel" may cause certain expectations for those familiar with the four Biblical gospels. In the Biblical gospels, the focus on Jesus' life and teachings results in documents where the most commonly-used word is "Jesus" in each of the four. That expectation of the word "gospel" may not apply to all of the alternative gospels, which do not always share that same focus on Jesus. I've included the most commonly-used word here for each of the Gnostic gospels, with links to more complete word clouds for those interested.
For reference, there is also a Venn diagram of their major areas of focus showing the top 10 words used in each of those gospels. "Jesus" is included as the most common word for the Gospel of Thomas, but does not make the top 10 words for any of the other Gnostic documents covered here. It is important for those familiar with the Biblical gospels that we do not not carry forward too many assumptions about the content of the alternative gospels simply from the fact many scholars refer to them as gospels.

One important item lacking so far is any indication of their size. For instance, in the Biblical gospels, Luke is the longest (the NIV text that I used had around 24180 words) and Mark is the shortest (around 13840 words), by word count.

How much material is in the Gnostic gospels? This type of overview is important again as a perspective-check for people who are used to the word "gospel" referring to the canonical gospels, and so carry over some expectations to the alternative gospels, to find that those expectations may not apply.
The Gnostic gospels are relatively shorter than the Biblical gospels. They range from the longest (the Gospel of Philip, where "Jesus" is not among the top 10 most common words) at about 2/3 the length of the Gospel of Mark, to the shortest (the Gospel of Thomas, the most Jesus-focused of the group) at less than 1/10 the length of the Gospel of Mark.

I hope to continue this series with other, non-Gnostic gospels in an upcoming post

Technical notes: This initial comparison has been done using English texts for the word counts. Since the various documents are in different original languages, if we want to compare word counts at all then the comparison has to be in a common language, otherwise the different meaning-density of the languages would skew the results. So English will work as a common-denominator language for an initial survey of relative lengths. For the sake of the word counts, I did not include things that were not part of the original document's text such as introductory remarks, concluding remarks, chapter headings, or parenthetical references to other documents. I also excluded thing that were not actual words such as verse numbers or the standalone punctuation mark " - ". I did keep any ellipsis marks ("...") as part of the text for word counts, on the hopes that the translators were accurate there and it did stand for one or more words in a damaged ancient manuscript.) The results are rounded to the nearest 10 words.