Dissertation: Biblical laws as social networks

14 July 2021

If you think that the laws of the Old Testament are set in stone, the thesis of Christian Canu Højgaard (VU Amsterdam, 8 July 2021, cum laude) shows otherwise. Fundamental work of ETCBC and DANS contributed to the realisation of the work.

Prof. Eep Talstra, the founder of the linguistic text database of the Hebrew Bible, has spent much of his time in recent years tracing actors in storylines in the Bible. He does this with systems of rules, which he then releases on ‘his’ database. Højgaard has taken that data, extracted it, cleaned it and used it to model the text as a social network: a graph where the nodes are the actors, and the connections represent the interactions between them.

Fundamental work from ETCBC and DANS has contributed to the realisation of this work. This was already the case with the work of Martijn Naaijer and Christiaan Erwich. How this handling of text data has developed over the years is described in Coding the Hebrew Bible.


The text of the Hebrew Bible is available in Text-Fabric format. The actual information is contained in a structure that you can use directly when programming, without too much pre-processing. Additional data, such as Talstra’s actors, can be put into the same format. A researcher can then analyse and visualise them in Jupyter notebooks. Højgaard did the same, and delivered his results in the same Text-Fabric format. This allows other researchers to use the data seamlessly in their own research.

Højgaard: “Text-fabric is a unique research tool that provides easy access to the ETCBC database of the Hebrew Bible (and other ancient corpora as well). One of the main benefits of using Text-Fabric is the possibility for combining it with other Python packages for processing the data. Data retrieval, organization, processing, and visualization can be carried out in the same environment, for example with Jupyter notebook. Text-Fabric is therefore a highly flexible research tool for advanced and transparent research.”

Also noteworthy in a dissertation on Biblical Hebrew: the bibliography cites both the dataset and the software, including DOI.

More information

Read more about the dissertation on the ETCBC blog or read the dissertation here. Please contact Dirk Roorda for any questions.

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