The time-honored question "who wrote the Bible?" may soon be answered, thanks to a computer algorithm designed by Israeli researchers to sift through the sacred work's authors. Though it can't determine the writers' names, it can pinpoint slight linguistic changes with astounding efficiency — an important step in figuring out which author wrote which sections. A guide to this development:
How does the program work?
Content-based analysis of the Bible is nothing new, but this software focuses on the authors' styles, looking for the frequency of "function" words, such as prepositions, and other indicators which have "little bearing on the meaning of the text itself," says Science Daily. The differences "could be as innocuous as an author's preference" for words like "said" versus "spoke."
So what did they find after running the program?
Two distinct styles that religious scholars already use as classifications. According to Allison Summers of the Christian Post, the algorithm has organized passages in the first five books of the Old Testament into two types: "priestly" — which characteristically refers to God by "various names" — and "non-priestly," which is less focused on religious rituals.
What can the algorithm tell us?
While the algorithm isn't advanced enough to "give researchers a precise number of possible authors," says United Press International, "it can help to identify transition points where a source changes" — where one writer's work ends and another's begins. Science Daily says that this "Torah algorithm" could also be used to help reveal the authors of other "enigmatic source material" currently "scattered throughout history."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- The hilarious hypocrisy of Republicans complaining about the imperial presidency
- Ferguson riots were terrible — but this racist reaction was worse
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- Don't argue about politics this Thanksgiving. Just don't.
- In Ferguson, Michael Brown lost his life — and America's police lost the benefit of the doubt
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- How to survive a spaceship disaster
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
Subscribe to the Week