Top 50 People in the Bible

Earlier this month, we blogged about the process used toquantify theThe Most Important Person in the Bible by computing factors such as frequency of mentions and the dispersion of those mentions across biblical books and chapters.

As you might suppose, Jesus Christ is the most important person in the Bible.

But what I findinteresting is how the Bible characters fall into rather distinct first, second and third rate clusters when we use Sean Boisen’salgorithm. These three clusters really jump out when the data is loaded into Many Eyes,IBM’sonline visualization engine.

Click the screenshot above to see a full-size static image that I enhanced with name labels…or click here to play with the live visualization at Many Eyes (Java required).

Three Clusters

Moving from right to left (descending order of importance), the three clusters that emerge are:

  1. Jesus, David, Moses, Jacob
  2. Abraham, Aaron, Solomon, Judah, Isaac, Saul (Son of Kish), Joseph, Paul, Joshua, Peter
  3. The remaining 36 characters…starting with Levi, Benjamin, Hezekiah and ending with Jehoshaphat, Uzziah and Adam.

If you wanted to study the various people in the Bible using a top-down list, it wouldn’t hurt to begin with Jesus, David and Moses. Jacob might be a little higher up the list than I would think warranted. But the second clusterseems pretty solid, with Abraham, Joseph, Paul and Peter definitely looming large in the pages ofScripture.

A few biblical figures I didn’t expect would be buriedso far down in Cluster 3: Noah and Adam, those staples of bedtime Bible stories and flannelgraphs. Plus prophets with whole books named after them such as Jeremiah and Isaiah. Of course, these are the top 50 Bible peopleout of 2,987…so we’re not talking about obscurity for any of them.

“Where are all the ladies?” you may rightly ask. None of them made the Top 50 using this name weighting scheme…but Sean did generate a data set for the Top 50 Women of the Bible which I plan to blog about in a follow-up post…

Dot Size vs. Position

Many Eyes also helpsillustrate how Sean’s inclusion of factors such as dispersion overbooks and chaptersaffects the overall ranking. Here’s a close-up of Cluster 2:

The X-axis is the overall “importance ranking” and the dot size is the number of mentions. So Sean’s weighting is evident in those places where you see a smaller dot like Abraham promoted far above a larger dot like Saul. Ranking the Bible names strictly by number of mentions would put Saul above Abraham, so we’re clearly getting a more nuanced view here.

The upshot of all this? We’re not solving the Bible Code or anything…and not trying to. But Ifind it very cool that anaverage joe like me can play around with these data and visualizations without knowing a lick of programming. I made this visualization just by selecting a visualization style and choosing which data to put on which axes. Once the dataset iscomplete (thanks, Sean!) we’ll be able to do all kinds of additional cool things not possible today…and be able to do it using Logos Bible Software!

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