The Bible, one of the most influential books ever published, evokes powerful emotions. It’s shaped personal, communal and political beliefs and altered the course of literature and human history. Little about how it’s been interpreted can be called objective.
So what happens when it’s handed over to software and reduced to raw, quantifiable data?
A new project called Bible The rewrites the entire King James Bible alphabetically as part of a larger project reorganizing seminal books from A to Z to potentially offer new and hidden interpretations of the written word.
“This distills each text down to its lowest common denominator,” says Sideline Collective, the international team of designers, writers and programmers behind the project. “It highlights the importance people tend to place on the order of said words — and their meaning — and allows for new and interesting interpretations of the written word, in much the same way as an abstract painting might.”
The King James Bible, the first book rewritten for the project, is an English translation of the Christian Bible commissioned for the Church of England in 1604 and completed and published in 1611. Look at the alphabetized “Bible The” and you’ll see something akin to a word cloud for scripture — consecutive pages covered with the same word over and over, followed by pages covered with many different ones.
Prior statistical breakdowns of the Bible reveal data like the number of words, average length of words and average number of words per verse. “Bible The” culls some additional textual trivia: The word “love” appears in the Bible 308 times, with only 87 instances of “hate.” There are 720 instances of “good” and 18 of “bad”; 96 “saints” to 48 “sinners”; and 269 “enemies” to 49 “friends.” The word “no” shows up 1,394 times, while “yes” only appears four.
But while “Bible The” produces some catchy stats, the end result is more than a statistical breakdown, Sideline Collective founding member Joseph Ernst tells me.
“The end result is an entirely new Bible, ‘Bible The,’ with its algorithm rewritten so that the book can be seen and analyzed without the author’s bias,” the artist and filmmaker says.
Sideline Collective’s fascination with algorithms that rule and shape our lives isn’t new. “By extension, we are interested in how to break those algorithms, to neuter them, so that they have less control over our lives,” Ernst says.
Past projects include Nothing on the Internet, a browser extension that turns the internet into a blank slate, like a panic button for web browsing.
The Bible and other classic books may seem worlds away from the code that powers our modern-day sensory overload, but Ernst sees a connection.
“The seminal books from yesterday can be considered precursors to today’s algorithms,” he says. “They shape humanity’s thinking, much like social media does now. So it seemed like an interesting place to investigate.”
“Bible The” is available as a limited-edition, 1,364-page leather-bound volume for 2,000 pounds (about $2,627, AU$3,693). A 1,359-page digital download goes for 10 pounds (roughly $13, AU$18). It probably won’t be the Bible you use for sacred occasions, but it might provoke discussion — and even a bit of divine inspiration.