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Bible’s Authors Decoded

Bible’s authors decoded by computer

A group of Israeli researchers has built a computer algorithm to decode one of the most important books in Western culture: the Bible.

The results accord generally with the consensus of scholars that the book contains writing styles defined as “priestly” and “non-priestly.”

The scientists developed an algorithm able to analyze the writing styles found in different parts of the “five books of Moses,” or Pentateuch, that is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

The algorithm compared sets of synonyms (called synsets) in blocks of text, along with “function” words, such as prepositions. It then looked at the distribution of the most common words in the Bible. By finding sets that were similar in any two blocks, it was able to group them according to the style they were written in.

The synonyms were identified using Hebrew roots that were translated the same way in the King James version, based largely on the work of the 19th century scholar James Strong.

Computer scientist Moshe Koppel of Bar-Ilan University, a member of the team that developed the algorithm, noted one interesting result: the synonyms for “God” weren’t that important. “Some of the (synonyms) that do the heavy lifting on the Pentateuch had been noted before by scholars, but the most famous synset — names of God — actually didn’t help at all.”

That may sound counter intuitive, but Koppel said there are about 150 different sets, so the fact that a word of historical significance doesn’t help determine authorship isn’t that shocking.

To test out the algorithm, the researchers used it to analyze two well-known books of the Bible, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who scholars agree had two different authors. They cut the text up and mixed them together at random. The algorithm managed to separate the two with near 99 percent accuracy, demonstrating that the method worked.

Koppel stressed that the algorithm can’t say exactly how many authors the Bible has (or doesn’t have). But it can say where styles change. That alone can shed light on debates over authorship. Generally speaking current scholarship divides the Pentateuch into two writing styles: priestly and non-priestly. The algorithm in most areas divided the text the same way, so that would seem to show that the division is valid.

But there was one big caveat: the researchers had to tell the algorithm how many stylistic “families” they wanted the text to be split into. While asking for two gave a result that agreed generally with scholarly consensus, dividing the text into more than that seemed to stray from it.

University of Pennsylvania professor of linguistics Mark Liberman, who wasn’t connected with the research, noted the big innovation was the use of synsets rather than just the location of words or their frequencies.

“The key to making such methods work is to hit on features (words or constructions or word-senses or whatever) that genuinely differentiate the authors,”
he said. “In their experiment on un-munging Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they found that word distributions did not work well; but synonym choice (as estimated in a clever way) did work.”

That could make the algorithm useful for analyzing other historic texts. Because it uses criteria not subject to interpretation. Ignoring what the writer “meant,” it can quickly zero in on what was actually written. It can also pick up more subtle changes in word use and distribution than a human can, since it can instantly check through hundreds of synonym sets.

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The curious case of the Bear, the Lion, and the Leopard

ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Wednesday for a security alliance of several former Soviet nations and China to form a united front against the West.

Ahmadinejad’s address to fellow heads of state at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kazakhstan will likely deepen suspicions that the bloc is intended as a counterweight to the United States across the region.

In a summit declaration signed by all the member states, the organization also attacked missile defence programs in another apparent dig at the United States.

The one-sided and unlimited development of missile defence systems by one government or a narrow group of governments could cause damage to strategic stability and international security,” the document said.

Much of Ahmadinejad’s fiery speech was devoted to levelling an exhaustive series of thinly veiled accusations against unnamed Western countries, which he described as “enslavers, colonialists, (and) invaders.”

Which one of our countries (has played a role) in the black era of slavery, or in the destruction of hundreds of millions of human beings?” Ahmadinejad said, opening his address.

The SCO was formed in Shanghai in 2001 by China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to address religious extremism and border security in Central Asia, but it has in recent years attracted interest in full membership from countries like Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its scope has since broadened to economic issues, but the organization has struggled nonetheless to forge a clear purpose.

BIBLICAL PROPHETIC RELEVANCE AND PROPHETIC DREAM OF IRAN/RUSSIA/CHINESE ALLIANCE

Iran’s entry to the SCO has been resisted by the existing members, who worry that Iran’s membership would lend the group a more explicitly anti-American quality, a concern that Ahmadinejad was seemingly unwilling to allay.

Russia has been an active opponent of U.S.-backed plans to create a missile shield in Europe and was likely behind the inclusion of harsh words against the proposal in the summit declaration.

Moscow sees the U.S.-led missile defence plans as a potential threat to its security. It has agreed to consider NATO’s proposal to co-operate on the missile shield, but insists the system be run jointly.

Reprising the criticism addressed at Washington, Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed calls for the United States to respect his country’s sovereignty.

Karzai has in recent months become increasingly strident in his attacks against NATO’s accidental bombings of Afghan civilians, describing the Western-led alliance as being at risk of becoming an “occupying force.

“I believe together we can reform the way the world is managed. We can restore the tranquillity of the world,” he said.

LEOPARD LION BEAR IN PROPHECY
Turning to his audience of ex-Soviet and Asian leaders he asked: “Have any of us used an atomic bomb against the defenceless citizens of any other country?”

Returning to his past claims that a conspiracy could have been behind the September 11 attacks on the United States,

Ahmadinejad added:

“Have any of our countries played a part in the creation of 9/11 under whose pretext Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded and more than one million people have been killed or wounded?

Chinese leader Hu Jintao held talks on Tuesday with Ahmadinejad, discussing Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

China urged Iran to participate in the six-party talks on nuclear energy and “take substantial steps in respect of establishing trust” and “speed up the process of dialogue,” the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Tehran used to rely on Moscow as a dependable ally in its standoff over the nuclear programme but relations have rapidly deteriorated as Russia increased pressure on Iran after Dmitry Medvedev became president.

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