The Ups and Downs of the Bible: A Sentiment Analysis of Scripture

What are the most upbeat parts of the Bible, and what passages are the most bleak? One of our Bible Gateway colleagues, Stephen Smith, has created a statistical overview of the Bible using a technique called “sentiment analysis.” The goal was to map trends of positivity and negativity (cheeriness and gloominess) across the events of the entire Bible. The resulting visualization shows the ups and downs of sentiment across the Biblical narrative:

A sentiment analysis of the Bible. (Click the chart for a larger view.)

Here’s how Stephen summarizes the results:

Things start off well with creation, turn negative with Job and the patriarchs, improve again with Moses, dip with the period of the judges, recover with David, and have a mixed record (especially negative when Samaria is around) during the monarchy. The exilic period isn’t as negative as you might expect, nor the return period as positive. In the New Testament, things start off fine with Jesus, then quickly turn negative as opposition to his message grows. The story of the early church, especially in the epistles, is largely positive.

Sentiment analysis is a statistical technique that attempts to pull subjective data from an objective dataset. If I said “I hate Mondays” to a computer, the computer would read the phrase as just another string of characters with no positive or negative emotional value. But to a human, it’d be pretty clear that I just haven’t had my coffee yet. It is possible, however, for a computer to parse vocabulary and grammar relationships across a body of text to determine positive and negative trends.

You can read more about how the Bible sentiment chart was created at OpenBible.info. It’s been highlighted at FlowingData.com, the O’Reilly Radar blog, and Fast Company’s Co.Design.

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Posted by Chris

Filed under Statistics