WordCruncher can help you search sacred texts fast. And it’s free.

09.25.2015 | Guest

One of the lesser-known Maxwell Institute projects is WordCruncher, free software which assists with close comparative studies of texts. This guest post is by Colby Townsend, a student at the University of Utah who is completing two honors bachelor’s degrees in Comparative Literature and in Religious Studies. He discovered WordCruncher is an invaluable tool for people doing research like his. —BHodges

Intertextuality in Sacred Texts

Sacred texts have been the subject of close scrutiny for more than two millennia. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, texts have served the purpose of binding communities together even as interpretation and canon has evolved. Authors who recorded what would later become the Christian Old Testament drew from prior authoritative texts to compose their new scriptural works. ((See the classic work by Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Clarendon: Oxford University Press, 1985).)) Whether it was Deuteronomy’s reformulation of the earlier laws in Exodus and Numbers, ((See Bernard Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); and Jeffrey Stackert, Rewriting the Torah: Literary Revision in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation (Forschungen Zum Alten Testament, 52; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007).)) Leviticus’s reworking of earlier priestly material, ((See Israel Knohl, Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).)) borrowing in the prophetic literature, ((See Richard L. Schultz, Search for Quotation: Verbal Parallels in the Prophets (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, vol. 180; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).)) or the heavy influence of the Old Testament on the New Testament authors, ((The literature on the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament is much greater than that specifically in the Old Testament. A few exemplars can be found in Steve Moyise, The Old Testament in the New (T&T Clark Approaches to Biblical Studies; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015); Maarten J.J. Menken and Steve Moyise, Genesis in the New Testament (Library of New Testament Studies, vol. 466; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2012); Thomas B. Hatina, ed., Biblical Interpretation in Early Christian Gospels, Volume 1: The Gospel of Mark (Library of New Testament Studies, vol. 304; London: T&T Clark International, 2006); and Steve Moyise, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (London: T&T Clark, 2008).)) writers of scripture have always created newer texts from borrowed phrases, motifs, and tropes found in earlier religious writings. The ancient biblical tradition forms the background of modern Mormonism. The intersections between texts of the LDS Standard Works are myriad, offering thousands of clues toward better understanding. With this in mind, many LDS scholars today have decided to approach Restoration scripture through the lens of intertextual studies. ((Exemplars include Nicholas J. Frederick, “Line Within Line: An Intertextual Analysis of Mormon Scripture and the Prologue of the Gospel of John” (Unpublished PhD Dissertation; Claremont Graduate University, 2013); John Hilton, III, “Old Testament Psalms in the Book of Mormon,” in David R. Seely, et al, eds., Ascending the Mountain of the Lord (Provo: Religious Studies Center at BYU, 2013), 291-311; and Julie Smith, “So Shall My Word Be: Reading Alma 32 Through Isaiah 55,” in Adam S. Miller, ed., An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32 (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2014), 71-86.)) Originally coined by Julia Kristeva in the 1960’s, “intertextuality” has grown into something much more expansive than the French literary critic originally intended. Describing intertextuality, Kristeva stated that “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another.” ((Julia Kristeva, “Word, Dialogue and Novel,” in T. Moi, ed., The Kristeva Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 37; quoted in Armin Lange and Matthias Weigold, Biblical Quotations and Allusions in Second Temple Literature (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 21.)) Practitioners of general intertextual studies have sought all kinds of connections between texts. In Biblical studies, focus has been most often directed to looking for influence, much like source criticism. Although this approach isn’t without its critics, literary dependence is still an important sub-field of intertextuality. Modern interpreters look for possible ways that original authors agreed with—or diverged from—their sources, thus providing suggestions about the thought process of the text’s composer. This allows modern readers to see things they never would have without considering intertextuality.

Using WordCruncher

In order to compare similar phrases in various kinds of texts, it is essential to first come up with a list of these phrases. This kind of study used to be relegated to those who had the time, patience, and interest to spend hours pouring over concordances. Today we’re fortunate enough to have computer programs that can compare phrases between two texts faster than ever. Rather than months or years of comparing, a full list of similar phrases between two texts can be produced within minutes by a program like WordCruncher. WordCruncher is free software that can be downloaded online from BYU’s website on computers and handheld devices like the iPhone. Within WordCruncher, students can download various texts like the LDS  Standard Works, then compare any chapter or book with any other chapter or book. On a PC, you simply open the program and right click anywhere on the scripture text. Select “Book Reports” from the drop-down menu, then select “Phrase Compare Report.” This report can compare any number of verses, chapters, or books with any other:
WCphrasecomparereport

WordCruncher

For example, I compared Malachi with all of the Book of Mormon except for 3 Ne. 24-25 (because I already knew those chapters quote Mal. 3-4). Each parallel phrase quickly appeared in a nice list, which I saved by clicking “Save results” on the bottom left-hand side of the screen.
WordCruncher

WordCruncher

I copied and pasted the report into an Excel spreadsheet where I could analyze my comparison. WordCruncher saved me several hundred hours that I would have spent searching for these phrases line by line. The only problem I found with running the “Phrase Compare Report” is that none of the verses are provided for quick reference. I had to go onto WordCruncher and type in the individual phrases in the search field to discover their exact location in the Standard Works. This way, I could compare the context and quickly check to see if there is much of a comparison between the two texts, but it can be cumbersome to locate where each of the phrases are. ((Monte Shelley, a WordCruncher programmer, suggested I try using the spreadsheet to sort and highlight phrases of interest: “I would first put a double quote in the WordCruncher Find box, then copy and paste a phrase of interest from the spreadsheet, then add a closing double quote, and finally press Enter to see where a selected phrase is located.” Personal correspondence, July 21, 2015.)) That being said, WordCruncher has been an invaluable tool for my honors thesis research. ((Colby J. Townsend, “The Yahwist’s Influence on the Writing of the Book of Mormon” (unpublished honors thesis; University of Utah, 2016).)) Being able to select exactly which verses of the Pentateuch to compare with the entire Book of Mormon has saved me hundreds of hours of going line by line, phrase by phrase. Programs like WordCruncher will take intertextual scripture studies into the next generation. Comparisons between phrases will prove invaluable in understanding our scriptural texts, positively influencing how we read scripture at the academic and the devotional levels. ((Other tips for using WordCruncher are available here.))