Friday, August 29, 2008

Text Linguistics and Statistics

As Mark Twain said: There are lies, there are damnable lies, and then there statistics! Thanks to Rick Brannan, I found this quote from Matthew Brook O'Donnell:

"It seems unlikely that by simply counting words it is possible to differentiate between authors. While a particular author may have a core or base vocabulary, as well as an affinity for certain words (or combination/collocation of words), there are many factors, for instance, age, further education, social setting, rhetorical purpose and so on, that restrict or expand this core set of lexical items. In spite of this, New Testament attribution studies and many commentaries (sadly, some rather recent ones at that) have placed considerable weight on counting the number of words found in one letter but not found in a group of letters assumed to be authentic" (Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament, 388).


Richard Fellows said...


if you don't agree with other people's statistical analyses you need to produce your own analysis. This would be more productive than trotting out the quotation about damnable lies and statistics. This quotation tends to be used by people who don't understand statistics and don't like what a statistical argument demonstrates.

There are, of course, many other arguments against Pauline authorship of the Pastorals.

Henryk G said...

Actually published computer studies have shown that the "pastorals" have a close "affinity" to the seven universally-accepted Pauline letters.

I list 3 of the more recent ones below:
* Alivar has shown that the 'Timothy's' have greater 'affinity' to Romans, Ephesians and Colosians than do Romans, Ephesians and Colosians to other Pauline epistles eg 1 Corinthians or Galatians. See Alviar,JJ, (2008), ''Recent Advances in Computational Linguistics and their Application to Biblical Studies'', New Test. Stud. 54, pp. 151-52, esp. Fig.4.

* Smith corrected Morton, and showed that on his criteria 'the most likely interpretation is that St. Paul wrote all the Epistles'. See: Smith, MWA, (1987), ''Hapax Legomena in Prescribed Positions: An Investigation of Recent Proposals to Resolve Problems of Authorship'',Literary and Linguistic Computing, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1987.
Barr writes 'In view of the distinctive patterns found in these corpora it cannot be held, ... that the Pastorals are pseudonymous writings ...'. See: Barr, GK (2002), ''The Impact of Scalometry on New Testament Letters'',The Expository Times, 2002; 114; 3, DOI: 10.1177/001452460211400102.

So based on this evidence we should accept the Pastorals as Pauline?

sujomo said...

Hi Mike,

Your name's sake, Tony Bird, of PTC Melbourne has written on this.