New text analysis shows the true story of Christmas

Posted on 18 December 2012

New text analysis shows the true story of Christmas

How well do you really know the Christmas story? A new analytical tool maps out the
Nativity story in a new light

As schoolchildren across the country play out the birth of Jesus in school Nativities this week, the Christmas story will more often than not comprise of the classic ingredients - shepherds, wise men, King Herod and a manger.

However, a new text analysis tool, developed in partnership with Keele University, has mapped out the story of Jesus’ birth in each of the four gospels, using key themes such as shepherds, a manger, Bethlehem to show the true extent of the well-known inconsistencies between the texts.

The resulting image shows clearly how Matthew’s gospel sets the scene in Bethlehem and goes into detail about the massacre of the innocents by King Herod and the arrival of the wise men, whereas Luke instead tells the story of the arrival of the shepherds at the manger. Meanwhile, the tool clearly shows how John and Mark do not reference the nativity story in their gospels, instead introducing Jesus as a grown man, being baptised by John the Baptist in the river Jordan.

The innovative software, Search Visualizer, gives a new way of visualising themes in texts, with each square representing a word, and coloured squares representing search keywords. When used to examine keywords in the four versions of the nativity story, it gives a clear and instant indication of where important themes appear in the texts.

Dr Gordon Rugg, Senior Lecturer at Keele University, developed the software to create a new way of visualising texts, making it much easier to spot interesting themes or patterns in the language. Dr Rugg said: “This visualisation of the four gospels demonstrates how easy it is to see patterns and themes in texts instantly using this new software. An entire book can be represented on a single page of A4. Common misconceptions such as those around the nativity story are revealed immediately and you can compare documents swiftly and easily to see patterns that may never have been noticed before.”

Dr Rugg and his colleague Dr David Musgrave have also used Search Visualizer to discover a pattern in the book of Genesis, showing for the first time that the story contains a classic literary technique of sandwiching a negative theme between two positive ones. This example, which was presented to scholars at the ASOR 2012 conference on oriental studies in Chicago this year, shows that Genesis begins with the theme of life, then has mentions of death, before ending again with text about life.

The new tool has a wide range of potential applications, such as shedding new light on old cold-case police investigations by helping to re-analyse the original records to uncover new patterns.

The search tool is available at

More details about the Christmas story are available on the Search Visualizer blog: