A nativity wordcloud for Matthew

To mark the beginning of advent and the start of our Advent Seminars, the first of which (3rd December) will be featuring Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, we have produced a Matthean nativity wordcloud.

Wordclouds render words according to the frequency of their use within a text; the more frequent the word, the bigger it is displayed. They can be used as useful tools for identifying themes and use of language.

Wordle for Matthew
click to enlarge

The text of Matthew has been taken from the NRSV and covers Matthew 1 and 2. Although Matthew’s nativity traditionally starts at 1: 18, the wordcloud also includes his genealogy (vv.1-17). This is because the genealogy is central in setting up the birth account, embedding the story with reference to key figures and major events in Jewish history, as well as, importantly, establishing Jesus’ (and Joseph’s) royal lineage through to the ‘house of David’. The total number of words (including genealogy) is 1,124.


 Care must be taken with wordclouds as they can be misleading. For example, the prominence of ‘father’ would appear to be very apt (as this story is about a birth) and one might be tempted to draw a theological point from it by noting how important ‘fatherhood’ is in Matthew’s account and perhaps allude to the prominence of the divine father of Jesus in this story. However,  ‘father’ (πατηρ) occurs only once in the Greek text (at Matt 2:22) – and that is a reference to king Herod! The frequency of ‘father’ in most English versions is a translation of ‘γενναω’ (be father of, to give birth to’), sometimes rendered in older versions as ‘begat’. Once this is taken out of the equation, ‘mother’ then becomes much more prominent.


Another problem with wordclouds is that key themes may be overlooked. As we will see in the seminars that the theme of ‘kingship’ is central to Matthew’s account. Nevertheless, one has too look quite hard for the word ‘king’ in the wordcloud (it is nestled vertically just after Joseph).

Wordclouds can, nevertheless, help us to see some interesting features. For example the prominence of the name of Herod – again perhaps pointing to the running theme of kingship. Other prominent words also relate to important figures; Joseph, David and Jacob. Important titles are ‘Lord’ and ‘Messiah’ (Χριστος – Christ). ‘Angel’ and ‘dream’ are quite notable as is ‘Egypt’. Surprisingly (for me at least) ‘deportation’ is also quite prominent.


 Look out for more wordclouds next week as we will be featuring Luke’s account of the nativity and then we will be comparing them both.

Wordcloud produced using wordle.net.


NRCBR Advent Seminars 2014

Nativity by Dona Gelsinger
Nativity Scene by Dona Gelsinger

Christmas is fast approaching! Decorations are beginning to appear and we’ve even had a couple of frosts in central England. Adding to this sense of festive expectation is the news that Wednesday 3rd December will be the first of this year’s Advent Seminars at Newman University.

The story of the nativity is arguably the most widely known story from the New Testament (if not the entire Bible). For many people, especially those who do not consider themselves religious, it probably forms one of the most important foundation blocks for their understanding of Jesus and Christianity. This is perhaps not surprising, both Matthew and Luke use their accounts of Jesus’ birth in exactly this way; to introduce to the reader their presentation of Jesus and the kingdom that he us bringing.

Although complaints about the secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas have become as much part of this season as tinsel, holly and mince-pies, images of the nativity remain close to the heart of the celebration. There is something about this story that appears to be able to bridge cultures. This story about a young couple and the birth of a child, attended by donkeys, kings and angels, is something that most people can enjoy  and understand. Its message is simple and clear… or is it?

How has this story developed over the centuries? What has been added and what has been lost? Would Matthew and Luke recognise the scenes portrayed on Christmas cards and annually recreated in school plays and advertisements? Moreover, does it matter if things have been added and lost?

Starting with Matthew, over the next three weeks we will be looking at these questions. Instead of dismissing our familiar ‘Christmas story’ and trying to go back to the ‘orginal(s)’, we will take as our starting point the nativity as we know it today and we will then explore what Matthew, Luke and later traditions can add to our understanding and appreciation of it.

Just to get you into the Christmas spirit and also brush up on some Matthean cheer (…or is it?!), meet some of the coolest camels ever to appear beside the manger…

Video by Will Vinton (Claymation Christmas Special)


Wednesday 3rd December  – Matthew’s account of the Nativity (a new king is born)

Newman University (Room DW004) at 7.00pm

These seminars are open to all. There is plenty of free on-site parking.

Contributions: £4 (refreshments included) free to students and staff

2014 Advent Seminar Series

The Nativity with the Evangelists and Beyond

Image of nativirty
Decoding the Nativity – image from Channel 4

Room DW004 @ 7.00pm

3rd December – Matthew’s account of the Nativity (a new king is born)

10th December – Luke’s account of the Nativity (a new kingdom is come)

17th December – The Nativity after the New Testament

The nativity is one of the best loved stories in the Bible. For many, Christian and non-Christian, it is foundational to their understanding of the person of Jesus. Its popularity as a school play makes it one of the few biblical stories that can join different cultural and faith groups together in an inclusive and non-threatening way.

We will be asking whether it matters if the nativity scenes that we recognise on Christmas cards and in school nativity plays markedly differ from those we read about in the New Testament. We will be looking at the authority of not just the written text, but also of the narrative or story itself. Why does it still maintain such a powerful hold in our imaginations? Are changes necessarily bad? The three sessions will explore what might happen when we reintroduce some of the elements of the ‘original’ narratives back into our modern day version of the birth of Jesus.

The seminar will be hosted by Dr Richard Goode (Visiting Research Fellow in Biblical Studies, Newman University), Rev Stephen Winter (Community Theologian & formally Assistant Director of Development, the Diocese of Worcester) and Andrew Summers (Theology student and church leader)

These seminars are open to all.

Contributions: £4 (refreshments included) free to students and staff

There is plenty of free on-site parking.

For map please click here

For more details please contact Emma Board:

email: boar200@staff.newman.ac.uk

telephone: 0121 476 1181 ext. 2395


Centre News


Newman University’s graduation ceremony meant saying farewell to a number of our theology and biblical studies students as they embark on the next stage of their careers. It is always a poignant time seeing students go and we wish them well in the paths they will take. I would particularly like extend our good wishes to Mandie Huckerby who is now pursuing a PhD at Gloucester and Jess Williams who is starting her MA at Exeter. I, for one, will certainly miss their enthusiasm and thoughtful contributions to  the biblical studies modules; good luck to you both.

Image of Graduation 2014
Graduation 2014
Image: Newman University

Professor Steve Moyise

image of Steve Moyise
Professor Steve Moyise
Image: Newman University

Over the summer we have been delighted to welcome Professor Steve Moyise to the NRCBR as Visiting Professor in Biblical Studies.

Steve has made important contributions to biblical intertextuality and the relationships between the Old and New Testament and with a special interest in the book of Revelation. A short 2008 interview with him discussing his very well received Evoking Scripture, T&T Clark (2008) can be found on the Crux Sola blog.

Many undergraduates will know (and be grateful for) Steve’s impressively clear and concise introductory works: Introduction to Biblical Studies, Cassell Academic (1998) and Jesus and the Gospels (with Clive Marsh), Cassell (1999) – highly recommended to all starting out in these areas.

Steve’s most recent book is Was the Birth of Jesus According to Scripture?, SPCK (2013). In it, he looks at the debate between those who argue that the nativity story is primarily constructed around selected Old Testament texts and those who argue that the nativity accounts have re-appropriated those texts giving them a new layer of meaning. Steve will be delivering a session on this subject at Newman University on February 12th 2015. More details will follow.