A Nativity wordcloud for Luke

The second of our Newman Advent Seminars (10th December 2014) will be exploring the nativity story from Luke’s perspective. We will be asking what was his contribution to the story with which we are so familiar from our Christmas cards and school nativity plays? Would he view the developments of ‘his’ story as positive or negative?

Alongside the seminars, we are creating a series of nativity wordclouds that, in a very visual way, display key words in each account; the most common being the most prominently displayed. This week, we are featuring the nativity according to Luke (click to enlarge).

Luke wordle
Luke’s account of the Nativity


The text used for the wordcloud is taken from the NRSV and covers Luke 1:5-2:52. This means the total number of words (2,450) is almost twice that used for last week’s Matthew wordcloud (see below). Although the Nativity story does not really begin until Luke 2:1, most of chapter 1 (excluding the preface; vv. 1-4) has also been included as it contains not only the account of the Annunciation (vv. 26-38), but (like Matthew’s genealogy) important theological and thematic cues that set the scene for the actual birth story.

As we noted last week in the wordcloud for Matthew’s account, care needs to be taken as translation issues, as well as other factors, can skew one’s reading. Nevertheless, as a bit of fun, wordclouds can be useful in pointing to general characteristics and identify possible avenues of exploration.

Wordle for Matthew
Matthew’s account of the Nativity

A quick comparison between the wordclouds of Matthew and Luke reveals a greater prominence to women’s names in Luke. Interestingly, although Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) is fairly prominent, Joseph is much smaller (bottom right-hand corner beside ‘came’). Other interesting features is the fairly prominent use of ‘womb’ (κοιλία – which can also refer to ‘belly’ or ‘stomach’) which also might suggest the foregrounding of women and the part they play in this story (compare this with Matthew’s account). Both ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ feature strongly as does the characteristically Lucan ‘Spirit’ and ‘angel’.

Scanning the wordcloud reveals many more words that are typically associated with the ‘Christmas story’; ‘praising’, ‘festival’ , ‘peace’, ‘joy’ and even the perennial Christmas feature, ‘relatives’!!


One of the questions we will asking on Wednesday concerns the place of the Temple in the nativity story (and the wider writings of Luke in his Gospel and Acts). Take some time to see how many words associated with the Temple and priesthood you can find in the wordcloud.

Come to the seminar on Wednesday (Newman University, 7.00pm) and explore with us some of these themes and more. Everyone is welcome and refreshments are provided. For more details click here.


Next week we will be presenting one more nativity wordcloud, but this time it will not be from the New Testament, but from an important, but later Christian development of the Christmas story.

Wordcloud produced using wordle.net

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