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The Bible Sense Lexicon: A Semantic Database for the 21st Century


Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, NextGen Biblical Studies Technologies

November 24, 2013

The conception of a lexicon as a semantic database is a new development in the lexicography of biblical languages. As a matter of necessity, dictionaries of Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek have traditionally been organized as print resources with a linear, alphabetic arrangement of independent entries, centered around headwords. Having been conceived of as a semantic database from the outset, the Bible Sense Lexicon (BSL) overcomes many limitations associated with print resources. Adapted from the work of the English WordNet project (, the BSL is organized around senses as the primary units, rather than lemmas or headwords. This inverts the traditional association between words and meaning, asking the question "what linguistic forms express this sense?", rather than "what meanings does this word have?". Meaning is also represented as a set of relationships between senses, not just a gloss or definition. For example, the synonymy relation groups words that can express the same sense. The hypernym/hyponym relation associates senses along the dimension of generality and specificity, indicating that, e.g., a "family" is a kind of "social group". This facilitates exploring related meanings (other kinds of "social groups" include "band", "clan", "tribe", etc.). The BSL also coordinates senses across all the biblical languages, allowing exploration of how meanings are expressed throughout the biblical text. The BSL is accompanied by a comprehensive annotation of the biblical text with contextually disambiguated senses, which enables semantic search and concordances, along with other meaning-based analysis of the corpus.