Jesus Christ named history's most successful meme

Authors of a new book used internet-based metrics to declare Christ 'the most significant person ever' 

Jesus Christ has been named the most successful historical meme, beating figures from past and present to be placed top of a database listing the significant figures through time.

In their book, Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Steven Skiena and Charles Ward devised an internet-based ranking system to measure meme strength and compare historical reputations.

Jesus, the Christian Messiah, beat playwright William Shakespeare, philosopher Aristotle and Macedonian King Alexander the Great to the top spot. Notably, there are no female historical figures in the top ten.

Meanwhile, despite his devoted following, pop star Justin Bieber was ranked much lower down at 8,633. Although 'Baby' fans may wish to disagree, he was found to be less historically significant than other figures.

The authors say their internet-based metrics ranking system analyses the English version of Wikipedia "and other data sources" to list historical figures "just as Google ranks web pages", estimating their fame and the size of their following. From this, the book identifies the most significant people.

Mr Skiena, a professor of computer science at Stony Brook University, New York, said each historical figure was ranked by "aggregating the traces of millions of opinions in a rigorous and principled manner".

Speaking to The Independent, he explained: "We analyse the Wikipedia pages of over 800,000 people to measure quantities that should correspond to historical significance. We would expect that more significant people should have longer Wikipedia pages than less notable folk, because they have greater accomplishments to report.  

"The Wikipedia pages of people of higher significance should attract greater readership than those of lower significance. The elite should have pages linked to by other highly significant figures, meaning they should have a high PageRank, the measure of importance used by Google to identify important web pages."

However, the database does not directly factor in social media sites, such as Twitter or Facebook, when deciding on the significant person's ranking. Mr Skiena said while their analysis did not explicitly incorporate social networks, "the same forces which contribute to popularity on Twitter or Facebook are reflected by page hits and edits on Wikipedia pages".

When asked about the absence of female figures in the top ten, Mr Skiena said: "There are only ten spots to fit all historical figures since the beginning of time. The traditional paths to historical achievement were closed to women for up until very recently. 

"It is telling that our two highest rated women were both British queens - Elizabeth I ranked 13 and Victoria ranked 16. Being queen was a role open to women, but even here the rules of succession favoured putting men on the throne."

Based on meme strength, and how successfully the idea of the person has proliferated, Jesus was found to be 'the most significant person ever'.

Mr Skiena added: "An important aspect of our method is that we systematically decay the score of contemporary figures to reflect the loss from living memory which inevitably occurs over three to four generations.

"The significance of Jesus is shown by his mindshare today fully 2,000 years after his death. We don't see the same happening for Justin Beiber."

The top ten significant figures were ranked by Mr Skiena and Mr Ward as follows:

1. Jesus
2. Napoleon
3. William Shakespeare
4. Mohammad
5. Abraham Lincoln
6. George Washington
7. Adolf Hitler
8. Aristotle
9. Alexander the Great
10. Thomas Jefferson

A meme is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation." An internet meme tends to fall under the second definition, an "image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Ashdown Group: European Recruitment Manager - Cheshire - up to £48,000

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus and benefits: Ashdown Group: European Recrui...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions