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Hidden Bible codes:

Reactions to the ELS study by Eliyahu Rips et al.
The 1998 book by Michael Drosnin & reactions.

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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Reactions to the ELS study by Eliyahu Rips et al. at Hebrew University:

bullet Most liberal and many mainline Christian theologians believe that Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch were written by many different authors or groups of writers over a period of many centuries. It was then edited by one or more redactors to mold it into its present form. Since they believe that the books had very human authors and editors, it is difficult for them to see how such complex codes could be buried in the text.

bullet Most theologians are not impressed by the findings of these codes. They note that the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Pentateuch contain many variations. Even a single difference would throw off the analysis procedure.

bullet Dror Bar-Natan, Alec Gindis, Aryeh Levitan, Brendan McKay performed two experiments similar to the Jerusalem team. 3 They used the Koren version of the Book of Genesis. In the first study, they attempted to match the names of famous rabbis against the names of the books that they wrote. The second study attempted to match their names against the years of their birth or death. They reported that "In each case, the result was unambiguously negative. No indication of any extraordinary phenomenon was found."

bullet Aish HaTorah, a fundamentalist Jewish group, looks upon the findings as a likely proof that God exists and that the Torah is of divine origin.

bullet Rabbi Shlomo Sternberg, a Harvard mathematics professor argues that there is no way that the text of Genesis that was used in the study could be identical to that which tradition states was passed from God to Moses. 4

bullet Brendan McKay, a computer-science professor at Australian National University, has replicating the study and "failed to find any trace of the claimed phenomena." He went further and applied the ELS technique to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. He found a number of "hidden" statements, including "Hear the law of the sea." He computed that the chance of these words turning up by random chance was only about 1 in 10,500.

bullet Ronald S. Hendel, the Hebrew Bible book review editor for BR (Bible Review), commented: "Respect for the biblical text means that Rips and Drosnin are wrong. The Bible in their computer is not the original text and is not in God's own handwriting. Their sensational claims are undermined by false assumptions. In short, they have perpetrated a hoax." 5

bullet Three professors at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, (Dror Bar-Natan, Maya Bar-Hillel and Gil Kalai) and one from the Australian National University (Brendan McKay) have been able to disprove the Bible code theory. They prepared a paper for publishing in a late 1999 edition of Statistical Science. They performed hundreds of analyses on the book of Genesis and other biblical books. They found that codes can be found at the same rate in Tolstoy's "War and Peace" or in any long text. But they are not found any more frequently than random chance would predict. Bar-Natan said that the methods used in the original 1994 project had "enough wiggle room to produce whatever [results] you want." 6

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Book by Michael Drosnin:

Drosnin was impressed by the work done in Jerusalem and developed an analysis method of his own. The result was his book "The Bible Code", Unfortunately, he does not fully explain in his book the statistical technique that he used. 5 He worked on the entire Pentateuch which he converted into a string of precisely 304,805 characters. He uses the computer to transform the string of characters into something that resembles a standard crossword puzzle. A large grid with 552 columns and 553 lines, in which the final line was of partial length is one possibility. One source states that there are more than 150,000 possible grids that can be created. 7 One of his grids is known to have 64 rows, in which each row (except the last) contains 4,772 letters. This was followed up by numerous other grids of different dimensions. These grids are then scanned for meaningful words - reading forwards or backwards along a line; reading down or up along a column; or reading both diagonals downwards and upwards. He even skipped characters in his searches. Any find is considered valid as long as the letters form a straight line. Once he has found a word or name, he searches in the vicinity of the find for other information: dates, words, etc.

He wrote in his book "The Bible Code" (1998) that he uncovered information about many past events:

  • The Rabin assassination one year before it occurred;
  • The assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and John F. Kennedy;
  • The Gulf war;
  • The collision of a comet with the planet Jupiter;
  • The bombing of the federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, OK;
  • President Richard Nixon's resignation;
  • World War II,
  • The Holocaust and
  • The fall of Communism.

The 1998 book made some future predictions: a cataclysmic earthquake in Los Angeles in 2010, and a nuclear war in Israel before 2001. 8 The first happened, but the latter prediction was a failure.

Drosnin apparently used the textus receptus version of the Pentateuch, as did the Jerusalem team earlier. He stated in a CNN interview  that:

"There is one accepted Hebrew text of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, that religious people believe God dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai." 9

Actually, many theologians believe in the Documentary Hypothesis, that the Pentateuch was written by four authors or groups of authors, not by Moses, and that it was edited by a redactor. Few Christians or Jews believe that the original autograph copy as produced by the redactor has been preserved without error to the present day.

He states in his book that:

"all Bibles in the original Hebrew language that now exist are the same, letter for letter...The Bible code computer program uses the universally accepted original Hebrew text."

These statements appear to be false. D.A. Akenson  states that there are:

"... myriad versions of the Torah. The first good quality Hebrew Bible, the Venice edition, was printed in 1524-5 [CE]. The variant versions of the Hebrew Scriptures run into the hundreds of thousands and the Pentateuch has at least 10,000 versions." 7

R.S. Hendel, writes: 

"In fact, we do not have the original Hebrew version of the Old Testament, and all ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible that we do have differ in the number of letters."

With such a variety of versions, it is extremely unlikely that any currently available version could possibly be precisely identical to the original. 5

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Reactions to Drosnin's "The Bible Code" Book (1995):

Michael Drosnin's book received a rocky reception from those working in the Bible code field:

bullet

Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg issued a press release on 1997-JUN-4. 8

"[They] categorically rejected attempts to predict the future based on these codes. They warned against being taken in by the sensational claims in Michael Drosnin's controversial book, 'The Bible Code'... 'Codes don't reveal any secret messages or prophecies about whom to marry or who will win the NBA championship,' said Witztum. 'I was the first one to investigate the possibility of divining the future through these codes. Following logical and empirical tests, I found incontrovertible evidence proving its impossible to predict the future with the hidden codes'... 'All attempts to extract messages from Torah Codes or to make predictions based on them are futile and of no value," said the world-renowned Hebrew University Professor of Mathematics, Eliyahu Rips at a press conference in Jerusalem today. 'The only conclusion that can be drawn from the scientific research regarding the Torah Codes is that they exist and that they are not a mere coincidence." 10

bullet Doron Witztum said in a public statement:

"Mr. Drosnin's work employs no scientific methodology. No distinction is made between statistically valid codes, and accidental appearances, which can be found in any book. For example, Drosnin's "code" of the comet Shoemaker Levy crashing into Jupiter is statistically meaningless. Such a code can be found by accident in 1 out of any 3 ** books checked!...In general, we always have difficulty understanding a text where we don't have any syntax or punctuation. In the plain Hebrew text of the Torah, without punctuation, I could easily read the ten commandments as telling me to steal and murder. There's a verse that describes Moses being commanded to bring incense. I could easily read it as a commandment to use drugs. All we have is a few isolated encoded words of a hidden text. Maybe we're missing some very critical words. It's literally impossible to learn a coherent story out of the juxtaposition of a few words that may be somehow related. Additionally, just like there is a code that Rabin will be assassinated, I also found a code saying that Churchill will be assassinated!" 11

** Dr. Witztum presumably means any 3 books of equivalent length to the Pentateuch.

bullet Harold Gans issued a public statement on 1997-JUN-3. He stated in part:

"The book [The Bible Code] states that the codes in the Torah can be used to predict future events. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no scientific or mathematical basis for such a statement, and the reasoning used to come to such a conclusion in the book is logically flawed. While it is true that some historical events have been shown to be encoded in the Book of Genesis in certain configurations, it is absolutely not true that every similar configuration of 'encoded' words necessarily represents a potential historical event. In fact, quite the opposite is true: most such configurations will be quite random and are expected to occur in any text of sufficient length. Mr. Drosnin states that his 'prediction' of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin is 'proof' that the 'Bible Code' can be used to predict the future. A single success, regardless of how spectacular, or even several such 'successful' predictions proves absolutely nothing unless the predictions are made and evaluated under carefully controlled conditions. Any respectable scientist knows that 'anecdotal' evidence never proves anything."12,13

bullet A Time Magazine article quotes Rabbi Shlomo Sternberg, a Harvard mathematics professor, as calling the book "complete nonsense." 14

bullet

Ronald S. Hendel, commented:

"If this book were sold only in supermarket checkout lines, it would be seen for what it is - a journalistic hoax." 15

bullet On the other hand, Oprah Winfrey devoted a full half-hour segment of her show to this topic. Warner Brothers has bought up the movie rights. Topics like this one can clearly excite a lot of people.

bullet J.W. Moore pointed out that most Drosnin's future prophecies were in error. 16  
bullet Drosnin did predict Rabin's assassination in advance. But that is not much of an accomplishment; the chances of such a high Israeli official being killed is quite high.

bullet He predicted a nuclear disaster circa 1995, which never happened.

bullet He predicted the assassination of Benjamin Netanyahu during a trip to Syria that he was supposed to have taken early in his term of office. Neither the trip nor the assassination actually happened.
 
bullet After the failure of the latter two predictions, Drosnin re-examined the Biblical text and found the encoded word "delayed" nearby.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg, "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis", Statistical Science, 1994, Vol. 9, No. 3, Pages 429-438. It is available in abridged form at http://www.fortunecity.com/
  2. The comments of Robert Kass, editor of Statistical Science, are at http://www.fortunecity.com/
  3. Dror Bar-Natan, Alec Gindis, Aryeh Levitan, Brendan McKay, "Report on new ELS tests of Torah", published at: http://www.math.gatech.edu/
  4. David van Biema, "Deciphering God's Plan", Time Magazine, 1997-JUN-9
  5. R.S. Hendel, "The Secret Code Hoax", BR, Vol. XIII, No. 4, 1997-AUG, Page 23 - 24.
  6. "Controversial 'Bible Code' debunked by team of scholars," APonline, 1999-SEP-10.
  7. D.H. Akenson, "The biblical X-files", The Globe and Mail Newspaper, 1997-AUG-2.
  8. Evan Solomon, "Hacking god's code", Shift Magazine, 1997-SEP, P. 16
  9. A CNN Interview "Meet Michael Drosnin" is at: http://www.cnn.com/
  10. Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg, "Hidden Bible Codes Researchers Condemn Michael Drosnin", Press release issued 1997-JUN-4. Available at: http://www.discoveryseminar.org/
  11. Doron Witztum issued a public statement which is available at: http://www.discoveryseminar.org/
  12. Harold Glans, "Back to the Future" statement is : http://www.discoveryseminar.org/
  13. Harold Gans, "Public statement", 1997-JUN-3. Available at: http://www.fortunecity.com/
  14. David van Biema, "Deciphering God's Plan", Time Magazine, 1997-JUN-9
  15. R.S. Hendel, "The Secret Code Hoax", BR, Vol. XIII, No. 4, 1997-AUG, Page 23 - 24.
  16. J.W. Moore, "Bible codes, or matrix of deception, Part II," SCP Newsletter, 1998-Winter. Online at http://www.scp-inc.org 

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Copyright ©1998 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-SEP-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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