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The Bible Code
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    The Bible code is a method of selecting letters from within the Hebrew Bible that form words and phrases supposedly demonstrating foreknowledge and prophecy.


    Bible codes (Torah codes), some people believe, are hidden codes (messages) in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament - words and phrases that are meaningful and exist intentionally in coded form in the text of the Bible - God’s fingerprints. These codes were made famous by the book The Bible Code, which claims that these codes can predict the future. These claims are strongly doubted by skeptics and by many religious groups.

    The primary method by which purportedly meaningful messages have been extracted is the Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS). To obtain an ELS from a text, choose a starting point (in principle, any letter) and a skip number, possibly positive (skip forwards) or negative (skip backwards). Then, beginning at the starting point, select letters from the text at equal spacing as given by the skip number.

    The following sentence is the first verse of the Old Testament (King James Version, Genesis 1:1). The red letters form the Biblical name NOAH. The skip number is 5, direction forwards, spaces and punctuation are ignored.

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    Often more than one ELS related to some topic can be displayed simultaneously in an ELS letter array. This is produced by writing out the text in a regular grid, with exactly the same number of letters in each line, then cutting out a rectangle.

    Bible codes proponents usually use a Hebrew Bible text. For religious reasons, most Jewish proponents use only the Torah (First five books of the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy).


    As far as is known, the 13th-century Spanish Rabbi Bachya ben Asher was the first to describe an ELS in the Bible - related to the Jewish calendar. Another early seeker, but unsuccessful, of hidden messages in the Bible was Isaac Newton (17th-18th-centuries), who believed that the Bible "is a cryptogram set by the Almighty - a riddle of the Godhead of past and future events divinely fore-ordained.... Newton never employed any ESL techniques. Over the following centuries there are some hints that the ELS technique was known, but few definite examples have been found from before the middle of the 20th century. At this point many examples were found by the Slovakian Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl and published by his students after his death in 1957. Nevertheless, the practice remained known only to a few until the early 1980s, when some discoveries of an Israeli school teacher Avraham Oren came to the attention of the mathematician Eliyahu Rips at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Rips then took up the study together with his religious studies partner Doron Witztum and several others.

    Rips and Witztum invented the ELS letter array and used a computer to find many examples. About 1985, they decided to carry out a formal test and the Great rabbis experiment was born. This experiment tested the hypothesis that ELSs for the names of famous rabbis could be found closer to ELSs of their dates of birth and death than chance alone could explain. The definition of "close" was complex but, roughly, two ELSs are close if they can be displayed together in a small rectangle. The experiment succeeded in finding sequences which fit these definitions, and they were interpreted as indicating the phenomenon was real.

    The great rabbis experiment went through several iterations but was eventually published (1994) in the peer-reviewed journal Statistical Science. Although neither the Editor nor the referees were convinced by it, nor could they find much formally wrong with it, so the paper was published as a "challenging puzzle". Statistical Science, it should be noted, does not publish original research, but concentrates on surveys, interviews and interesting statistical puzzles.

    Another experiment, in which the names of the famous rabbis were matched against the places of their births and deaths (rather than the dates), was conducted by Harold Gans, an employee of the United States National Security Agency. Again, the results were interpreted as being meaningful and thus suggestive of a more than chance result.

    These Bible codes became known to the public primarily due to the American journalist Michael Drosnin, whose book The Bible Code (Simon and Schuster, 1997) was a best-seller in many countries. Drosnin's most famous success was to predict (retrospectively) the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, allegedly using a Bible code technique. The Bible Code made other predictions like World War II, Watergate, Holocaust, Hiroshima, moon landing, proof that Lee Harvey Oswald was destined to assassinate John F. Kennedy and one of largest cataclysms in American history: September 11, 2001. In 2002, Drosnin published a second book on the same subject, called The Bible Code II.

    Certain Jewish religious circles, like the Jewish outreach group Aish-HaTorah (Fire-of-Torah) employ the Bible Codes idea in their Discovery Seminars to persuade secular Jews of the divinity of the Bible and to encourage them to trust in its traditional Orthodox teachings.

    Use of Bible code techniques also spread into certain Christian circles, especially in the United States. The main early proponents were Yakov Rambsel, who is a Messianic Jew, and Grant Jeffrey. Another Bible code technique was developed in 1997 by Dean Coombs (also Christian). Various pictograms are claimed to be formed by words and sentences using ELS. By 2000, most books, and most web sites, devoted to the codes were produced by Christians.


    The primary objection advanced against Bible codes of the Drosnin variety is that similar patterns can be found in books other than the Bible. Although the probability of an ELS in a random place being a meaningful word is small, there are so many possible starting points and skip patterns that many such words are completely expected to appear.

    Responding to an explicit challenge from Drosnin, who claimed that other texts such as Moby Dick could not yield ELS, Australian mathematician Brendan McKay found many ELS letter arrays in Moby Dick that relate to modern events, including the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He also found a code relating to the Rabin assassination, containing the assassin's first and last name and the university he attended, as well as the motive "Oslo", relating to the Oslo accords. [2] Other people, such as US physicist Dave Thomas, found other examples in many texts.

    In addition, Drosnin had used the flexibility of Hebrew orthography to his advantage, freely mixing classic (without vowels) and modern (with vowels) spelling as well as other variances in spelling, to reach the desired meaning.

    In 1999, McKay, together with mathematicians Dror Bar-Natan and Gil Kalai, and psychologist Maya Bar-Hillel, published a paper in Statistical Science which they claim provides an adequate refutation of the earlier paper of Witztum and Rips. The paper was reviewed anonymously by four professional statisticians who found their refutation completely conclusive. [3]

    Their main points were:
    • The data used by Witztum and Rips was a list of rabbi names in Hebrew. The Hebrew language is somewhat flexible as far as name spelling goes, and each rabbi has several different appellations (aliases and nicknames), so special care should be taken as to how to choose the particular names searched for. So their result could be explained by claiming the data was not collected properly. From the paper: "...the data was very far from [being] tightly defined by the rules of their experiment. Rather, there was enormous "wiggle room" available, especially in the choice of names for the famous rabbis".
    • There is indirect evidence that the data was not, in fact, collected properly; that is, the choice of names and spellings was somehow biased towards those supporting the codes hypothesis.
    • Attempts at replicating the experiment, while being similar in the large, failed to achieve the exactly same results to the last digit. From the paper: "A technical problem that gave us some difficulty is that WRR (Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg) have been unable to provide us with their original computer programs. Neither the two programs distributed by WRR, nor our own independent implementations of the algorithm as described in WRR's papers, consistently produce the exact distances listed [by WRR]".

    The McKay paper did not go so far as to accuse Witzum and Rips of falsifying their experiment, instead it argues that the ELS experiment is extraordinarily sensitive to very small changes in the spellings of appellations. This fact, when combined with available wiggle room, was exploited by McKay et al. to duplicate the Genesis result in a Hebrew translation of War and Peace.

    There has been a continuing debate on these claims. See the web pages cited below.


    Endorsment of the Bible Codes

  • Torah Codes - Doron Witzum

  • Picture Bible Codes

  • The Great Tsunami of 2004 Act of Nature or Wrath of God? - Bible Code Digest

  • Codes in the Bible website

  • Criticism of the Bible Codes

  • Mathematicians' Statement on the Bible Codes

  • Scientific Refutation of the Bible Codes Brendan McKay and Others

  • The rise and fall of the Gans experiment - Brendan McKay

  • Bible Code Page - Dror Bar-Natan

  • The Bible Code: A Book Review - Allyn Jackson

  • The Bible Codes: A Textual Perspective - Jeffrey H. Tigay

  • The Bible Code - Ralph Greenberg

  • Hidden Messages and The Bible Code - David E. Thomas

  • Are there Really Codes in the Bible? - Mayim, Educational Network, Jerusalem

  • The Bible Codes and the Clinton Sex Scandals - John Allen Paulos

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    Last updated: June 2013
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