BIBLE CODES, OR MATRIX OF DECEPTION? Part II
BY JOHN WINSTON MOORE
SCP Newsletter, WINTER 1998 VOLUME 22:3

In part I of this two part article, we looked at the history of the Bible Codes, from their modern discovery by a Rabbi Weissmandel in the early part of this century, to the beginnings of investigation with computers in the '70's, through the release of Michael Drosnin's bestseller The Bible Code in June of 1997 and the subsequent popular enthusiasm.

In part II, we will look at the work of Bible Code critic Brendan McKay and other mathematicians who are starting to speak out about the Bible Codes. We will also look at the Christian response to the Codes, primarily in the work of Yacov Rambsel and the writings of Grant Jeffrey. Finally, we will look at the infighting that has erupted in the world of Bible Codes research.

Bible Code Fallout:

In the months since the publication of Drosnin's The Bible Code it has been denounced by almost everyone involved in Codes research. Doron Witztum and Eliyahu Rips, two Israelis on whose work The Bible Code is mainly based, have issued repeated public statements denying any involvement with it. Witztum and others take particular offense to Drosnin's efforts, his denials aside, to use the Bible code to predict the future (which is interesting, since it was Witztum's own prediction of the start of the Gulf War that generated the first flurry of interest in the Codes).

Most of Drosnin's "prophecies" have gone unfulfilled. Drosnin did score a hit with his prediction of Rabin's assassination; but as many have pointed out, predicting the assassination of Rabin was a fairly high percentage proposition, a little like predicting earthquakes in the L.A. basin. Drosnin missed with a prediction of nuclear holocaust that was to befall Israel in the Hebrew Year 5756 (1995), and with a prediction of the assassination of the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu during a trip to Syria he was supposed to take early in his term. In both cases, after the predictions failed, Drosnin returned to his codes and found the word "delayed" coded nearby.

But even if Drosnin's book The Bible Code has been shown to be problematic, the Bible Codes themselves remain something of an enigma. A number of prominent Christians and Jews staunchly contend that the Codes are genuine, that the Codes validate their own set of religious beliefs.

The main question remains: Are the Codes real, or are they just random occurrences that would be found in any text so examined. For proof of their point, both the code proponents and the code critics invariably resort to numbers. And the central piece of evidence, exhibit A in the world of the Bible Codes, is the "famous rabbis" experiment by Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg.

Famous Rabbis and Strange Numbers:

Brendan McKay is a mathematician from Australia, and one of the most vocal and tenacious critics of the Bible Codes. He has been notably successful in reproducing the "code" phenomenon in works other than the Bible. As just one example, McKay was the one who found the now infamous assassination predictions in Moby Dick. The cornerstone of Drosnin's book The Bible Code is his finding of the supposed prediction of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. In a Newsweek interview, Drosnin made the claim that if anyone could find assassination predictions in other works besides the Bible, he would, essentially, shut up about the Bible Code. McKay responded by finding no less than nine similar "predictions" in the text of Moby Dick. (So far, Drosnin has not recanted his faith in the Bible Code.)

McKay has made debunking numerical 'miracles' almost a side profession. His web site In Search of Mathematical Miracles (see Resources) includes articles and exhibits related to earlier projects -- debunking the 'miraculous' patterns of the number 19 found in the Quran, the patterns of 7 and other numbers found by Ivan Panin in the text of the Bible and various other miracle number claims. McKay felt that he had seen it all -- and that he had provided what were distinctly non-supernatural, mathematical explanations. But the "famous rabbis" experiment was something new. Here was a bona fide claim to a mathematical miracle, put forward in the language of serious mathematics, even published in a respected journal, Statistical Science (Witztum et al., 1994).

On the surface, the famous rabbis experiment seems straightforward. The Israelis Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg took the names of 32 famous rabbis, matched these names with their dates of death and birth, and checked the text of Genesis to see if the names and dates were "coded" closely to one another in the text. In other words, they searched the text to see if the names and dates appeared in letter sequences spaced at equidistant intervals, sequences known as ELSs, and how "closely" these sequences appeared to each other (please see part 1 of this article for a more complete discussion of ELSs). To check their results, the Israelis ran the same test on 999,999 random combinations of the data. If the names and dates really were encoded in the text, they reasoned, the correct name and date matchings would be much closer to each other than the random combinations.

This simple concept led to an explosive result. In their test, the ELSs for the correctly matched names and dates were closer to each other than in all but 4 of the random combinations. This indicated a significance level of 1 in 62,500 -- enough, it would seem, to convince even the most hardened of skeptics that the Israelis were on to something.

In his book, Drosnin reports a confirming 'miracle:' Harold Gans, a senior code-breaker with the U.S. National Security Administration, decided to check the results for himself. He took the Israelis' data and added the places of birth of the rabbis. Then he ran the experiment again, using the Israelis' mathematical models, but his own computer program. Again, Drosnin reports, the results were positive. The correctly matched data beat out the random data at odds of well over random chance.

Nevertheless, McKay was skeptical. Shortly after the publication of Drosnin's book, McKay, along with several other scientists including Dror Bar-Natan from Hebrew University in Israel, ran their own version of the Witztum Rips and Rosenberg ("WRR") experiment. The results, presented in the same inscrutable scientific format as the original, were negative -- no result. Where WRR had found results of 1 in 62,500, McKay and company, using almost identical protocol and methods, found nothing -- only random chance at work. What was happening here?

McKay's explanation is that the WRR experiment is not as straightforward as it seems at first glance. From the descriptions of the experiment that appear in Drosnin's book as well as other sources (including best-selling Christian author Grant Jeffrey's The Signature of God) it appears that the Israelis simply took a list of 32 famous rabbis' names, with the corresponding birth and death dates, and searched for these in the text of Genesis. In reality, the situation is much more complex. First, each rabbi's name was matched with two dates, birth and death. Then, each date was entered in three formats, analogous to representing a date in English as "1st January," "1st of January," "on 1st January." Then, the number of names used for each rabbi varied from one to eleven (e.g., using variant spellings and nicknames), so that for the 32 rabbis, there were a total of over 100 names. For each rabbi, they then proceeded to take all combinations of names and dates, so that the eventual data set represented hundreds of combinations of names and dates.

The problem is that, with the increasing number of data points, the experimenters can "fine tune" the data set, perhaps even unconsciously, in order to produce more and more significant results. To demonstrate this point as forcefully as possible, Bar-Natan and McKay performed a follow-up experiment. They took the original set of names and dates from the famous rabbis experiment, and made a small number of changes (around 30) to names and dates, all carefully justified in the body of their report. With this newly fine-tuned set of data, they ran the experiment again on the text of Genesis, and on the Hebrew text of War and Peace. The results were amazing: in War and Peace, the famous rabbis were found encoded at significance levels of nearly 1 in 1,000,000! But in Genesis, the results were not much better than random chance. In reality, Bar-Natan and McKay had cooked their data in the same way that they allege WRR cooked theirs, but this time in order to "find" the names in War and Peace. Dr. Barry Simon, IBM professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at CalTech, comments:

I've no doubt there will be loud arguments on the Internet about the validity of each change they made, but to me the point is that the fact that they can make this list of simple changes and turn the results of [WRR] upside down shows that the Famous Rabbis example is totally dependent on the particular choice of names used in a way that makes me doubt the validity of the enterprise (Simon, 1997)

After McKay is through with the famous rabbis experiment, it seems as though the cornerstone of Bible Codes research has been very seriously undermined, and the whole building is starting to sway.

The Yeshua Codes:

Still, there are those who would contend that statistical analyses are inadequate to describe the significance of the Codes. Lori Eldridge is a Christian Codes enthusiast who runs the TCodes (Torah Codes) Internet site, one of the largest collections of Torah Code information on the Internet. Eldridge comments:

In fact I am not very impressed where it regards statistical analysis of the codes mainly because [statisticians] find it impossible to statistically analyze relevance to the surface text and I believe this is one of the most important aspects of code research, i.e., I believe that if God encoded these words he would have left us a definite message relating to the surface text not just ambiguous word pairs. (Eldridge, 1997)

Eldridge, like a number of Christian code apologists, feels that the Codes are validated by their relationship to the texts in which they are found. Moreover, Eldridge claims that, while the Codes may be hidden, it is not necessary to use a computer to find them. In fact, she says, in Jewish circles it is a well known fact that the Codes were discovered hundreds, if not thousands, of years before the computer was invented. What is more, she points to the fact that a Christian author, Yacov Rambsel, in his latest book presents Codes that are over 1000 skip (1000 character separation between letters) and he doesn't use a computer.

Yacov Rambsel is a Messianic Christian pastor from Texas who for years has been searching for Bible Codes using pencil and paper and a calculator. Rambsel has gained notoriety for his discovery of the so-called Yeshua Codes. These are numerous instances of ELSs containing the Hebrew name of Jesus, "Yeshua," found throughout the Old Testament and linked, proponents claim, unmistakably to prophetic passages concerning the Messiah. According to Rambsel, the Yeshua Codes declare that Jesus is the Messiah to a technically advanced, yet supremely skeptical generation. For example, in the "suffering servant" passage, Isaiah 53, Rambsel found the code for Yeshua shemi, "Jesus is my name." In Psalm 22 ("My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me . . .") he found the code Yeshua Mashiach, "Jesus my Messiah." Dozens of other examples have been found.

Rambsel's Yeshua Codes were popularized by Grant Jeffrey in The Signature of God a book that has enjoyed a long run on the Christian best-seller lists. Jeffrey is no doubt the best known Christian proponent of Bible Codes. In his book, published a year before Drosnin's, incidentally, Jeffrey covers much of the same territory that Drosnin does in The Bible Code. He describes the work of Witztum and Rips and gives a breathless account of the "famous rabbis" experiment. However, where Drosnin is mainly concerned with using the Codes to predict future calamity, Jeffrey concentrates on using Rambsel's Yeshua Codes to prove that the Old Testament contains the name of the Messiah, Jesus. All questions about the Messiah are notably absent in the work of Drosnin and other "code" authors -- a topic made all the more conspicuous by its complete lack of mention. Its inclusion as a main focus of The Signature of God feels right, at least to the Christian reader.

But Jeffrey, like Drosnin and others, depends upon statistics to validate the significance of the Codes. Unfortunately, Jeffrey's handling of statistics is remedial, at best. Jeffrey's website, for instance, trumpets the claim that "mathematicians" have calculated the odds of one of the ELSs that Yacov located as "only one chance in 50 quadrillion, an inconceivable number!" Inconceivable indeed, and not a number that any mathematician would take seriously. Rambsel, for his part, includes a chapter on "The Laws of Probability" in his book Yeshua, The Name of Jesus Revealed in the Old Testament, that is almost painful to read! In this chapter, we are asked to accept that the odds of a man standing silent before his accusers are "about 100 to 1," the odds of Jesus being pierced in his head, hands and feet are "100 to 1," and the odds of Jesus being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver are "100 to 1." These "odds" are then plugged dutifully into an equation with many other numbers of similar precision to arrive at the staggering conclusion that the odds of Jesus fulfilling all of the prophecies given about him in the Old Testament are "two quadrillion to one!" When compared against the serious mathematics that are being used by some of the orthodox Jewish Codes researchers, this type of sophomoric fumbling with numbers is an embarrassment.

Jeffrey's and Rambsel's careless use of numbers is problematic for Christians who want to believe in the Codes phenomenon. Another problematic issue for Christians is that by far the greatest number of "Codes" have been found in the Hebrew scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament. If God used Codes to authenticate His text, then what does this say about the Greek writings of the New Testament, where, so far anyway, no one has found much in the way of "Codes?" Are these texts less authentic -- less inspired. It is a simple fact that it is much easier to find ELSs in Hebrew, a language written without vowels, than it is in a language like Greek or English which is written with vowels. This means that the number and variety of ELSs that can be found in the Old Testament will always be superior to what can be found in the New Testament. This fact gives a certain edge to Jewish code researchers in what is becoming an increasingly rancorous debate over the "correct" use of the Codes.

The War of the Codes:

Since becoming popularized in Jeffrey's The Signature of God, the Yeshua Codes have become the focus of intense debate and criticism, especially, as one might imagine, from orthodox Jewish circles. As I discussed in the first part of this article, orthodox Jewish groups had been researching and promoting the Bible Codes long before Drosnin published his book. By far the most active proponents belong to Aish HaTorah , a group dedicated to bringing non-religious Jews back into the fold of orthodox Judaism. Aish Hatorah promotes Jewish orthodoxy through "Discovery Seminars" offered around the United States. These seminars have been endorsed, and even hosted, by celebrities such as Kirk Douglas and Jason Alexander (George Costanza on Seinfeld). Aish Hatorah sponsors and promotes the work of such code luminaries as Doron Witztum, Jeffrey Satinover, and Harold Gans.

Until recently, Aish Hatorah enjoyed something of a monopoly on the use and interpretation of the Bible Codes. This has changed with the popular attention brought about by The Bible Code and The Signature of God. Rabbi Mechanic, head of Aish HaTorah, has waged a fierce campaign against both books, but especially The Signature of God. Writing in Jesus Codes: Uses and Abuses, an article published on the Aish Hatorah website, Mechanic points out that the four letter Hebrew word for Yeshua (Yod, Shin, Vav, Ayin) is made up of Hebrew letters that are so common that the ELS for the word would be expected to occur thousands of times in any Hebrew text the size of the Torah. In fact, the ELS for "Yeshua" is found more than 10,000 times in the Torah at a skip distance of less than 1000. And although Yacov Rambsel did find "Yeshua shemi," "Jesus is my name" (at a skip of -20, starting in Isaiah 53:10), Aish HaTorah's code researchers were able to find "Koresh shemi," "Mohammed shemi," "Lenin shemi," and even "Bhudda shemi." Even more menacingly, Mechanic reveals that they found "Yeshua" overlapping "false prophet," "Navi Sheker," twice in the book of Genesis, with both "Yeshua" and "Navi Sheker" at the same skip distance. Mechanic's point, among other things, appears to be that the "codes" can be made to say anything you want them to say when the "proper" rules are not followed.

Lori Eldridge, along with Guy Cramer, responded to Mechanic's paper with a paper of their own entitled Statistical Significance in the Yeshua Codes in which they pointed out that Mechanic has not addressed any of Rambsel's Codes that (they claim) are statistically significant. Eldridge and Cramer concede that none of the Yeshua Codes that Mechanic attacked are statistically significant, but point out that neither are any of Mechanic's counter examples (probabilities of more than 1/100 are not generally considered significant). They then calculate the probabilities for several of the Yeshua Codes that they feel are statistically significant. This list includes such Codes as "ha,miqreh Yeshua," the event of Jesus (from Lev. 17:1), probability 1/12,312; "ot ki'Yeshua,"a sign of Jesus (from Psalm 22:14-17), 1/1,182, and "Yeshua Mashiach," Jesus Messiah (from Psalm 22:1-12), 1/480. They conclude that for propagandistic purposes, Mechanic has chosen to ignore the more statistically interesting examples of the Yeshua Codes in his Uses and Abuses paper.

These probabilities, it should be pointed out, are based on a fairly simple equation that in no way approaches the complexity of the "nearness" measures used by WRR. Many mathematicians have pointed out that these types of statistics are somewhat meaningless, unfortunately, because they measure the probability of finding a specific phrase, when in fact the code finder was looking for any meaningful phrase. Using this type of technique, McKay has come up with many counter examples with implausible odds, such as "Hear all, the law of the sea," probability 1/10,531, found in the text of a U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Mechanic's Uses and Abuses paper is clearly a cease and desist order, and one carrying a big stick. At one point Mechanic ominously states: ". . . we have known for many years that there are critical codes - some of striking complexity - that present Jesus as a false prophet. They are substantially more sophisticated than the simple examples mentioned in Rambsel and Jeffrey's books." The message between the lines is clear: the Bible codes are a double-edged sword that could be turned against Christianity at any time. Mechanic makes it clear that it is only because of the principled restraint of the code-masters (Aish HaTorah) that these codes of 'striking complexity' have not yet been turned loose to wreak havoc on Christendom.

Mechanic is obviously upset; the fallout from the publication of The Bible Code, combined with the effects of the Yeshua Codes, have turned many in the Orthodox Jewish community against the whole concept of Bible Codes. The most striking example of this backlash concerns something called the HaShalom mailing. This was a small booklet mass-mailed to every address in Israel. The booklet presents Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah, and in the back it contained a section on the codes, including three of Rambsel's Yeshua Codes. The purpose of the mailing was to convert Jews to Christianity, and, apparently, it has been somewhat effective in this aim. The reaction from the orthodox community in Israel has been intense, including burnings of the booklets. Perhaps as a direct reaction to this mailng, or as a cumulative reaction to this and other evangelism efforts, orthodox forces in the Israeli government have started working on anti-evangelism legislation, whereby it would be illegal to proselytize in Israel. This legislation, currently working its way through the Israeli parliament, would make it illegal to convert an Israeli citizen from one faith to another!

The credibility of Aish HaTorah's most powerful exhibit is clearly at stake. In an effort to circle the wagons, Mechanic has reportedly put an end to all "subjective" code research coming out of the organization. By "subjective," Mechanic means codes that are found by simply sifting through the text of the Bible, whether by hand or by computer, looking for interesting ELS patterns. Whether this means that Aish HaTorah will now only talk about the "famous rabbis" experiment, and abandon the Nazi word groups and other similar "discoveries," or whether these other findings will somehow be upgraded to the status of "objective" research, is not clear. But Mechanic is trying to draw a line in the sand between "true" Codes, and random ELSs, using the famous rabbis experiment as the untouchable cornerstone. But with McKay and others now calling the results of the famous rabbis experiment into serious question, Aish HaTorah's ability to use the Codes in any sense would seem to be in jeopardy.

The Sealed Scroll:

Let us assume, however, just for a second, that the Bible Codes are genuine. The question that is then often asked is "Why would God put Codes in the Bible?" God's Word is an open Word -- and the Gospel is available to all. What reason would God have for burying information in the text of His Word that couldn't be gotten at until the invention of the computer? It is a valid question, and one that the code proponents have tried to answer in a number of ways.

Some, like Lori Eldridge, would point out that the Codes can be found by hand, so the concept that they were hidden until the computer was invented is misleading. Still, while ELSs can be found by hand, all would agree that computers make the job far easier, which makes Eldridge and others conclude that they are, perhaps, a sign for a skeptical generation.

Another explanation, put forward by the Israeli code researchers Witztum, Rips, and others, is that the Code has been put into the text to verify its authenticity. The Code proves that the Bible, or at least the Torah, was written by an intelligence that is beyond man. This is the main message of the Aish HaTorah Discovery Seminars.

However, the most often cited explanation for alleged hidden Codes in the Bible, the reason given by Michael Drosnin, is that the discovery of the Bible Code is the revelation of a message from God that has been sealed until a predetermined point in history, i.e., the current day. According to this theory, the unlocking of the Bible Code is the unsealing of the sealed scroll, referred to in Daniel and the Revelation to John:

"But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase." (Daniel 12:4)

An intriguing notion. But then, as many have objected, would God really send his prophet Drosnin to unseal the book? Drosnin, to be accurate, doesn't actually believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God -- he believes that Codes were created by some alien life form of superior but limited technology and intelligence which left the code as a warning. Drosnin believes that the code is being discovered now because it contains a warning about World War III, a coming nuclear holocaust, that can be averted if we (mankind) pay attention and make the right decisions. He comes to this conclusion, in large part, because the only instance he can find of an ELS for "WORLD WAR" is found in the heart of a section of the Torah known as the Mezuzah (Deut. 6:4-9 and 11:13-21). God commanded the Israelites to preserve this passage for all generations by posting it on their door posts and actually wearing it in phylacteries worn on the head. Drosnin reasons that this unusual commandment was included by our benevolent alien overseers to ensure the survival of this most important piece of the code, which would in turn preserve the life of mankind if its warning were heeded. An interesting thought, but one that relies on a belief that the Codes are real, and that God is not.

The Bible is a living Word, a book that defies all categorization or control. It cannot be brought into conformity with the agenda of any human individual or group -- because it announces God's own agenda, God's own plan. As such, it certainly is a book of mysteries, and it would be impudent to assume that we understand it completely, or can say exactly what it does or does not contain. But the problem with the "Bible Codes" is they look very much like the ELSs that appear everywhere. Without some means of verifying that the so-called Codes are real, how can we tell if the "Codes" in the Bible are any different than the codes that McKay finds in War and Peace, that they aren't just patterns in the clouds. Various counter-arguments have been, and will continue to be made. Nevertheless, unless it can be shown, and convincingly, that the "Codes" are real, it would seem very unwise to afford them the status of revelation.

Resources:

Guy Cramer, Lori Eldridge (1997); Statistical Significance Discovered in The Yeshua Codes, 1997, Torah Codes Archives website.

Michael Drosnin (1997); The Bible Code (New York: Simon & Schuster).

Lori Eldridge; Torah Codes Archive website, http://www.prophezine.com/tcode/index.shtml.

Lori Eldridge (1997); private e-mail correspondence.

Grant Jeffrey (1997); The Signature of God (Frontier Research Publications, Inc.)

Alex Lubotsky (1997); "Review of The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin," Haartez Sfarim (September 3, 1997).

Brendan McKay; In Search of Mathematical Miracles web site, numerous articles, see http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/torah.html.

R. Daniel Mechanic (1997); Jesus Codes:Uses and Abuses, A Response to Yacov Rambsel and Grant Jeffrey, Aish HaTorah web site, http://www.discoveryseminar.orgl.

Yacov Rambsel (1996); Yeshua, the Name of Jesus Revealed in the Old Testament (Frontier Research Publications, Inc.)

Dr. Barry Simon (1997), "A Skeptical Look at the Torah Codes,"draft version of an article to appear in Jewish Action (March 1998).

D. Witztum, E. Rips and Y. Rosenberg (1994); "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis," Statistical Science, 1994, Vol. 9, No.3, 429-438.

The Messianic Action Committee has information about how you can become involved in the fight against the anti-evangelism campaign in Israel, http://www.d10r10.com/Jerusalem_gate/news.htm

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Lori Eldridge and Brendan McKay for their gracious assistance with this paper.




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