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Hidden Bible codes:

Theomatics and ESL Bible codes. Terminology.
The propriety
of this type of analysis of the Bible.

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About two different Bible analysis techniques:

For thousands of years, humans have debated about whether God exists. Some have tried to prove that God exists; others have tried the opposite. Neither group has succeeded to the extent that they have been able to win over the other side. But many Christians and other theists have held fast to the belief that a proof is out there somewhere. The Roman Catholic church has held as a dogma that such a proof must exist. Theologians have searched for some fact(s) in the universe that prove beyond reasonable doubt that God exists.

From medieval times until now, many people have believed that the Bible contains some type of secret, hidden code that is not obvious to even the most careful reader. The great scientist Sir Isaac Newton was perhaps the most famous of these believers. He devoted much of his research to this topic.

The stakes are high:

  • If it could be shown that -- uniquely among all of the books that have ever been written -- the Bible contains some form of code, and

  • If it would have been beyond the mental capacity for mere human authors to embed this coding in the text, then

this would a strong indicator of the existence of an intelligence beyond human -- of a God.

Two popular analysis techniques that have attempted to extract hidden codes from the Bible are:

  1. Front cover of Sun magazine ELS Coding: Some believe that the letters in the Bible can be scanned mathematically, in order to extract hidden names, dates and messages. The Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS) analysis method is an example of this approach. Its validity is probably doomed to failure because it requires the Bible text in its original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek to have been transmitted without error down to the present day. In reality, there are thousands of differences among the surviving ancient Bible manuscripts, and there is no method by which the original wording can be precisely determined. The addition or subtraction of even a single letter by a copyist two millennia ago could derail an ELS analysis.

  2. Theomatics: Some believe that the Bible text contains a complex mathematical design. It has been variously described as:
    1. A type of watermark that proves God's authorship.

    2. The footprint left by the Holy Spirit.

    3. The fingerprint of God.

"A.B. Leever" analyzed Theomatics and concluded that if the technique:

"... were valid then it would possible to demonstrate mathematically that God supernaturally intervened in the writing of the Bible. This would be a very important advancement in the field of Christian apologetics, perhaps the most profound discovery of recent times." However, if the technique is worthless, then "there is potential for great damage to the glorious name of our Lord Jesus Christ... and an open door for the enemy to molest the Body of Christ with profound confusion and shame." 1

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Terminology:

bullet Numerics: The study of numbers.

bullet Bible Numerics: The study of numbers in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. Old and New Testaments). 

bullet Numerology: the practice of assigning numerical values to different letters of the alphabet. One system, using the English alphabet for example, is to set A = 1; B = 2...Z = 26, etc. This is then used to compute the hidden numerical values of letters, words, phrases -- even complete thoughts and sentences. Each letter is converted to its corresponding value; the values are then added up. A common method for the Hebrew alphabet assigns values 1 to 9 to the first 9 letters, 10 to 90 for the next 9 letters, and 100 to 400 for the final 4 letters. Greek is often interpreted with the same format. However, it has more characters, so that the final 8 letters are numbered 100 to 800. This technique is used in Theomatics

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Beliefs about the propriety of analyzing the Bible using numerical methods:

Opinions differ greatly on their validity and appropriateness:

bullet Many Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, etc. reject the belief that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God. Most regard the Bible as a very human document -- a collection of historical writings, each written with the goal of promoting its authors' own religious and spiritual beliefs. Most feel that it is useless to hunt for any deeper content.
 
bullet Many religious liberals consider these studies to be without validity, and view them as grounded in wishful thinking.

bullet Some theologians, who have long searched for a proof of the existence of God, seize upon Bible codes as a potential method to confirm that a God exists who wants to communicate to humans.

bullet Many conservative Christians eagerly study them in order to gain greater insights into the meaning of the Bible, which they interpret as God's Word.

bullet Some conservative Christians and Jews avoid numeric studies of the Bible. For example, Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Shalom B'nai Israel Congregation in Chicago is concerned that it could lead to a form of idolatry -- the worship of numbers.
 
bullet Some Fundamentalist Christians reject the search for internal codes as being part of the Occult. Some believe that when a person experiments with Bible numerology or decoding, that "doorways" will open in their life. They believe that evil spirits can use these to possess or oppress the individual.

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Description of one method: ELS analysis:

Decades ago, Rabbi Weissmand found some interesting patterns in the Hebrew Pentateuch (a.k.a. the Books of Moses, the Torah, and the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures / Old Testament). These patterns are called "ELS codes" (a.k.a. Torah codes, Skip codes, and Equidistant Letter Sequences). He was limited in what he was able to accomplish because he did not have access to computing facilities.

Later, Eliyahu Rips of formed a team with Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They used a Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS) analysis method on just the Book of Genesis as published in the textus receptus version. The technique that they used to search for the codes is relatively straightforward (at least to a computer): The text of part or all of the Pentateuch in its ancient Hebrew form is stripped of all of its spaces and entered into a computer as a long string of characters. The entire Book of Genesis, for example, becomes a string of 78,064 letters. Rips published an article in Statistical Science entitled "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis' in 1994. 2

The analysis technique is easy to understand. One starts with the Torah as written in Hebrew, formatted as a long sequence of characters:

  1. The investigators select two numbers. Suppose they are 1,000 and 30.
  2. They count 1,000 characters from the very beginning of Genesis 1:1 and write down the character that they land on.
  3. They count 30 more characters (the step distance) and write down that letter also.
  4. They repeat step 3 until they reach the end of the Pentateuch.
  5. They analyze the characters that they have written down for words or meaningful messages.
  6. They go back to step 1, chose a new set of numbers, and repeat.

Needless to say, a computer can perform this analysis far more accurately and faster than humans can.

A variant on this method is useful if one is searching for a specific word:

  1. Start at the beginning of the string of characters and search for the first letter of the word being sought. Record its location.
  2. Continue searching until the second letter is found. Record its location also
  3. The number of characters between 1 and 2 then becomes the "step distance"
  4. Count forward a number of characters equal to the step distance. If the letter is the third letter in the word being sought, then continue the sequence until either the full word is found, or an incorrect letter is found.
  5. If an incorrect letter is found, go back to the beginning and search for the next instance of the first letter of the word being sought.
  6. Repeat as necessary until the word is found, or until the entire string is analyzed unsuccessfully. 3

In the study by Rips et al., they searched for the names of Jewish individuals and their date of birth or death as listed in the "Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel." The dates were specified by the Hebrew day and month. A list was drawn up of all 34 men mentioned in the encyclopedia, whose date of birth or death was given and whose lives were significant enough to cover at least three columns of text. Later, a second list was prepared; it consisted of 32 men whose descriptions took between 1.5 and 3 columns of text. It is important to remember that, all 66 men were born many centuries after Genesis was written.

The entire process was repeated many times, using different values for the starting location and step distance. They found many matches. And when they compared the name/date matches, then found that they were closer together than one would expect on the basis of chance. The results were very highly significant. (p = 0.000016). A "p" value of 0.01 is normally considered quite significant; it indicates that the result would only happen by chance once in 100 experiments. Smaller numbers are even more significant.

Their remarkable findings were submitted to Statistical Science magazine. This is a peer-reviewed journal which requires that every article be scanned by a number of experts in the field before it is accepted for publishing. 4 Because of the incredible nature of the discoveries, the review process took 6 years to complete!

They did a control study using a section of the Hebrew translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace. They selected the first 78,064 characters in the novel, in order to match the length of the Book of Genesis. They did a second control study using the Book of Isaiah. Matches were found but the proximity of a name and its corresponding date were what one would expect from pure chance.

Robert Kass, editor of Statistical Science wrote:

"Our referees were baffled: their prior beliefs made them think the Book of Genesis could not possibly contain meaningful references to modern-day individuals, yet when the authors carried out additional analyses and checks the effect persisted. The paper is thus offered to Statistical Science readers as a challenging puzzle." 5

Harold Gans, a former cryptologist at the US Defense Department replicated the work of the Jerusalem team. He was able to corroborate their results. He further expanded the original study by finding the names of important Jewish individuals and the cities of their birth and death. His "p" value was even more significant. 

The team's article was published in Statistical Science in 1994. It was titled "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis." 5

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

  1. "A.B. Leever," "Theomatics, at: http://www.ableever.net/
  2. "Mathematicians' Statement on Bible Codes," Department of Mathematics, California Institute of Technology, undated, at: http://www.math.caltech.edu/
  3. Dave Thomas, "Hidden messages and the Bible Code," Skeptical Inquirer, 1997-NOV/DEC. Online at: http://www.csicop.org/
  4. 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/
  5. The comments of Robert Kass, editor of Statistical Science, are at http://www.fortunecity.com/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
File created: 2000-SEP-25
Latest update: 2012-SEP-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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