The Bible (or, more precisely, the Torah) is a heavenly word-find puzzle, according to Israeli mathematicians.
THE BIBLE CODE, a new book touting the miraculous prophetic nature of the Hebrew Torah in which Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination was allegedly predicted thousands of years ago, has swept the national media. Time, Newsweek, Slate, and Charlie Rose explored the remarkable claims of this book, which also predicts a nuclear war that will end the world in 2000 or 2006. Warner Brothers is said to have bought the film rights. The Los Angeles Times ran a front page, above-the-fold feature article by their religion editor. And the Skeptics Society’s phone is ringing off the hook as observers ask “is this scientific proof that the Bible was divinely inspired?”
This is nothing more than New Age numerology hyped by the fact that the end of the millennium is coming soon. It is a perfect example of what I talk about in Why People Believe Weird Things: humans are pattern-seekers looking for meaningful relations in the world whether they really exist or not. I’ve had people tell me they see the face of Jesus in a tortilla, the Virgin Mary in the shadows of a tree, or Mother Theresa in a sweet roll. It is a ridiculous attempt to use modern methods of science and statistics to prove an ancient text that can only be accepted on faith.

To summarise the process of the Bible Code, and the problems with it:
The Bible Code is based on the work of Eliyahu Rips, an Israeli mathematican and computer expert who, along with two other authors (Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg), in 1994 published an article in the prestigious academic journal Statistical Science. It is a peer-reviewed journal, but the editors made it clear they were publishing it because it was an interesting statistical phenomenon, not because they endorse it. They left it to the readers to make what they will of it.
Rips’ analysis was on the Torah, the Five Books of Moses consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Rips eliminated the spaces between all the words in the Torah, converting it into one continuous strand of 304,805 letters. With this strand he applied a process called Equi-distant Letter Sequencing (ELS), where you start with the first letter of Genesis and then enter a “skip code” program by taking every nth letter, where n equals whatever number you wish-every 7th letter, 17th letter, 3,007th letter, or whatever it takes to find meaningful patterns. If there are none there you start with the second letter, or the third, and so on.

Take Your Pick

The vowels are added to the letters after the skip search. If it were English, RBN could be Rabin, or it could be Ruben, or Robin, or Rubin, or Rabon, or, or, or… And you do this search not only from right to left (as Hebrew is read), but from left to right, up to down, down to up, and diagonally in any direction. You can either have a name or word in mind ahead of time then search to find it, or you can look at the sequence of letters to find a meaningful name or word. Rips also found “Hitler”, “Nazi”, “Kennedy”, “Dallas”, Pearl Harbor” and references to atomic war, the Holocaust, and Israel for the year 2000 and 2006.

Here is a simple example of this process, using just the alphabet with no vowels, then an ELS search, which I did in five minutes without a computer:


Perhaps we should do an ELS search of Frank Baum’s Oz books for their hidden messages! Imagine what we could find using sophisticated computers. In just such a process, an Australian math professor, using an ELS skip program, found “Hear the law of the sea” in the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea. He also found 59 words related to Hanukkah in the Hebrew translation of War and Peace, including “miracle of lights” and “Maccabees.” The odds against all 59 are more than a quadrillion to one. Are we to believe that Tolstoy’s hand was directed by God? This is a fun game if you don’t take it seriously.

Some biblical scholars believe that the Torah was authored by more than one individual, thus accounting for the different styles, the two different creation stories in Genesis, and other inconsistencies. There may have even been an “editor” who coalesced multiple writings into one set of books. This contradicts the belief that the Torah was authored by Moses inspired by God. Without this foundation, the Bible as an ELS code of prophecies about the assassination of Kennedy and Rabin falls apart.

Is it really possible that a mere 304,805 letters contains all the information about everyone in the world over the course of several thousand years? Obviously not. So why Rabin’s and Kennedy’s assassinations, and not Lincoln’s and King’s assassinations?

In the Beginning

The belief that the Torah contains encrypted codes goes back to the medieval practice of the Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. Kabbalists believed that there were 84 different coding schemes, one of which was an ELS of n = 50 to find “Torah” in both Genesis and Exodus (but it doesn’t work in the other three books). The Bible Code is just the latest in a long line of mystical traditions.

In Why People Believe Weird Things I show that The Bible Code is just the latest in a long line of attempts to mix science and religion. Some cosmologists, for example Frank Tipler, believe that it is deeply significant that the age of the universe divided by the time for light to cross an atom approximately equals the electrical force between a proton and an electron divided by the gravitational force between a proton and an electron. Believing that things don’t just happen by chance, people go in search of patterns that seem to be more than coincidental. To use a biblical metaphor, it is a matter of “seek and ye shall find”. Last century a mathematician discovered that if you divide the height of the Great Pyramid into twice the side of its base you get a number close to p. Or that the base of the Great Pyramid divided by the width of a casing stone equals the number of days in the year. You can find almost anything if you look hard enough.

There are other, much more serious problems with this phenomenon. The author of The Bible Code claims he tried to warn Rabin a year before his assassination. Let’s say Rabin took the warning seriously and changed his schedule and was not assassinated. Would this mean that humans are more powerful than God, or that some statistician can rerun the universe to produce a different outcome? Does this mean that biblical prophecies are self-fulfilling prophecies, or that they are not prophecies at all, but warnings? Einstein said “God does not play dice.” Does God play computer games?

Michael Shermer publishes Skeptic magazine in the USA, and wrote Why People Believe Weird Things (W. H. Freeman, May, 1997).

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