Bible Codes

In reference to What’s up with the “Bible Code”? by Dex:

I don’t understand the entire point of the article. The facts that Dex points out - that it is easy to play word games - are well known, and are accepted by all sides in the dispute. The point of the Bible codes guys is that they say they have made comparisons to other books, and found these codes to be unique, and not the result of word games. (I believe opposition to their work is based on the assertion that the location of words of the Bible is subject to variant readings. Also the possiblity that these authors were biased in selecting combinations to search for). The authors of these codes are serious and well respected mathematicians, and I think it is misleading and wrong to dismiss their work so simplisticly.

Personally, I am very skeptical of the Bible codes. Primary reason being that - contrary to the assertions of Dex in the article - I don’t think there actually is a tradition in support of such codes, and think there should have been one if they exist. But I don’t think the article has added anything of value.

The point of the Staff Report was that the methodology itself was laughable.

In the links given at the bottom of the Report, there are reproductions using the same methodology with English-lanugage texts (like MOBY DICK) that produce similar results. Thus,the claim of the Bible Code authors that their codes are “unique” is disproved. And, BTW, it’d be much harder in English, where there are vowels and long words to take into account – most Hebrew root words are two or three letters, and it’s a lot easier to find “SSSSNTN” than to find “ASSASSINATION”.

The Bible Code authors use statistics to “prove” that the number of word-finds in their Code is way more than random would allow, and the counter-claims is that their statistics is flawed, and that they do not get any more “hits” than well within the expected probability for a text of that length.

It is also noted that they rearrange the text to suit their needs. For example, if they find that, at a certain spot, every 17th letter at a certain spot produces the word “Hiroshima”, they do a rearrangement of the rows and columns to get that word to appear… and then do word-find and are amazed to find that there’s a word like “bomb” nearby. It’s not as if there were a pre-selected matrix; they vary the matrix to find what they’d like to prove.

Most of this has been well documented in the resources listed. There seemed no need to reproduce it for the Staff Report, but we were getting enough mail on the topic consistently that we thought it was worthy of some sort of response. The intent was to provide sufficient insight to debunk the methodology (for those who didn’t know what it was or how it worked) and links to the more serious scepticism (for those who did know and wanted more info.)

BTW, I did not mean to imply in the Report that the Bible Code methodology was a long-standing “tradition.” The tradition is in finding hidden meanings in the Bible text, and the methodologies for uncovering those hidden meanings varies considerably.

There’s gematria, for example, or numerology – using the numerical equivalence for the Hebrew letters to convert a word into a number, and then being amazed that (for example), in the first sentence of the Bible text, the numerology equivalent of 7 appears 14 times (I forget the exact results.)

There’s also simply the quest for obscure meanings. One of the early arguments made for the Christian Trinity was that the Hebrew word for God is plural, for instance. Or the early rabbis trying to interpret a commandment about not eating a kid seethed in it’s mother’s milk, and concluding that therre is a wealth of hidden instruction and commandment in that simple line of text being repeated three times.

The idea of a word-find game was new (as far as I know) with the Bible Code people, but the idea of looking for hidden interpretations behind the literal text is quite old. The Bible Code is thus (IMHO) just another step in the ancient tradition of trying to uncover hidden or mystic meaning behind the plain text.

Exactly. And I don’t think you’ve shown that at all. The fact is, again, that the mathematicians who published these codes are respectable mathematicians, and their work was published in a highly reputable statistical journal. Your claim that their work is “laughable” is extremely unlikely, and unsupported by anything you’ve written. And the impression that you give - and that they have essentially ignored very basic and obvious statistical principles - is simply wrong.

No, this appears to be simply untrue. I don’t think anyone would claim that the existence of any amount of code is unique. That is absurd (as anyone familiar with the Shakespeare/Bacon controversies knows.) The claims of these sacholars was, as you say, that

not at all the same thing. Now of course there is the counterclaim that

Fine. One side or the other is true. To know which one would require a detailed statistical analysis. You have not provided this, and in fact acknowledge that you have never even looked into the matter.

Exactly. You have linked to one side in a scientific dispute, completely ignored the other side, and declared victory for your guys. I guess this works if your goal is to ridicule something as “laughable”, but I wouldn’t put this under the category of fighting ignorance.

One other thing that I’d like your comment on, is that it would appear to me that there is an unspoken subtext to all this. If the Bible codes are for real it would imply that the Bible is the literal word of God. Thus anyone who does not believe in this is predisposed to reject them.


My impression is that it was popularized by a 20th century rabbi named Weissmandel (better known for his role in the Holocaust) who had a knack for this sort of thing. The computer guys took it to a new level, and gave it some degree of statistical backing.

Izzy says: << I don’t think anyone would claim that the existence of any amount of code is unique >>

Sorry, guy, but I was quoting YOU, in your OP. Notice that my use of the word is in quotation marks?

Some of the sources cited in the Staff Report have massive amounts of statistical material, essentially disproving the claims of the Bible Code guys. I have some background in statistics, but it was frankly more than I wanted to wade through. Statistics in this case is such a nebuolous science, anyway – what do you count as a “hit”? Any word? Or only significant historical or political or religious connotations? And who judges what’s significant?

It’s a loaded game.

The point of the Staff Report was that it’s not a complicated, difficult to understand, mysterious, magic uncovering of hitherto unknown information. It’s a word-find game in a very long text, where the people running the game can change the matrix array to suit them. In that case, it’s not at all a suprise that they find lots of wonderful correlations.

And similar results to the Bible Code have been found in English language texts such as MOBY DICK.

I also note that discovering hidden meanings ex post facto is always a popular game. That’s what keeps Nostradamus in print – ambiguous phrasings that can later be taken to point to the stock market crash of '29.

End of story.

If you think that the Staff Report should have included more information on the statistics, summaries of other computer word-game findings, etc… then you are cordially invited to do so. We would be happy to entertain a guest Staff Report from someone willing to wade through all that material and digest it down for us. I read through most of it, I gave some sites that I thought were cogent and understandable and well-explained, and I left it to the reader who is anxious to pursue, to do so.

PS- Thanks for the info on Weissmandel.

[Edited by C K Dexter Haven on 08-03-2001 at 09:10 AM]

I don’t understand what you mean with this. I have no objection to the word “unique”. Of course the Code proponents are saying that their code is unique. The whole point of the codes is that they are unique. If they were not unique they would be meaningless. But what is significant is that the uniqueness is not the fact that they contain some predictions, but that they (according to the authors) contain way more than random would allow. This as opposed to other “codes” that are random. Thus my statement that “I don’t think anyone would claim that the existence of any amount of code is unique” - what is unique (if the authors are right) is the existence of more then the random amount of code. Point being that if the Moby Dick code produces an amount of “predictions” that might be expected by random luck and the Bible contains too much for it to be random, than you cannot disprove the code by noting that Moby Dick also contains some code. If you want to do a side by side comparison of the Bible and Moby Dick, fine. But to say - without any statistical analysis - that the Moby Dick produces “similar results” is meaningless.

Wouldn’t you agree that it is difficult to make a judgement about whether one side of a dispute has succeeded in “essentially disproving the claims” of their opponents if you refuse to even look at the other side, as you acknowledge doing? It is for this reason that I brought up the issue of a bias in my previous post - it would appear that you have already made up your mind that the codes cannot be real, and are only looking to find support for this position.

Excellent point. This should have been the point of the article. I agree that the codes are most probably meaningless, as mentioned. But what I object to is the conclusion - based on a refusal to even consider both sides of the issue, that the methodology is “laughable”. And to the suggestion that the authors of these codes ignored basic principles of statistics. These are untrue.

What would have been a very good article would have been to point out that one cannot get too impressed by the codes because what appears impressive to the layman might be the result of random chance. That the validity of these codes depends on whether they are statistically significant, as differentiated from random chance. That the bias of the authors could have affected their choices of names and dates to pick. That variant spellings might have affected the result. And finally that most statisticians do not accept the results as being statistically valid.

I’m in the same boat as you with this. Unwilling to wade into an issue that I don’t think much of to begin with. (Also, though I also have some background in statistics - fellow actuary here - I’m unsure if I am up to the level that might be required to thoroughly analyze this).

BTW, from checking a few links, it would appear that a distinction might be made between the article by Rips and his fellow mathematicians, and the subsequent book by Drosnin, a layman. It appears that Rips has distanced himself somewhat from Drosnin. So it might be useful to keep a distinction between the works of the these two men, as one might have more validity than the other, and attacks on one might not apply to the other.

I just want to make sure that you don’t take offense at my comments about fighting ignorance, and bias etc. None is intended. I hold you in high regard as a poster and admin, and am merely calling it as I see it with regards to this specific article.

FWIW, this appears to be the original Rips article.

And here is the torahcodes website (apparently run by Witzun, one of the authors of the math paper, or his pals). It is full of papers and arguments which seem to deal with the concerns mentioned by Dex quite forthrightly. My skepticism is unchanged. But I maintain that without at least going through the arguments it is impossible to dismiss the methodology as being “laughable”. And certainly to suggest that the authors simply got it wrong by not realizing that you can play word games with a text is misleading.

(BTW, looking around the site, it has become even more apparent that a clear distinction must be made between Drosnin’s book and the work of the mathematicians. Witzun specifically critizes Drosnin’s work as being meaningless and unscientific).

Science does not work like a courtroom, or a forensic-club debate. There is no obligation in science to present both sides of a debate. The obligation is instead to provide all plausible arguments relating to an issue. If one side doesn’t have any plausible arguments to present, well, whose fault is that?

Dex, in his report, presented all of the plausible arguments on the Bible Code issue. It happens that all such arguments are against the validity of the code. From this, we conclude that there is no validity to the code, and science marches on.

Let’s say I see what appears to be a $1 bill face up on a table. I look a little closer and see that it looks like a $1 bill except for one thing: the portrait on the bill is JFK. I immediately know it’s a fake. I do not have to examine the other side before coming to an accurate conclusion.

I have always thought the “Bible Code” was a joke (unintentional, of course). I would think the concise and accurate description of the methodology as a “word-find game” makes it obvious that the whole thing is in fact laughable. Examining the techniques these seemingly intelligent researchers used to come to their obviously flawed conclusions could only increase the laughter.

You would be right if Dex had looked at all the arguments and found that one side’s were not plausible. This is not what happened. I draw your attention again to the words of Dex in his article.

So Dex had already decided before reading the book that their arguments were not plausible, that their methodology was laughable, and refused to consider their side. “Whose fault is that?” You may well ask.

This is not the case, as noted. I should also point out (and this is in response to you as well, rowrrbazzle) that the “concise and accurate description of the methodology as a “word-find game”” does not “make it obvious that the whole thing is in fact laughable.” It would appear that both sides in the dispute agree with regards to the theoretical possiblity of a “word game” bringing up more hits than would be possible at random, and therefore be valid. The question is only whether that has been demonstated in this particular instance. This is the subject of the statistics debate between these mathematicians. By refusing to consider and analyze the evidence on both sides, the article presents a misleading picture, and detracts rather than adds to a clear understanding of this issue.

I agree with IzzyR that the article failed to take into account the actual claims of the Bible Code promoters, which is not that codes are in the Torah, but that they are in the Torah at a disproportionately high rate when compared to other texts. By failing to address that claim, the article attacked a strawman.

However, real mathematicians have analyzed the Bible Code and found the claims of its proponents to be lacking. Apparently, the better results for the Torah came about as a result of a “fudge factor” that the authors employed, possibly unintentionally but probably out of a genuine belief in their results.

The problem, IIUC, is that there are many ways to represent any given piece of information. The original Bible Code article claimed to match famous rabbis to their birth and death dates more accurately in the Bible than in a control text. As an on-line article states:

It was not the size of the ELS skip that was at issue, rather how do you select the rabbis whose names are to be looked for, which of the many ways of “naming” them do you choose (how many different ways do people refer to you, for instance?), and how do you represent their dates? When you are doing ELS letter searches, each of these makes a difference. The more freedom there is to make choices, the greater the likelihood of finding “something of interest” by an ELS search.

The authors had decided on a system that happened to turn out well for the Torah. But how did they decide on this system? My natural skepticism inclines me (as well as several mathematicians) to say that they tried many systems, but decided that the one that gave them the best results was the “right” one, and later rationalized their decision, convincing themselves that their choice had nothing to do with its demonstrated success. Another possibility is that such experiments have been tried many times, and that these people just happened upon the “right” systems the first time, and published, whereas other would-be code finders had tried other systems, found nothing, and never bothered to publish.

Full, detailed, and excruciatingly boring analysis can be found on the website of Dr. McKay, one of the mathematicians who debunked this nonsense:

First, let me respond to Izzy that, while I have not read the BIBLE CODE, neither have I read through all the details of the statistical claims and counter-claims. I aint paid for this job, and I’m not sure that I would want to wade through all that intricacy if I were paid. My job was to answer the question, in simple layman’s terms, making the question/answer accessible to a large audience.

When I first heard of BIBLE CODE, it was through a lecture by a presenter who believed in it. He made statements that immediately impressed me as implausible and laughable.

It didn’t take much looking to find the Bible Code methodology incredibly flawed (IMHO). First off, there’s no surprise that the word-find produces a large number of hits because (a) it’s a long text and (b) ancient Hebrew has no vowels and © most words (including names) in Hebrew are fairly short – four to six letters, say. It’s not like you were looking for “Eisenhower”, you’re looking for S-N-H-R.

Thus, the methodology will surely produce more hits than an English version of MOBY DICK or a Russian version of WAR AND PEACE. Those languages both use vowels and have long words.

I further found the methodology flawed by the supposition that the matrix can be rearranged to prove a point. So, you not only have a huge matrix to play word-find, you can adjust the array to have 17 columns whenever you find a “hit” by taking every 17th letter (say). That seems, to me, like a loaded game.

Iggy says: << It would appear that both sides in the dispute agree with regards to the theoretical possiblity of a “word game” bringing up more hits than would be possible at random, and therefore be valid. >>

Well, let’s say “more hits than expected” rather than “possible.” I am not impressed by any random event (like word-find) that happens to produce results that are far from the expected value. I’ve played bridge and dice-rolling games enough to know that “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten,” if I may quote Terry Pratchett.

Minor aside: Iggy, on the word “unique”, I was making ref to your OP: << The point of the Bible codes guys is that they say they have made comparisons to other books, and found these codes to be unique >> You said that that the codes were unique, not the frequency with which they appeared, and I reacted to that. The codes are not unique (that was the point of the Staff Report) nor is the frequency unique (that’s the point of the statistical arguments against the code).

That’s quite understandable, but then I don’t think you are qualified to assert that the methodology is laughable. An article along the lines that I suggested earlier would have been more appropriate in such circumstances.

The fact that this one guy said things that are laughable does not imply that the entire concept is laughable. The same could probably be done with any valid scientific principle. In fact I noted earlier that the mathematicians do not even accept Drosnin’s book as valid.

This sounds plausible but may or not be true, depending on the details. (IOW, the statisitical calculations may quite well acount for the number of letters needed to produce a “hit”.)

It appears to me (from the little poking around that I did) that a lot of the give and take in the dispute centers around whether the researchers used ground rules set in advance by a third party, or chose their own methodology. A lot would appear to ride on the outcome of this.

This would appear to fly in the face of standard statisitical method. And it does not appear to be the opinion of any of the mathematicians in the dispute, pro or con.

I said “found these codes to be unique, and not the result of word games”. I thought in the context it was obvious that I meant unique in such manner as to preclude them from being the result of word games, as opposed to other, superficially similar, codes. Sorry if my language was misleading.

Minor aside: What’s all this “Iggy” stuff?

<< What’s all this “Iggy” stuff? >>

Um, ah, er… Embarrassing typo. My apologies.

I think at this point, we agree to disagree. I went into the topic as far and as much as I was willin’, and Ed Zotti (who edits the Staff Reports) thought it was worthwhile. Seems to me that the question has devolved to the statistical argument (“Are the number of word-finds in the Hebrew Torah significantly more than the number of word-finds one would expect, or one finds in other texts?”)

We still have people arguing the statistics/probability of the Monty Hall three-door problem (which has a clear cut answer and only one variable). Thus, I don’t see any resolution of this beyond what we’ve got: statisticians arguing on both sides, although the bulk of argument is (IMHO) against the Bible Code.

I want to stress that I do think there are deep meanings in the Torah text, but I don’t think they need complex computer codes to unravel them.





Well according to the Bible Codes, 1994 was present about California earthquakes… And so was 2010. If an earthquake of huge proportions occurs in California in 2010, I guess we’ll have some undoubtable evidence.

The Code predicts earthquakes in California? Why the heck would anyone need a computer and a divinely-inspired text to tell them that? You could probably also find passages in the Bible that imply earthquakes in Kansas, but I’ll bet that the “researchers” just ignored those, since they don’t see them happening.

Here we have a perfect demonstration of why charlatans like the Bible code people and psychics and such have been able to make such good livings from their fraud.

I emphatically agree with C K Dex that one need go no further than to describe the methodology to demonstrate that it’s phoney. This word find “technique” is patently ludicrous.

Apply some critical thinking to your knowledge of statistics. If it is demonstrated that any statement, whether true or false, can be found in the Bible code, then what does it matter how many of them are true? Or do you expect that in order to debunk it, we have to go through the Bible code and find every statement that is not true and then weigh the results against all that are?

Here’s the rub of course – the trick in all so-called prognostication. What is a true statement? What is a statement for that matter? Generally what you get are collections of vague words that may or may not be connected.

In any case, how many of these “statements” can be understood without ex post facto knowledge? In other words, show me an actual, bona fide prediction and tell me how it can be tested.

What’s the use of a prognostication if it can’t be understood until after it’s come true?