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No. 35: Cracking Up the “Bible Code”

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 35
Copyright (c) 1997 Biblical Horizons
October, 1997

Two books on the "Bible Code" have appeared this year. The first, a current bestseller, is Michael Drosnin’s The Bible Code (Drosnin, 1997). The other is Cracking the Bible Code (William Morrow, 1997), by Jeffrey Satinover, known to Christians for his outstanding 1996 book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Baker, 1996). In this earlier work, Satinover gives evidence of a conversion to Christianity from his earlier Judaism, but in Cracking the Bible Code this is not at all apparent.

Basically, the mooted Bible Code is this: It is asserted that in the five books of the Torah we find all kinds of information hidden in the sequences of letters in the Hebrew text. That is, if we start at some random place and skip to every 6th or 15th letter (for instance) we find a hidden word. This procedure can be done either forwards (in Hebrew, from right to left) or backward (left to right). Since neither punctuation nor spaces between letters were present in the original text, these are not taken into consideration.

Now, by itself this is not strange. Any text will show such phenomena. All you have to do is program a computer to find such hidden words. Bible Code advocates, however, add the following criteria. (1) A word may appear many times in a given passage, indicating Divine placement. (2) Or, two or more related words may appear in a given passage. (3) Or, the hidden words in a passage relate strongly to the theme or message of that same passage.

The argument goes that these hidden messages from God appear only in the original five books of the Torah, which we are told were dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, letter by letter. The rest of the Hebrew scriptures do not, we are told, display this phenomenon. All of this is offered as a mathematical proof for the Divine origin of the first five books of the Bible.

Satinover’s book is a history of the development of the decrypting methods used by rabbis to uncover these codes, and a description of the present computerized state of the endeavor. It is a more sober account than Drosnin’s. Several aspects of the endeavor, however, should cause serious Christians to avoid being caught up in the present currents of excitement and enthusiasm about this matter.

(1). The notion that God dictated the first five books to Moses is nonsense. Nowhere does the Bible tell us that Moses wrote Genesis, though it is commonly held that he did. (I personally favor the view that Genesis was written or compiled by Joseph, and was the Bible for the Hebrews while they were in Egypt.) Nowhere does the Bible tell us that God dictated to Moses anything more than what it explicitly says He dictated to him; to wit, most of the second half of Exodus, almost all of Leviticus, and portions of Numbers. The rest was written by Moses under Divine inspiration, not by dictation. Moreover, the dictation came as God spoke statements and Moses wrote them down, not letter by letter. Deuteronomy is presented as a sermon written by Moses almost forty years after Mount Sinai. Thus, the rabbinical tradition that God dictated all five books of the original Torah letter by letter is completely false.

(2). The reason it is easy to find hidden words in Hebrew is that almost all Hebrew words consist of three or four letters. That is because Hebrew vowels are not written. If you search any text in any language for three-letter words hidden at various spacings, you will find loads of them — especially if you can move backwards as well as forwards, and even more especially if you can ignore vowels. This obvious fact does not seem to have occurred to the advocates of Bible Code.

(3). Bible Code enthusiasts claim that various historical events and scientific discoveries are hidden in the original Torah, such as the treatment for diabetes (Satinover, p. 163). (!) To be sure, in a text this large one can find a dozen or so interesting items along this line, but what of the literally billions of historical and scientific facts that are not found there? I don’t doubt but that one could find a couple of historical and scientific "predictions" in Shakespeare’s Hamlet if one were to program a computer to find them.

An exercise along these lines is found in the November/December 1997 issue of Skeptical Inquirer (vol. 21, no. 6): "Hidden Messages and the Bible Code," by David E. Thomas (pp. 30-36). (Though published by atheists, Skeptical Inquirer and similar magazines are useful tools for Christians dealing with modern idiocies.) Thomas looks at several secular texts and finds hidden words in them. He finds the two words "Hitler" and "Nazi" together in three short passages: in Genesis 8-11; in a short section of the 1987 Supreme Court ruling Edwards v. Aguillard (a Creation Science case); and in Tolstoi’s War and Peace (in English; five paragraphs from Book 1, Chapter 2). He also finds the pair "Roswell" — "UFO" three different places in the AV of Genesis; for instance:

… me to kiss my sons and my daUgh-teRs? thOu haSt noWdonEfooLishLy in so doing. It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your Father spake unto me yesternight, saying, `Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.’ And nOw, though thou wouldest needs be gone… (Genesis 31:28-30).

("UFO" is spaced 88 letters apart. As with Bible Code, spacings and punctuation don’t count.)

(4). The only aspect of this research that may have some validity is when a given word occurs several times encoded in a short passage that has a theme closely related to that word; or where a set of words is encoded that relate to that theme. Satinover does not provide many examples, and so perhaps these are only coincidences. Time and future research will tell.

For instance, though, Genesis 1:29–2:17 is a section that begins and ends with God’s provision of edible grains and trees for Adam and Eve to eat from. Encoded in this short section are the following seven Hebrew words: barley, wheat, vine, date, olive, fig, and pomegranate (Satinover, p. 145). On the face of it, this is quite remarkable.

Similarly, Genesis 2:7–3:3, which begins with the creation of Adam and ends with Eve’s affirmation concerning the prohibition of the Tree of Knowledge and includes the planting of the garden, contains encoded 25 plants, mostly trees: chestnut, thicket, date palm, acacia, boxthorn, cedar, pistachio, fig, willow, pomegranate, aloe, tamarisk, oak, poplar, cassia, almond, terebinth, thornbush, hazel, olive, citron, gopherwood, wheat, vine, and grape (Satinover, p. 146).

Satinover also points out (p. 123) that "Eden" appears encoded nineteen times in Genesis 2:4-17 and "the river" thirteen times in the same passage — both very important themes in the actual text.

Now, this kind of encoded information, if it be really present, does not add anything new to our understanding of the text. It simply adds another literary dimension to it. Similarly, as Umberto Cassuto points out in his commentary on Exodus: In Exodus 1:8-14, the words for labor and rigor occur a total of seven time; in 1:15-22, the word "midwives" occurs seven times; and in Exodus 2:1-10, the word "child" occurs seven times. This kind of numerological patterning does not alter our understanding of the text itself, but does add another layer of wonder to our appreciation of it. Just so, it might turn out that the kinds of encoded information we are discussing at this point are really present in many texts. We should expect, however, more than just a few instances, and we should also expect them to occur throughout the Word of God, not just in the first five books thereof.

Bible Code, we must say, is just another form of Qabbalism, this time with computers. In the main, it is a deceptive abuse of the Word of God, and should be scorned by Christians. The fact that so many people are ready to believe such a thing, based as it is on such faulty reasoning and so few facts, only shows once again that when people won’t believe in the true God, they will believe anything.