Date: Fri, 20 Jun 1997 23:48:22 -0600
From: Ed <email@example.com>
AN IMPARTIAL OPINION ON THE "TORAH CODES"
Bruce David Wilner
"Eliyahu Rips" "Doron Witztum" "Yoav Rosenberg" "Michael Drosnin" "Bible code" "Torah code"
I recently read Michael Drosnin's new book, The Bible Code (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997). Being entranced by the concept but simultaneously disappointed at the author's casual style and handy buzzword-mongering, I hunted down and digested all the related resources on the Internet, including the original paper by Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg that forms an appendix to Drosnin's book, a testimonial by an NSA cryptographer, and an analysis by a noted scholar of statistical pattern recognition. (Late news flash: an interesting refutation of the Bible codes phenomenon has recently been posted.)
Here are some of the problems I have with Drosnin's claims:
A friend of mine who is quite fluent in Hebrew was unable to interpret many of the passages in the way that the book indicates without, shall we say, a generous dose of poetic license. It is also disturbing that some of the passages must be read forward, others backward, while one (Drosnin, p. 96) evidently reads boustrophedonically! In fact, some of the passages that Drosnin refers to in his appendix do not match the versions in any of my several Bible translations.
Hebrew is so prone to wordplay that it's utterly ridiculous. Because of the triconsonantal rule, many words are extremely short, so a given snippet of text, with spaces between the words removed, could be interpreted in innumerable ways. Some languages are even more prone to wordplay, others less so. I would be willing to bet that any text in Mandarin Chinese, if dictated, contains a complete recipe for duck à l'orange. That's because Mandarin words are one syllable in length and homophony is rampant. At the other end of the spectrum, I doubt that any technical text in German, regardless of its length, would be found to contain as little as the names of the three sons of Noah.
First we are told that the miraculous findings are limited to the Pentateuch, which was supposedly dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai. Next, the author is hunting for pieces of the Bible code in prophetic and apocalyptic works, e.g., Isaiah and Daniel. This troubles me because it implies that, as early as 500 BC, people could have discovered the Bible code and then said, "Hey, let's put some of this neat stuff into the Prophets and the Writings." We know that Isaiah had at least three authors and Daniel must have had umpteen (indeed, bits and pieces of Daniel are Apocryphal), but even for such collaborative efforts, the implication borders on the ridiculous.
Drosnin makes frequent statements that the computer science (in the Witztum - Rips - Rosenberg report) is solid and the math is flawless, or passed rigorous peer review, or some such thing. Such claims are meaningless, especially when stipulated by a non-scientist who has never written, let alone published, a technical paper. There is no substantive computer science in finding strings of equidistant letters and organizing letters into a matrix based upon the string locations; fewer than one hundred lines of BASIC code, a 1960s technology, could accomplish that. Stating that the math is flawless is misleading; there isn't much math in the original paper, except the calculation of the odds of this or that, based upon an experiment which, according to Haralick's refutation, is rigged. I cite Haralick not because he's skeptical, but because he's a renowned authority on pattern recognition. Calculating the probabilities of finding patterns in a data set is precisely his cup of tea.
Drosnin states that the code cannot be used to tell the future, but that one can readily fit past events to the code, presumably by being a little loosey-goosey with the language. I am reminded of the Centuries of Nostradamus; they are so vague that they fit anything in retrospect. (I wonder if Nostradamus's quatrains derive from reading the Torah backward and looking for patterns!)
Drosnin should be careful to explain that the asterisks and hyphens represent deletions of the letters lamedh and heh, respectively, in the Lord's names so that those who are not Orthodox Jews won't suspect that they're looking at anachronistic punctuation (absent from the Hebrew original and Septuagint) or versification (not added until the sixteenth century).
Now, here are some of my opinions on the "erudite" commentaries found on the Internet:
Harold Gans claims that he verified the mathematics. I do not question innocent assertions that the probability of finding such-and-such in a text is such-and-such. However, these assertions do not equate to the assertion that a supernatural being deliberately encoded information about our future in an ancient text.
Some Web sites claim that the Hebrew name of Jesus (Yeshu) appears frequently in the Bible code, while other Web sites counter that these are pseudo-scientific claims promulgated by "Jesus freaks" who would distort the truth. Admittedly, the word Yeshu includes yod and vav, the two most common letters in Hebrew, so finding that pattern might not be significant. How about looking for something more unique, though, like Yeshu ha-Notzri, or Yeshu ben-Yosef, or Yeshu Meshiach ben-El? Has anyone tried this? In the interests of scientific purity, these strings should also be sought. Try harder, gentlemen. After all, the coming of the Messiah is foretold in the Old Testament. It is stated in Matthew that Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill. It is stated in Acts that the kashrut is obsolete. It is stated in Galatians that the entire Mosaic code is obsolete (although Paul's explanation entails a logical error, viz., the assumption that the inverse of a proposition has the same truth value as the original proposition). Are these statements also predicted by the Bible code? Indeed, is the error in Paul's logic predicted by the Bible code? What are we hiding, gentlemen? (In case the reader is wondering, I am Jewish, but I examine all viewpoints in the interest of fairness.)
I am not a skeptic for skepticism's sake. The claims are utterly fantastic, and it would thrill me if they were true. But it's going to take a bit more than a handful of buzzwords, some probabilistic calculations of an extremely narrowly defined experiment, and a lay author's glib statements that the computer science and the mathematics are flawless to convince me.
For those who might be wondering, I am an electrical engineer and computer scientist with a significant background in pattern recognition. I am also a highly competent mathematician, linguist, and Scripturist. The reason that the authors are able to shepherd such fantastic claims past the general public is that the average reader does not combine expertise in all of these fields (nor, in fact, does the average "expert" critic). I, however, do.
I have invited Dr. Eliyahu Rips, via e-mail, to send me a copy of the on-line Hebrew text that he analyzed, and to answer my challenge that (a) the linguistic analysis is very loose, and (b) his choice of what to look for, and what not to look for, in the Bible code is influenced by something more personal and ethnocentric than scientific purism (viz., it avoids any search for Messianic references). I eagerly await his response.
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