Does the Bible Have a Hidden Code?
ABOUT two years after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, a journalist claimed that with the assistance of computer technology, he had discovered a prediction of that event hidden in the original Hebrew Bible text. The journalist, Michael Drosnin, wrote that he had tried to warn the prime minister over a year before the assassination but to no avail.
Other books and articles have now been published claiming that this hidden code provides absolute proof of God’s inspiration of the Bible. Does such a code exist? Should a hidden code be the basis for believing that the Bible is inspired of God?
A New Idea?
The idea of a hidden code in the Bible text is not new. It is a central concept in the Cabala, or traditional Jewish mysticism. According to Cabalistic teachers, the simple meaning of the Bible text is not its true meaning. They believe that God used the individual letters of the Hebrew Bible text as symbols, which when properly understood reveal a greater truth. In their view, each Hebrew letter and its position in the Bible text was set by God with a specific purpose in mind.
According to Jeffrey Satinover, a researcher of the Bible code, these Jewish mystics believe that the Hebrew letters used to record the creation account in Genesis hold incredible mystical power. He writes: “Genesis, in short, is not simply a description; it is the very instrument of the act of creation itself, a blueprint in the mind of God made manifest in physical form.”
A 13th-century Cabalistic rabbi, Bachya ben Asher of Saragossa, Spain, wrote of certain hidden information that was revealed to him by reading every 42nd letter in a portion of Genesis. This method of skipping over letters according to a particular sequence in an attempt to discover hidden messages is the basis for the modern Bible-code concept.
Computers “Reveal” the Code
Before the computer age, man’s ability to examine the Bible text in this way was limited. In August 1994, however, the journal Statistical Science published an article in which Eliyahu Rips of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and his fellow researchers made some startling claims. They explained that by removing all spaces between letters and using a sequence of equidistant jumps between letters in the Hebrew text of Genesis, they had discovered the names of 34 famous rabbis encoded in the text, along with other information, such as their dates of birth or death, in close proximity to their names.* After repeated testing, the researchers published their conclusion that the information encoded in Genesis was statistically beyond the possibility of chance—proof of inspired information deliberately hidden in code form in Genesis thousands of years ago.
Building on this method, journalist Drosnin ran his own tests, searching for hidden information in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. According to Drosnin, he found the name of Yitzhak Rabin embedded in the Bible text by a sequence of every 4,772 letters. With the Bible text arranged in lines of 4,772 letters each, he saw that Rabin’s name (read vertically) intersected with a line (Deuteronomy 4:42, running horizontally) that Drosnin translated as “assassin that will assassinate.”
Deuteronomy 4:42 actually speaks of a manslayer who has killed unintentionally. Thus, many have criticized Drosnin’s arbitrary approach, claiming that his unscientific methods could be used to find similar messages in any text. But Drosnin stood his ground, issuing this challenge: “When my critics find a message about the assassination of a Prime Minister encrypted in [the novel] Moby Dick, I will believe them.”
Proof of Inspiration?
Professor Brendan McKay, of the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University, took up Drosnin’s challenge and made extensive computer searches through the English text of Moby Dick.* Using the same method described by Drosnin, McKay claims to have found “predictions” of the assassinations of Indira Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and others. According to McKay, he discovered that Moby Dick also “prophesied” the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.
Returning to the Hebrew text of Genesis, Professor McKay and associates have also challenged the experimental results of Rips and his associates. The charge was that the results have less to do with an inspired encoded message than with the researchers’ method and approach—the fitting of data largely done at the discretion of the researchers. Scholarly debate on this point continues.
Another issue arises when claims are made that such encrypted messages were deliberately hidden in the “standard” or “original” Hebrew text. Rips and his fellow researchers say that they made their search with the “standard, generally accepted text of Genesis.” Drosnin writes: “All Bibles in the original Hebrew language that now exist are the same letter for letter.” But is this the case? Rather than a “standard” text, various editions of the Hebrew Bible are used today, based on different ancient manuscripts. While the Bible message does not differ, the individual manuscripts are not identical letter for letter.
Many translations today are based on the Leningrad Codex—the oldest complete Hebrew Masoretic manuscript—copied about the year 1000 C.E. But Rips and Drosnin used a different text, namely the Koren. Shlomo Sternberg, an Orthodox rabbi and mathematician at Harvard University, explains that the Leningrad Codex “differs from the Koren edition used by Drosnin by 41 letters in Deuteronomy alone.” The Dead Sea Scrolls include portions of the Bible text copied over 2,000 years ago. The spelling in these scrolls often differs considerably from later Masoretic texts. In some scrolls, certain letters were freely added to indicate vowel sounds, since vowel points had not yet been invented. In other scrolls, fewer letters were used. A comparison between all extant Biblical manuscripts shows that the meaning of the Bible text remains intact. Yet, it also clearly indicates that the spelling and number of letters vary from text to text.
The search for a supposed hidden message depends upon an absolutely unchanging text. One letter altered would completely distort the sequence—and the message if there was one. God has preserved his message through the Bible. But he has not preserved each letter intact, as if he were obsessed with such trivial matters as spelling changes over the course of centuries. Does this not indicate that he has not buried a hidden message in the Bible?—Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:24, 25.
Do We Need a Hidden Bible Code?
The apostle Paul very clearly wrote that “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) The clear and straightforward message in the Bible is not too difficult to understand or apply, but many people choose to ignore it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) The prophecies that are openly presented in the Bible give a solid basis for believing its inspiration.* Unlike a hidden code, Bible prophecies are not arbitrary, and they do not ‘spring from any private interpretation.’—2 Peter 1:19-21.
The apostle Peter wrote that “it was not by following artfully contrived false stories that we acquainted you with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:16) The concept of a Bible code has its roots in Jewish mysticism, utilizing “artfully contrived” methods that obscure and distort the plain meaning of the Bible’s inspired text. The Hebrew Scriptures themselves unequivocally condemned such a mystical approach.—Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:9-13.
How happy we are to have the Bible’s clear message and instruction, which can help us to know God! This is far better than trying to learn about our Creator by searching for hidden messages that are the products of private interpretation and computer-assisted imagination.—Matthew 7:24, 25.
In Hebrew, numeric values can also be represented by letters. Therefore, these dates were determined by letters in the Hebrew text rather than by numerals.
Hebrew is a language without vowel letters. Vowels are inserted by the reader according to context. If the context is ignored, a word’s meaning can be completely changed by inserting different vowel sounds. English has fixed vowel letters, making such a word search far more difficult and restrictive.
For more information on the Bible’s inspiration and its prophecies, see the brochure A Book for All People, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.