Jesus in the Codes
Michael Drosnin’s book isn’t the only one referring to codes in the Bible (Ronald S. Hendel and Shlomo Sternberg, “The Bible Code: Cracked and Crumbling,” BR 13:04). Two I have studied are The Mystery of the Menorah, by J.R. Church and Gary Stearman, and Yeshua, by Yacov Rambsel. They reveal different kinds of codes, one of which is “Torah,” encoded at 50-letter intervals in the first paragraphs of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers (it’s backwards), and Deuteronomy (backwards at 49-letter intervals), and “YHWH” at 8-letter intervals in Leviticus. The explanation for the different countings, along with dozens of other amazing “coincidences,” are in The Mystery of the Menorah. Rambsel’s book deals with the various forms of “Yeshua” (Jesus in Aramaic) and “Mashiach” (messiah) and how they are found in meaningful contexts within the scriptures. He did not use a computer to count, so these findings are easily verifiable by anyone with a good Hebrew Bible. One example he gives is from Isaiah 53:10: “Yet it pleased the
L-RD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the L-RD shall prosper in his hand.” Rambsel starts with the second yod in the word ya’arik, meaning “he shall prolong” (
Flower Mound, Texas
The Bible as Ouija Board
Cultivation of “codes theology” runs not only the grave risk of degenerating to the grossest level of superstitious occultism, a kind of cosmic Ouija board, but of degrading interfaith communications to the vilest of polemics.
A colleague and I carried out a series of studies on the “codes” almost a decade ago. My colleague (to remain unnamed) did his Ph.D. in information science with a specialty in cryptography at Stanford; mine is in linguistics from the Université de Montréal. Our objective was to scrutinize dispassionately the codes phenomenon from within our two academic disciplines. The results were simple and really quite predictable. Each letter in the Masoretic text (textus receptus) has a frequency of occurrence that can be statistically ranged. Among the letters of high-frequency occurrence are waw,
What now is to be said to Jewish spokesmen basing their pronouncements on a code-founded faith when the results of our study reveal a significant number of occurrences of the high-frequency letters
On the other hand, and in the other camp, Rabbi Nisan A. Novick’s Fascinating Torah Prophecies Currently Unfolding (Staten Island, NY: Netzach Yisrael Publications, 1997) adequately exemplifies the Jewish counterargument in kind when Jesus, Mohammed and Shabtai Tzvi are disclosed by Novick’s codes as three false messiahs.
In all this sordid business, sooner than later we arrive at the punctum reductionis ad absurdum. The potential for uncouth polemics exceeds medieval standards and inexorably leads to the destruction, not the edification, of faith for all concerned.
And yes, of the other high-frequency 005letters cited above, at least one combination is impressively ubiquitous in every context and spacing interval conjurable,
The Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and Research
Are Torah Scrolls Exactly the Same?
Ronald S. Hendel quotes Michael Drosnin as saying that “all Bibles in the original Hebrew language that now exist are the same letter for letter.” Drosnin’s statement was consistent with what I heard from a friend when we discussed Torah scrolls used in synagogues: that these scrolls were copied by modern scribes word for word and letter for letter, that they are exact duplicates scroll to scroll, from synagogue to synagogue and from present to past.
If such an exact text exists, even if its accuracy is an unsupported claim, it deserves to be dealt with. Neither the Leningrad Codex nor the Aleppo Codex is a Torah scroll. And however ancient they may be, they were made for a different purpose and hence to a different standard. The copyist would have been free to add letters to such a text as an aid to clarity and/or a guide to pronunciation. Are Torah scrolls accurate letter for letter? Do they even claim to be accurate letter for letter, as my friend asserts? And if so, can the claim be substantiated?
Hendel goes on to talk of vowel letters. He says that there are few vowel letters in Hebrew. My understanding is that ancient Hebrew has no vowel letters. A Hebrew grammar I have states that vowel indications were not introduced until the first few centuries C.E. This also seems to be supported by what Hendel himself says when he notes that pre-Exilic Hebrew has fewer vowel letters. If we go back far enough, then, even by Hendel’s reckoning, we should come to a time when written Hebrew contained no vowel letters. If this is so, then any Hebrew writing that makes use of vowel letters or marks could not represent a document that, as legend would have it, was handed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Brooklyn, New York
Ronald Hendel responds:
Mr. Gentile raises several important issues regarding the textual transmission of the Torah. The better codices (such as the famous ones from Aleppo and St. 006Petersburg [Leningrad]) follow the rules for copying Torah scrolls quite closely (see Israel Yeivin, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah [Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1980], p. 7). These rules include the stipulation that biblical texts be copied accurately, letter for letter. Unfortunately, because scribes are human they occasionally fall short of this standard. The Torah text has been extremely accurately transmitted; however, one should not expect perfect accuracy in any humanly transmitted text.
Regarding vowel marks in the biblical text, we need to distinguish between vowel points (which were developed by the Masoretes in the sixth to ninth centuries C.E.) and the vowel letters that are part of the consonantal text. Certain Hebrew letters—primarily yod, waw and he—are sometimes used to indicate vowels. Thus a Hebrew word can be written with many of the vowels indicated (called “full” spelling, plene in Latin, maleh in Hebrew) or with relatively few vowels indicated (called “defective” spelling,
By the way, the Koren edition of the Bible, used by Drosnin, acknowledges in its appendix, “Textual Differences,” that there are many variations in full and defective spellings among the major biblical texts and editions. Drosnin misrepresented the truth that is admitted in the very edition he used!
Both Ronald Hendel and Shlomo Sternberg enjoy demolishing Michael Drosnin’s claim to have found Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination predicted by the Bible Code. Rozeah asher yirzah simply means “murderer that will murder.” Why does Hendel insert “inadvertently” and change the tense to present? Sternberg’s version is even worse: “a slayer who happens to have killed” (past tense). Drosnin is perfectly correct to interpret it as “assassin that will assassinate.” One need only consult Scharfstein’s English-Hebrew Dictionary: “assassin” = rozeah, when associated with a head of state.
Sternberg’s assertion that the matrix “creates a false impression” is also fallacious. Nowhere does Drosnin suggest that it is the standard format of the Bible. Those familiar with a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) or Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) would not be misled. Would an educated man like Drosnin attempt to fool the Jewish (and non-Jewish) public, which is acquainted with the Torah?
It is difficult to digest that Sternberg is an Orthodox rabbi. Anyone religious knows that a Torah scroll used in synagogue must conform to the strictest criteria of G-d’s law. This means it must be produced and written with specific materials and fit the rigorous, scrupulous standards of a sofer (scribe). Otherwise, it cannot be used! Every letter, every dot, must be perfect. The slightest error renders it pasul (unfit).
Jersey City, New Jersey
Shlomo Sternberg responds:
Words acquire a meaning in context. There is no doubt that in the context of the passage, “rozeah asher yirzah” refers to an accidental manslaughter that has already occurred. To take the words out of context and give them other meanings is always possible, but then, instead of interpreting the phrase as predicting that Rabin would be assassinated, we could equally well interpret that phrase as saying that Rabin is a murderer (because of the deaths ensuing from the Oslo agreements) and use this technique to justify his murder. (This is one of the dangers always inherent in magic—its effect on the disoriented.) The first crossing of Yitzhak Rabin, at Deuteronomy 2:33, is a verse recounting the victory of Israel over Sihon. Taken out of context, we could interpret the phrase as saying that Rabin was the Almighty’s gift to the Jewish people. And so on. As I said, by using the ELS (Equidistant Letter Sequence) method, one can predict anything.
Ms. Lee questions my credentials because of my statements about the text of the Bible. Rabbi Moses Schreiber, known by his pen name as the Hatam Sofer, is universally recognized as one of the leading, if not the leading, posekim (halakhic decisors) of the 19th century. He ruled that one may not pronounce a blessing upon fulfilling the commandment of writing a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) because the 007current text deviates from the talmudic version. If our current text is as divinely inspired as Ms. Lee says it is, then we should be allowed to pronounce a blessing on the divine commandment of writing a Sefer Torah. I hope that Rabbi Schreiber’s credentials are such that Ms. Lee can digest that he was an Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Schreiber’s father-in-law, Rabbi Akiba Eger, whose credentials should also be impeccable, brings a whole list of divergences between the current text of the Hebrew Bible and the talmudic readings. For a thorough discussion of the issue of textual criticism from the point of view of a religiously observant scholar, I recommend an article by Professor Menachem Cohen that appeared (in Hebrew) in the book HaMikra veAnachnu, edited by Uriel Simon. I would recommend to Professor Cohen (and to the editors of this magazine) that an updated version of this article be made available in English.
Drosnin’s Tortured Hebrew—and English
I am glad to see the two articles expertly debunking The Bible Code, by Michael Drosnin. It only took BR two years from its earlier enthusiasm (see Jeffery B. Satinover, “Divine Authorship?” BR 11:05.—Ed.) for this sort of tea-leaf reading to see the light.
However, I do wish to add my mite. As was pointed out by Ronald Hendel, Drosnin finds his hidden messages by torturing the Hebrew language and occasionally abandonimg the language altogether. For example, Drosnin claims to have found “Watergate” hidden in the Hebrew Bible—but not the Hebrew expression for “water gate” that is used repeatedly in the Book of Nehemiah. No, Drosnin has found a collection of Hebrew letters that correspond to his phonetic transliteration of the English word. Elsewhere he claims to have found the word “dinosaur” in the same patch with the word “asteroid”—except what he says is “asteroid” is the common biblical Hebrew word “star,” and what he says is “dinosaur” are the letters—each found at the enormous interval of about 39 pages in the printed Hebrew Bible—that form a phonetic transliteration of the English word coined in 1841 but different from anything used in a modern Hebrew dictionary. This even extends to Americanized abbreviations: Where Drosnin claims to have found “Los Angeles, California,” he actually found letters that form “LAKLIF.”
In predicting an earthquake or World War III, Drosnin claims to find the dates expressed as years in the Jewish method of counting, but a careful examination of his messages shows he has tripped over a common practice in writing Jewish years. The years are expressed as letters with numeric values, and the year 2000 A.D. would have the Jewish equivalent of 5760, but it is a common practice to omit the thousands in writing down nearby years, and what Drosnin has found is really only 760. It would mean the year 2000 to Jews in the few centuries in our past and future, but for a long-range prediction written thousands of years ago it’s pretty useless. Drosnin also says that the Book of Isaiah and even the Book of Daniel were both written 3,000 years ago, which is impossible even to a Bible literalist.
Drosnin can’t seem to decide which is the more popular or influential Hebrew edition, Koren’s or the Leningrad Codex—he seems to know nothing of the editions by Ben-Hayyim or Letteris or Michaelis et al. What is more significant is that he doesn’t know, or even seem to care about, the edition he uses for all his hidden messages. Since even one letter added or deleted would change the results, the provenance of Drosnin’s own Hebrew text is significant. There are a number of computerized editions of the Hebrew Bible available, maybe all just copies of only one edition. I doubt that the Koren edition is available this way (Koren is very conscientious about its copyright), but maybe the Leningrad text is available (it was used as the main text for the Israeli Army edition and the Israeli Bible Society edition).
Drosnin leaves readers with the impression that all his messages appeared unexpectedly and by surprise, but another book on the same sort of messages, The Torah Codes and Israel Today, by Professor Robert Haralick and Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson, reveals that, in fact, the user tells the computer what words he is looking for and the computer hunts through the text, over and over again at different intervals, until it finds them. Haralick and Glazerson have a method very different from Drosnin’s. They have the computer find a patch of Bible text where two or three required words are together and then they read the plain text of the Bible at that spot, expecting that the Bible’s message at the spot is particularly relevant. I’d rather read tea leaves their way than Drosnin’s.
The introduction to your article “The Bible Code: Cracked and Crumbling,” BR 13:04, contains two errors:
1) The study published in Statistical Science was by three Israeli academics: Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg. Your introduction left out the third contributor.
2) The study did not find that “the numbers of matches found was much greater than what could be expected by chance alone.” The researchers were not looking for the number of matches between rabbis’ names and dates of birth or death. Any Hebrew text would have plenty of matches due to pure chance. Rather, they were testing how far apart the names were to their corresponding birth and death dates. They found that the degree of closeness of the name-date matches was unexpectedly small and could not be explained on the basis of chance.
Did Shakespeare or Wycliffe Translate the King James Version?
One more footnote to the Bible Code hoax. Long before computers, it was observed that the Authorized Version (King James translation) of the Bible contains a remarkable feature. Turn to Psalm 46. The 46th word from the beginning is “shake.” The 46th word from the end is “spear.” And the King James translation was completed when Shakespeare was 46 years old. From this, we can surely conclude (choose one):
a) Shakespeare wrote the Bible.
b) King James was a Shakespeare buff.
c) King David anticipated that when his Psalms would be translated, some 26 centuries later, into a language yet to be invented, they would contain the encoded name of a famous literary figure.
d) Not only the Hebrew Bible but all of its official translations contain secret codes that irrefutably prove divine authorship.
Now, would it affect your choice to learn that the Wycliffe Bible, the first English translation, some 225 years earlier than the King James, already contained the Psalm 46 shake-spear phenomenon?
With the entire King James text in computer memory, and using a Pentium processor, I wonder what interesting 009spacing patterns we could find between such word pairs as “words-worth,” “house-man” and “long-fellow” to go along with “shake-spear.”
But perhaps Drosnin has made an interesting contribution after all. By arranging the letters of the Bible in a two-dimensional tiling array and looking for hidden messages, he has given an entirely new meaning to the term “mosaic code.”
Communication Sciences Institute
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
No Horsing Around
Paul neither rode a horse nor walked (Charles Dougherty, “Did Paul Fall Off a Horse?” BR 13:04). Since it was a considerable distance and since he was traveling on official business, I am sure he did not walk. Since he was not a soldier or a high official, I doubt he merited travel by horse. Ordinary folk in that time and area doubtless rode a donkey or a mule if they could afford it—not a horse.
Penn Laird, Virginia
The Wrong Question
If Paul’s conversion to Christianity really happened so dramatically, what difference does it make whether God/Jesus got Paul’s attention by knocking him off his horse or off his feet?
West Des Moines, Iowa
Drosnin Provides the Answer
I have concluded that Paul was indeed riding an animal on his way to Damascus. Contrary to Roman Catholics and Italian painters, however, Paul was riding a common ass, not a horse. Examine Acts 9:3 (NRSV), “Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus…” The answer to the question is clearly encoded in the passage. Using methods similar to Michael Drosnin’s [see letters in previous section—Ed.], one can see the conveyance of Paul magically emerge. Note: dAmaScuS. It’s obvious. How refreshing to resolve conflicts like this with Drosnin’s help.
You Can’t Sweep Matthew’s Prejudice Under the Rug
I appreciate the motive behind Anthony J. Saldarini’s effort (“Understanding Matthew’s Vitriol,” BR 13:02) to dispel the anti-Semitism of Matthew’s gospel and, by extension, the anti-Semitism of the other gospels by means of arguments based on history and sociology. Many historians, theologians and clergy are concerned with disencumbering Christianity of the New Testament’s anti-Semitic words, so often translated into anti-Semitic actions, most recently, on a large scale, in the Holocaust.
Saldarini argues that Matthew’s indictment of scribes and Pharisees is not an attack on Jews per se, but rather an excoriation of Jewish leaders in an intrafaith squabble. Saldarini’s distinction between these leaders and their followers is based on the assumption that Matthew himself assumes this distinction, presumably in order to drive a wedge between leaders and followers. Thus, Matthew’s rhetorical strategy is to attack the one without attacking, or appearing to attack, the other.
Saldarini’s assumption offers a distinction, not a difference, for Matthew’s rhetorical strategy attacks all Jews. For, if what leaders teach is acceptable to and accepted by followers, as Matthew plainly believes it to be (otherwise, why be vitriolic?), then he indicts not only the leaders, for hypocrisy, but their followers, for ignorance. Matthew implicitly attacks the followers of the scribes and Pharisees as if they were incapable of making sensible, suitable choices about their religious beliefs. Matthew’s rhetorical strategy is thus hostile to all Jews.
In short, Matthew recognizes that he cannot attract ordinary Jews to his cause by openly attacking them; instead, he tries to appear to attack only their religious leaders. But his rhetorical strategy, which relies on ordinary Jews not recognizing the implicit insult, is a desperate last effort to prevail in a badly losing, perhaps an already lost, cause. Matthew may be close to or even among the ordinary Jews of his community, but he is not with or for them.
In the end, Saldarini’s argument is more sophistical than sophisticated. He uses historical and sociological research 046to explain away facts established by the rhetoric of the texts. I believe that all those concerned about the anti-Semitism in the New Testament should take a bolder approach: Admit that the Gospels are infused with anti-Semitic statements or sentiments; use the appropriate disciplines to establish their anti-Semitism as polemical, not doctrinal, accretions; abjure their anti-Semitism as repugnant to doctrine; and get on with affirming the central messages of Jesus. Such truth will set us all free.
Anthony Saldarini responds:
Mr. Hays speaks of the Jewish people in the late first century as if they were one unified group with one leadership (either leadership or whole community) that the author of Matthew was attacking. But in the first century, Judaism had many types of local leaders and many styles of observance of Jewish law. To put it another way, the later, orthodox model of one rabbinic leadership guiding the whole Jewish community does not apply. Thus, Matthew attacks specific leaders and their followers within the larger Jewish community. For an analogy, think of the militant Orthodox Jews in Israel who claim that American Conservative and Reform Jews are not really Jews and even attack them occasionally.
Mr. Hays’s revised distinction in the last paragraph, that the attacks are polemical (sociopolitical), not doctrinal, does not solve the problem. Much Christian anti-Semitism has been sociopolitical as well as doctrinal. Polemics, though inevitable, are dangerous. Verbal attacks quickly become social sanctions that lead to violent repression.
Anthony Saldarini’s comment that Matthew was too Jewish to write that Jesus is God is a red herring (“Understanding Matthew’s Vitriol,” BR 13:02). Either the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy or he did not (Matthew 26:64–66). Of course, Mark also wrote that the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy.
In both his original article and his response to John W. Bailey (Readers Reply, BR 13:04), Saldarini writes that Matthew must have been in a power struggle for him to have written that Jesus referred to Jewish leaders as hypocrites. But Mark and Luke also used the word. Were they in power struggles too?
Anthony J. Saldarini responds:
Luke does not call the Pharisees hypocrites, but rather speaks of the crowds (Luke 12:56), of a leader of the synagogue (Luke 13:15) and of someone proudly rebuking another (Luke 6:42). Mark uses the term once of the scribes and Pharisees (Mark 7:6). In all cases Jesus speaks polemically in a context of conflict, and the telling of the stories suggests ongoing conflict between the authorities and early followers of Jesus. Blasphemy may involve slighting or showing disrespect toward God, claiming divine privileges or powers for oneself 047and claiming to be God. The high priest’s charge of blasphemy against Jesus is difficult to specify, as the disagreements among commentators show. Blasphemy is treated in the Hebrew Bible only once (Leviticus 24:10–23). The high priest seems to interpret Jesus’ claim to be messiah, Son of God and Son of Man, three roles with a very high status vis À vis God, as an impertinent and unwarranted claim of divine approval, and thus blasphemy (Matthew 26:63–65; cf. Mark 14:61–64). The title “Son of God” is used of David; at the time the gospel narratives were composed, the title did not have the trinitarian meaning common in the third and fourth centuries.
Which Jesus Came First?
J. Harold Ellens, in his response to letter writer Ronald Youngblood (Readers Reply, BR 13:03), suggests that the earliest application to Jesus of titles like Son of God and those in the Wisdom/Logos terminology (as represented in the Gospels) was done only in the spirit of Second Temple Judaism. That is, such things were meant to identify Jesus not as a divine being, but rather as one imbued with a divine spirit. They did not label him as being God.
The latter concept Ellens sees as a Hellenistic notion and a later development, traceable from Philo, through Clement and Origen, finally culminating in the Alexandrian campaign to get Jesus declared a fully divine being at the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. The Gospels, then, reflect “the real Jesus Christ.”
Like modern liberal scholars in general, Ellens is anxious to present Jesus and early Christian views of him as something acceptable to the modern mind, but his picture fails to take into account the record earlier than the Gospels, namely, many of the New Testament epistles. What are we to make of the description of Jesus in Hebrews 1:3? “The Son who is the effulgence of God’s splendor and the stamp of God’s very being, who sustains the universe by his word of power,” a Son the author does his best to prove as “superior to the angels.” What about these lines from the pseudo-Pauline Colossians 1:15–20: “He is the image of the invisible God…In him everything in heaven and on earth was created…and all things are held together in him.” This author makes the “man of Nazareth” the agent of creation and the cohesive force of the entire universe. Paul himself, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, calls Christ, “the one Lord [a title usually used of God] through whom all things came to be and we through him.”
Mr. Ellens surely recognizes that all this is Philonic and Platonic language applied centuries before Origen or Cyril. It is squarely in the Hellenistic Wisdom/Logos theology of writings like the Wisdom of Solomon, and goes far beyond any description of a man “imbued with a divine spirit.”
In fact, considering that Paul and the other epistle writers fail to equate such a cosmic, highly mythologized Son with any recent historical man resembling the Jesus of the Gospels, we should rather see Christianity as beginning with a belief in an entirely divine being (one who operated in the spirit world, not on earth), while it was only at a later stage that the evangelists gave us the man Jesus of Nazareth. The two strands ultimately came together in processes leading to the later councils.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
J. Harold Ellens responds:
My research on this matter of Christian origins is just now addressing this very question and is not sufficiently far along that I can answer Doherty’s question with confidence except to acknowledge that we are here on the very frontier of the scholarly quest regarding Jesus and the origin of the New Testament documents. There is much work to be done here. The happy prospect is that we are gaining increasing control of the precanonical sources.