The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.
- Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
- The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
- Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
Searching for patterns is how we make sense of the world. We look for meaning in the often-overwhelming chaos by making connections between symbols and events. Some times these are meaningful discoveries, resulting in good science and breakthrough insights. Other times, these patterns may lead nowhere but still help us focus energies on what's important.
One intriguing source of patterns that has emerged thanks to our development of computers is the Bible. Among humanity's oldest and arguably most influential pieces of writing, the Bible has been studied and analyzed phrase by phrase by countless scholars and devotees. But what computers have allowed us to do, thanks to the work of Israeli mathematicians, is to see that the ancient text may be not only an intricately-weaved collection of spiritual stories and teachings but a code that speaks to the inner workings of history.
"The Bible Code," a 1997 book by the reporter Michael Drosnin popularized the idea. His book claimed to use the earliest parts of the Bible to predict the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Gulf war, and comet collisions. It also seemed to have information about the Holocaust, various other assassinations like those of JFK and his brother Robert. It similarly suggested a nuclear war was looming – a theme the author explored in subsequent books of the "Bible Code" series.
The inspiration for Drosnin's book came from the 1994 paper "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis," published in the journal Statistical Science by mathematicians Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg. They presented statistical evidence that information about the lives of famous rabbis was encoded in the Hebrew text of the Book of Genesis, hundreds of years before those rabbis lived.
Dr. Eliyahu Rips is one of the world's leading experts on group theory and is the scientist who got most closely associated with the "Bible Code" hypothesis, even though the software used to implement the word search was designed by both Rips and Witztum.
Dr. Eliyahu Rips. 2017.
Rips later distanced himself from Drosnin's book. In a 1997 statement on the matter, he pointed out that he didn't make or support some of the specific predictions Drosnin claimed. Nonetheless, Rips wrote quite clearly that "the only conclusion that can be drawn from the scientific research regarding the Torah codes is that they exist and that they are not a mere coincidence."
The method used by the scientists to arrive at their conclusions is the Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS). To get a word with some meaning, this method calls you to pick a starting point in a text and a skip number. And then, start selecting letters while skipping the same number of spaces every time (pretty much in any direction). If you're lucky, a sensible word will be spelled out. This method works well if letters are arranged in an array, like this one –
The Bible Code made a recent re-appearance in the public consciousness thanks to the work of author and fourth-generation antiques expert Timothy Smith. His 2017 book "The Chamberlain Key" describes how following 25 years of research, he unlocked a "God code" in the Bible. He calls his book "the Da Vinci Code on steroids, but it's true."
Smith's decoding work is based on his own ancient copy of the Bible titled "The Leningrad Codex" - it's the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Old Testament. Smith used a computer-driven application of the ELS method, as well as code-breaking techniques and his intimate knowledge of ancient and aboriginal ceremonial devices like scepters, crowns and thrones to arrive at his reading of the Bible.
Smith is a devout Christian and his conclusions revolve around Christian motifs. In particular, he claims to have found detailed informations about Jesus's birth, crucifixion and resurrection within a passage in Genesis.
The book has received a special on the History channel and a documentary series is being made about the travels leading to Smith's discoveries.
David McKillop, the executive producer for Jupiter Entertainment, which is creating the TV series, said that "Tim's quest is the ultimate treasure hunt for one of history's greatest mysteries, and his map is an ancient text that could possibly be talking to us."
Here's the History Channel's teaser for Smith's TV special
If you think there can't possibly be any pattern in the Bible and other long texts may produce similar results - there are studies for you too. The Australian computer scientist Brendan McKay famously came up with a table of assassination predictions in "Moby Dick".
While the Bible or "Torah Codes" can be criticized, there is scholarly evidence that ancient writers of the Bible, like Matthew, "consciously used numerical patterns or codes in their compositions," as writes Dr. Randall Buth, the director of the Biblical Language Center and a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Another factor we should keep in mind that our understanding of how time and history work very much depends on our frame of reference. If time flows differently, for example as proposed by the Block Universe Theory, all bets would be off and a book could theoretically contain the code of history both of the past and the future.
Don't take the Bible so seriously, says religious scholar and fully interesting guy Rob Bell.
Religious scholar, pastor, and all-around fascinating guy Rob Bell thinks that most everyone teaching religious texts these days is teaching it wrong. It's a lot of parables and metaphors, he posits, and there's no way that people should be reading religious texts like the Bible or the Quran literally. As we've seen over the course of history, the more fundamentalist the approach to religion, the more destruction is caused. Apply the stories to the historical context to which they came from, he says, and you'll learn to appreciate religious texts a lot more. Rob's latest book is What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.
Do we really need an imaginary guy-in-the-sky to tell us what's right and wrong? Not anymore, says Skeptic Magazine's Michael Shermer.
Do we really need God or religion to tell us what's right and wrong? Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, says that this kind of celestial-spiritual guidance really isn't necessary. Or particularly effective. He makes a great case for being a moral realist — for example, studying past examples of war or slavery to learn morals from them — is much more effective than going back to mysticism like, say, The Bible, a fantastical book written by committee some 2,000 years ago and hardly updated since. Michael's new book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.
Don't settle for comfortable and familiar thoughts, reach for what you don't know, says Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt.
The story of Adam and Eve and their eviction from paradise is one of the most famous origin stories on Earth, central to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. But, it's full of holes. Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt illuminates some of these: for example, how could the first humans, who had no prior concept of death, understand God's ultimatum—eat the forbidden fruit and you will die. And when they did eat the fruit, why didn't they die? The same questions have puzzled scholars for millennia, but it doesn't stop massive numbers of people all over the world believing it in a literal sense. This doesn't strike Greenblatt as stupid, or naive, or even surprising, it only strikes him as human. We have always needed the power of narrative to orient ourselves in the world, and the tale of Adam and Eve is one of the earliest and most powerful examples of good and evil on record. To understand why this story exists is to understand something fundamental about human nature, and to pick at the holes in its logic to think deeply. "Often the thing that seems incomprehensible is the place you want to start digging," he says. Stephen Greenblatt's latest book is The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve.
The arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby was recently forced to forfeit thousands of illegally imported artifacts.
Hobby Lobby recently agreed to forfeit 5,500 rare artifacts that the company bought and arranged to have smuggled into the U.S. from Iraq. The company has also agreed to resolve the civil case by paying the government $3 million.
According to the civil complaint, Hobby Lobby has been amassing a collection of cultural artifacts from the Fertile Crescent since 2009. In July 2010, Hobby Lobby's president, Steve Green, traveled with a consultant to the United Arab Emirates to inspect a collection of rare cuneiform tablets – clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia that contain writing – that they intended to buy.
They eventually purchased the tablets and other artifacts by wiring payments totaling $1.6 million to seven different accounts. An unknown source then shipped the packages—which were labeled as clay or ceramic tiles and listed a false country of origin—to three Hobby Lobby locations in Oklahoma, where the company has its headquarters.
The complaint notes that Hobby Lobby went ahead with the purchase even after receiving the following warning from an expert's memorandum in 2010:
I would regard the acquisition of any artifact likely from Iraq ... as carrying considerable risk. An estimated 200,000-500,000 objects have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq since the early 1990s; particularly popular on the market and likely to have been looted are cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets . . . . Any object brought into the US and with Iraq declared as country of origin has a high chance of being detained by US Customs.
Why exactly Hobby Lobby took such a risk is unclear, but some think the artifacts might have been headed to the soon-to-open Museum of the Bible, of which Green is the chairman and major supporter.
Green has already helped to collect some 40,000 artifacts set to be displayed in the museum when it opens this November, but the museum said in a statement that it has nothing to do with the recently forfeited artifacts:
The Museum of the Bible was not a party to either the investigation or the settlement. None of the artifacts identified in the settlement are part of the Museum's collection, nor have they ever been.
But considering the artifacts are of the sort the museum intends to display, the highly publicized incident casts a cloud over the Museum of the Bible, as suggested by the Washington Post.
Green said the acquisition was “consistent with the company’s mission and passion for the Bible,” and that no one from Hobby Lobby was aware anything illegal was happening, seeing as Hobby Lobby “condemns such conduct and has always acted with the intent to protect ancient items of cultural and historical importance.”
(Artist rendering of the Museum of the Bible)
Prosecutors note in the complaint that criminal activity took place, but chose to single out the shipper and neglect filing criminal charges against Hobby Lobby. Pursuing a criminal case might have proven difficult for prosecutors, as Patty Gerstenblith, one of the country’s leading experts in cultural property law, and the very same expert who warned Hobby Lobby against the import in 2010, said in an interview:
Yes it looks like there was criminal activity, but its not clear who committed the crime. The government would have to prove criminal knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury would have to find that these people knew not only what the law was but also that they were responsible for how the stuff was falsely labeled when it was imported. I have to assume the government felt it would have difficulty proving who knew what.
To resolve its case with the U.S. Attorney's office, Hobby Lobby has agreed to pay a $3 million sum, assist with the return of all illegally imported artifacts, revise its import practices, and provide the government with detailed reports on its cultural imports.