Secret Codes

atombomb at atombomb at
Wed Jun 16 16:24:07 EDT 1999

Glory to God!

Hi again--

It seems that regardless of whatever becomes of Drosnin's theories,
the bible does contain numerical patters which are of interest to
bible studies professionals and that would be of interest even to
those outside the guild, which are worthy of exploring, and I will
offer some patterns for your consideration below.  But let me preface
this by saying I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly with Fred P
Miller's comment about the need to master the actual meaning of the
scriptural text itself, first of all-- at both the grammatical and the
narrative levels!  Nevertheless, as I say, the text may actually
contain some numerical devices, among the other ways it communicates
its various meanings.

Regarding the "bible codes" currently under discussion, I don't know
if people are aware that there are actually two "bible codes" books
out-- the one, quite well known, by Drosnin, which is rather
sensationalist to say the least; and another, published in an almost
identical cover at just about the same time as Drosnin's-- Jeffrey
Satinover, MD, Cracking the Bible Code (Wm. Morrow & Co., New York:
1997)-- which strikes me as more sober, and he actually shows the math
etc.  Satinover does not seem to be aware of Drosnin's book.  I don't
have Drosnin's book, so I can't tell you if it's by the same
publisher, but one has to wonder about publishers' strategies when
they're so similar.

Anyway, as I mention, Satinover discusses the math, but not being a 
statistician myself, I can't comment on the pertinence of what he has 
to say.  Perhaps Peter Kirk, you could look at this and let us know
what you think.  

The new "bible codes" aside, though-- and whatever may be made of 
them-- as I said, there are numerical patterns of at least in some 
passages of the bible.  Consider not only the calculation of moon 
phases mentioned by the Talmud as present in the first lines of 
Genesis, which are discussed by Satinover-- and the following facts 
as well:

Age of Abraham at death:	175= 5x5  x7
Age of Issac at death:       180= 6x6  x5
Age of Jacob at death:      147= 7x7  x3
Yrs Jacob was called Israel: 64=  8x8  x1 

(The years of "Israel" are not given directly but derivable from scripture).

Note the nifty sequences, up and down the columns, 1-3-5-7 and 
5-6-7-8.  Note also that the factors of each number, (5+5+7), 
(6+6+5), (7+7+3), and (8+8+1) in each case add up to 17.

Now, 17 is a very interesting number and it occurs in a number of
places, not the least being the number of words in many of the
speeches of God in the Torah.  Unfortunately I don't have my notes
handy to tell you which, but you can count them for yourselves; and
look for multiples etc.  However, I must say that I haven't been able
to crack any code, if there is one to be found at this level of the
text.  Nevertheless in view of the foregoing and also of the following
I continue to keep my eye open for further data along these lines:

In the New Testament, at least the evangelist John seems to be aware
of some kind of tradition regarding numbers, because another striking 
occurrence of the number 17 is found in Jn 21.11, where the disciples, 
at the command of the risen Messiah, bring in a miraculous draft of 
fishes, "one hundred fifty three".  Now, 153 is the summation of all
numbers from 1 to 17, and we know that the Johannine school was into 
some kind of number symbolism-- "666" and all that.  So I got to 
wondering about all this one day-- whether it might have something to
do with gematria-- and found GG Locks, The Spice of Torah-- Gematria
(The Judaica Press, New York: 1985), which lists all the words of the
Torah and their gematric values.  From this list, I learned that among
other things, 17 is the numerical value of zebach, sacrifice, and 153
that of haPesach, the Passover.  As you know, the only valid construct
phrase that could be made from these two words would be, zebach
haPesach, "the sacrifice of the Passover"; but that's a curious fact
in itself.  So is there any passage where these words occur together? 
Curiously, it turns out that the one and only one, the sole passage,
where both words occur together (though not as a phrase) is Ex
12.21-28, Moses' injunctions relating to the Passover, in which he
talks about how the destroying angel will pass over houses that have
the blood of the lamb marked on their doorposts.  Given the fact that
Jn 19.14 highlights precisely the saving blood of the Messiah-- and is
evidently an editorial comment added to the book later **like the
narrative of the fish itself and probably by the same hand**-- this
use of numbers not seem to be purely coincidental.  Note, however: I
am not claiming that the Torah "prophesies" Christ-- only that John's
editor was sensitive to a certain fact of his Torah, and used it
rather strikingly.  If something like this is not going on in Jn 21,
then what, pray tell, does the number "153", which this editor is
evidently concerned about, mean?

I am indebted to Prof. Duane L. Christensen for pointing out the
numerology of the ages of the patriarchs (he published an article on
this topic in the '80's but I don't have the reference handy), in the
context of other numerical and alphabetic patterns that can be found
in the Sepher Toledoth ("Book of Generations") which provides the 
historical framework of the Torah narratives.  Christensen in turn 
learned much from a book by Caspar J. Labuschagne, Numerical 
Aspects of the Bible, which will be published in English by Bibal
later this summer (see 

I haven't seen Labuschagne's book yet but I believe it was either he
or Christensen (in another article) or both who pointed out that the
ages of the patriarchs in the Sepher Toledoth (Methuselah lived 969
years, etc)-- which differ significantly in the MT, the LXX, and
Sam.-- all have to do with schemes for periodizing history in terms of
when the temple was built (LXX) (or rebuilt-- MT).  This is an
interesting fact in itself, but it might also suggest that if we knew
what we were looking at, we might be able actually to date other
aspects or passages of the text as well.

On another front of course we have David Noel Freedman's little essay,
The Unity of the Hebrew Bible (U. Michigan Press, Ann Arbor: 1993),
which among other things discusses the remarkable correspondences in
the numbers of words, etc, that occur in the Torah, the Neviim, and
the K'tuvim.  

Personally, I have long been convinced that these writings are
organized on levels that far escape us-- not necessarily because we
need "divine inspiration" to understand them, but simply because we
are have not learned to find them.  We don't need to rush out and comb
the used bookstores for old copies of Eric von Daniken!  But we should
certainly realize that at the very least, people in the past took as
much delight in "secret codes" as they do today-- after all, it was
the ancients who invented gematria-- and keep our eye out for such
patterns.  I doubt that the wise approached the use of mathematical
codes the same way that the tabloids would-- but at the very minimum,
mathematical games like the one I demonstrated above do provide yet
one more opportunity to enrich a text without making it a single word
longer than it already is-- and I do think compression was a concern
of the sages; that they were interested in maximizing the amount of
data in a limited text.  I mean, sure-- you could give some number as
an actual supposed age-at-death for each of the patriarchs, and be
done with it-- but what would that mean, except to provide factoids
that would be, despite their unusualness, only a routine and actually
fairly contextless statistic?  Or you could make up a scheme of
"symbolic" numbers, draw attention to them by exaggerating them wildly
over the human norm, and without adding a single more word to the
text, layer a whole new level of meaning into it.  I suspect that if
you set the finest minds of an entire culture to work on a mere 1574
pages over a period of several hundred to perhaps a thousand years
(depending on who you ask), this is one of the very sorts of things
they'd be likely to come up with.  It would be more surprising, in
fact, if they let an opportunity to encode more meaning into their
text pass them by. 

I have wondered whether there might be any kind of astronomical (I did
not necessarily say, "astrological") code in the hebrew bible.  We
know that astronomy (and astrology for that matter; although astrology
as we know it ostensibly developed somewhat after the bible was
completed) was an important concern in the high civilizations of the
Ancient Middle East, and we know also that the Israelites were as
concerned as everyone else about calendars.  So it is striking that we
do not have, at least obviously, any apparent calendrical calculations
in the hebrew bible-- except the one mentioned by the Talmud and
discussed by Satinover.  Or is that the tip of an iceberg? 
Calendrical calculations were exactly the sort of secret that ancient
priesthoods closely guarded-- and yet transmitted-- so it would not be
surprising to find such things encoded, somehow, in a text they put
together and promulgated.  Moreover, once a culture sees the
possibility of encoding something like that into a text, their
inventiveness is likely to be limited only by the amount of time it
takes to evolve the complex systems of numbers and letters that are to
be encoded.

Gematria and some, but not all number schemes, and so forth, tend to
be features of written texts, rather than of oral traditions, although
oral traditions may accompany or draw attention to them.  In such
schemes, once more, we would be confronted with an originary
*writtenness* of the Hebrew scriptures, and textuality carries with it
a number of entailments about which the Rabbis were extraordinarily
canny (see Jose Faur, "Golden Doves...": U of Indiana Press some years

Again, a group of some fairly important French scholars and writers
that goes by the name of OULIPO (an acronym for "Workshop of Potential
Literature") has done other interesting research into the sorts of
things you can do-- and that you find historically-- at this level of
writing.  Maybe we should see if we can get OULIPO to study the Hebrew
scriptures! (They have a book out which is called OULIPO or something
like that, if you're interested.)

Number schemes can also be a nifty mnemonic device in oral literature
(I myself in fact use the one I demonstrated above to remember the
ages of the Three Patriarchs).  For this reason, we may be looking at
devices that are exceedingly ancient, which were more or less
forgotten after the writing, once it was possible to jog the memory by
reference to a document, rather than by recalling a number scheme--
and that, plus the loss of the temple and its traditions, could
account for the loss of understanding of the number schemes to the tradition.

I submit, however, that none of this is gnosticism; in fact,
gnosticism may well represent the memory of a song once perhaps sung
in secret and only overheard, a memory not even accurate to begin
with, or else already quickly fading.  Wherever such patterns can
actually be demonstrated in the text, though, they will have been but
one instance of the ways culture is transmitted, and one more aspect
of the "reasonable worship" (Rm 12.1) that people have offered to God
from time immemorial, worthy of study by any who are interested in
what the ancients actually thought.  

Glory to God for all things!

John Burnett, MA (OT)

peter_kirk at wrote:
> Dear Will,
> I don't wish to support Jim West's prejudiced views. But I think you
> also need to be "tentative and respectful" rather than asserting that
> others' statements "are false", and that they are wandering outside
> their areas of expertise when you don't know what those areas of
> expertise are.
> Please can you submit examples of supposedly
> "statistically-significant codes" so that I and others on the list
> with suitable training can examine whether they really are
> statistically significant.
> Peter Kirk
> MA in Physics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge (in
> addition to qualifications in theology)
> ______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
> Subject: Re: Secret Codes
> Author:  hyle at at internet
> Date:    15/06/1999 06:33
> Jim West writes:
> >it is pure rubbish- only believed by the unwashed herds of ignorant dullards
> >now populating the planet.
> I am rather surprised at the level of ignorant cynicism expressed by the
> majority of responders on Secret Codes. I can only suppose that they have
> been exposed to the theological and sensational variety of  decoders,
> rather than the real, scientific issue involved--i.e., what is the cause
> of the statistically-significant codes?
> The statements by others that a) any English or Greek text would provide the
> same results; and b) they occur by chance--are false.
> If we should learn anything from the Internet, surely it is to be tentative
> and respectful when we wander outside our own areas of expertise, especially
> when our own area is something nonrigorous--like theology.
> Will Wagers     hyle at     "Reality is the best metaphor."
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