There has been a flurry of interest in "Bible Codes." Many sensationalistic books have been published making extravagant claims;1 there have also been skeptical detractors with their erudite guffaws.2
Some truly provocative books have been published highlighting some amazing discoveries that would seem to validate the supernatural origin of the Biblical text,3 but very few have written from the standpoint of a cryptographic background.4
Are the so-called "Bible Codes" real? Or are they artifacts of random behavior within the normal characteristics of natural language? Are there really "hidden codes" behind the surface of the Biblical text?
The Science of Cryptology
People never cease to be fascinated by "secret writing," or secret codes. Ever since the earliest times, military, political, and personal messages have been communicated by various means to restrict their contents to those to whom the message is intended and to deny them to others.
From the ancient palaces of our earliest civilizations to the "black chambers" of our most modern command posts, the art of secret writing - and the science of their decipherment - has tumbled proud thrones and turned the tide of major wars.5
Cryptology - the study of secret codes and ciphers - has, of course, been stimulated by its use in literature. Edgar Allen Poe's The Gold Bug probably remains unequaled as a work of fiction, his tale turning upon a secret coded message.6
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes encounters ciphers three times in his uniquely distinguished career, demonstrating his thorough knowledge of the subject in The Adventure of the Dancing Men, where he recognizes little stick figures as cipher symbols.7 Jules Verne heightened the excitement of three of his novels with the mysteries of secret writing.8
The amazing ability to break a seemingly unintelligible cipher has always appeared mystical to the uninitiated. It undoubtedly was a major source of power to the priesthoods of the ancient empires.
It was not surprising that the famed American coup over the Japanese naval codes in World War II was called "MAGIC."9
The art of encryption has its roots in manipulations of the Biblical text-including the Kabbalah of Jewish mysticism. It was these techniques which led to cipher wheels and mechanical aids, which ultimately led to the computer.
It seems fitting that it is now the computer which appears to be opening up secrets hidden within the Biblical text since its inception.
Encryptions in the Bible
It comes as a surprise to many Bible scholars that there are a number of classic encryptions within the Biblical text. Hebrew tradition lists three different transformations in the Old Testament.
One of these, known as albam, employs a substitution system in which the Hebrew alphabet is split into two halves and equates the two halves. Thus, the first letter of the first half, aleph, substitutes for the first letter of the second half, lamed, and vice versa. The second letter of the first half, beth, substitutes for the second letter of the second half, mem, and vice versa, and so on. The term albam derives from the first four letters of this arrangement; aleph-lamed & beth-mem.
In Isaiah Chapter 7, we encounter the scheming of Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, who were confederating against King Ahaz of Judah.
Regarding verse 6, the Midrash notes that Tabeal, t b' l is encrypted using the method of albam, resulting in the name, r m l - Remala (for Remaliah).10
The plan of the conspirators in Isaiah 7 was apparently to establish the son of Tabeal as the king should their plot have succeeded.11
Another alternative encryption form found in the Old Testament is atbash, in which the alphabet is folded back over itself, with the second half reversed, as in figure 2.
The label atbash derives from the very procedure it denotes, since it is composed of aleph, tau, beth, and shin-the first, last, second, and next-to-last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
In Jeremiah 25:26 and in Jeremiah 51:41, we encounter the name Sheshach. The context implies that this is somehow related to Babylon, and some commentators assume it was a suburb, or the equivalent.
However, it appears that Sheshach, sh sh k, is simply Babel, b b l, encrypted using the method of atbash.12
Confirmation that Sheshach is really a substitute for Babel and not an entirely separate place name also comes from the Septuagint and the Targums.
In Jeremiah 51:1, we also find l b q m i, leb kamai, "heart of my enemy," is substituted for k sh d i m- Kashdim, "Chaldeans."
Hebrew literature records a third form of letter substitution, called atbah. Like albam and atbash, its name derives from its system. It is based on the property that each Hebrew letter also has a numerical value. The first nine letters would be substituted so that their numerical value would add up to ten. The next ten letters were paired on a similar system, totaling to the Hebrew digital version of 100. What happens to the remaining letters is not clear. This rather confusing system is not used in the Bible, but there is at least one use in the Babylonian Talmud.13
To students of cryptography, the substitution ciphers in the Bible are all simply historical novelties. However, to one who recognizes the supernatural origins of the Biblical text, the presence of encrypted elements in the Holy Scriptures is extremely provocative, indeed.
In our next article we will explore some of the more significant "Bible Codes." In our forthcoming reviews we will focus primarily on those codes which you do not need a computer to figure out!
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This series of articles is being excerpted from Chuck Missler's forthcoming book, Cosmic Codes, scheduled for publication in Spring 1998.