AP, Feb. 22, 2003
By RICHARD N. OSTLING, AP religion writer
It doesn’t help religious faith much, but the “Bible code” phenomenon has at least boosted the book business. New York journalist Michael Drosnin made best-seller lists with “The Bible Code” (1997) and with his recent “Bible Code II: The Countdown” (Viking).
“Code II” claims modern-day events were secretly predicted in the Old Testament text 3,000 years ago, including global “economic collapse” in 2002 (was that so?) and a 2006 nuclear war that will bring “the gruesome destruction of all mankind, a nightmare of death and destruction beyond our imagination.”
We’re also informed ancient codes forecast the World Trade Center attack, George W. Bush’s election, assorted assassinations and, it seems, everything except who’ll win Oscars.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Drosnin’s computer found “twin,” “towers,” “airplane” and “it knocked down” hidden in the Bible, and “sin, crime of bin Laden” with “city and tower.”
But skeptics say Drosnin’s World Trade Center code words also occur in the Hebrew translation of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and that his new book has this encoded warning: “The Bible Code is a silly, dumb, fake, false, evil, nasty, dismal fraud and snake-oil hoax.”
Religious objectors, meanwhile, protest that the codes treat God as a secretive magician and violate the Bible’s own ban on soothsaying.
Since Drosnin is an atheist, he figures the codes weren’t the work of God. Since the ancient Israelites lacked the necessary computers, the Bible must have come from high-tech superhumans in outer space and the codes provide “the first scientific evidence” that we’re not alone in the universe.
E.T. call Moses.
The overheated Internet and TV talk show debates about codes mostly involve mathematicians.
There’s less awareness that Bible scholars see a huge flaw: Code theory claims the messages were hidden in what Drosnin calls “the original He-brew version” of the Bible “as it was first written.”
But in actuality, nobody has the exact “original” text for any of the 39 biblical books. So code software must use a modern edition.
There were numerous tiny variations, especially in spelling, among the oldest biblical manuscripts. The Hebrew text became standardized only when printing was invented in the 15th century, and not perfectly even then. That’s no problem for the biblical message or most details, but shifting even one letter destroys an alleged code.
Jeffrey Tigay of the University of Pennsylvania notes that the most authoritative Jewish manuscript of the full Bible, 1,000 years old, contains 45 more letters than the 304,805 in the edition code-breakers use, making codes meaningless. Drosnin doesn’t grapple with any of this.
Here’s how codes work:
Practitioners convert the Bible into a string of Hebrew letters minus spaces by computer and manipulate rows of letters in various lengths. They then read in any direction to find equidistant letter se-quences, skipping, say, to every third letter. A “hit” occurs when an ELS word appears near a word with related meaning.