The year 2000 is almost here, and we’re seized with millennium fever. To see just how preoccupied we are, consider the recent release of the apocalyptic film “The Omega Code”. Perhaps it’ll be entertaining, such things occasionally are. But moviegoers should know that the film’s premise, that divine mathematically encoded prophecies are hidden in the Torah, is an embarrassment to any thinking person.
The theory of codes in the Torah (the Hebrew term for the first five books of the Bible) is pretty simple. A portion of the text is examined for Equidistant Letter Sequences, or ELS’s. By arranging the letters in a matrix of a particular size, and then skipping letters at equal intervals, words emerge that at first glance seem unusual, even prophetic. The ancient Hebrew in which the Torah is written has no vowels, and letters double as numbers, so there’s quite a rich territory to explore.
Even when you translate the text into English, interesting word pairings occur. For example, consider Genesis 31:28: “And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.” If we start with the “r” in daughters and take every 4th letter, we get r-o-s-w-e-l-l. Now start with the “u” in “thou” and take every 12th letter: “u-f-o”. Evidence of aliens among us, perhaps.
Not convinced? It gets better. Michael Drosnin, the original popularizer of this work, has examined the King James Bible for ELS’s. He found pairings like “Bill Clinton” linked with “President”, “Hitler” linked with “Nazi”, and “Kennedy” linked with Dallas. More than coincidence? Drosnin thinks so. His book “The Bible Code” came out a couple of years ago and is still doing well. Drosnin sold the rights to Hollywood shortly after publication: “The Omega Code” is based on it.
Unfortunately for Drosnin and others easily amazed, there is nothing astonishing about it. Using a computer (as he did), you can find similar results in just about any large text you care to try. Moby Dick, for example, contains interconnected ELS’s of “Kennedy”, “head”, “shot”, and “had been so killed”. War and Peace predicts the Chicago Bull’s miraculous 1998 NBA championship by interconnecting “Jordan”, “Chicago”, and “Bulls”. I’m even running a code analyzer on this article as I type it. So far I’ve found “Coke adds life” and “Love Boat hit show”.
Because of the ease with which seemingly meaningful messages can be found in any text if you’re allowed to play fast and loose with the math, serious Bible scholars and mathematicians have denounced Torah codes as nonsense. Dr. Barry Simon, an Orthodox Jew and the IBM Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cal Tech, is “certain that all the evidence presented [for the codes] has no legitimacy”. He is among 45 professional mathematicians, including many who believe the Torah was divinely written, who have signed a public statement that “the theory [of Torah codes] is without foundation”.
People have always been fascinated with numbers, and I suppose it’s moderately interesting that soon you’ll be able to determine the year by counting your fingers, cubing the result, and multiplying by 2. But there are far more fascinating questions that we should be thinking about in the year 2000. Why are we here? To what should we aspire? What does it mean to be human? What is our purpose in life? What does God want from me?
I believe the Torah can help people answer these questions, but not without effort: honest, thought-provoking, soul-searching effort. When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. There’s nothing amazing about finding words in a database using mathematics. If parlor tricks and computer games could help with the fundamental questions of life, that would be truly astonishing.***
Barry Fagin is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado, and a professor of computer science; he received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Fagin is a member of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics, a contributor to the journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and a lay Torah Reader for Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs.