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Encyclopedia Judaica:
Bible Codes

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BIBLE CODES, a system of inquiry involving the discovery of pairs of conceptually related terms in the biblical text using Equidistant Letter Sequences (ELS). The system involves choosing or finding a sequence of letters that make up a nameor a date, not necessarily in the order in which the name is spelled, that is found in the biblical text at equal distances from one another. Thus, the letters of the Hebrew name, Rambam, might appear every 10 letters in a portion of the book of Genesis. Nearby, the letters of the Rambam's date of birth might appear in another sequence of say every 12 letters. The assumption is that the close proximity of these two related letter sequences is not due to chance. The Bible Codes are understood to be the result of a divine hand that planted them in the Bible text. How else can we explain the existence of the names and birth dates of medieval rabbis in a text that is over 3,000 years old – it is asked.

ELS was first applied scientifically to the Bible by Professor Eliyahu Rips, an Israeli mathematician, in 1983. In 1985, Rips, together with Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg, conducted an experiment to find the names of famous rabbis and the dates of their birth or death in the book of Genesis using ELS. The experiment utilized a list of names based on the Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel (Hebrew) compiled by Shlomo Havlin. The experiment, conducted using a computer program, resulted in the discovery of the rabbis' names in close proximity to their dates of birth, a result that could not, it was argued, be the result of chance or coincidence. The Bible text used for the experiment was the Koren Hebrew edition of the Bible. The editor of the professional journal Statistical Science requested that the experiment be repeated and it was. Thus, in 1994, Rips, Witztum and Rosenberg published their findings in Statistical Science (vol. 9, 1994, no. 3, 429–38).

Since then, the Bible Codes have become the subject of great controversy. The debate can be divided into three areas: (a) statistics; (b) Bible; and (c) education.


A number of scholars, especially Brenden McKay, Maya Bar-Hillel, Dror Bar-Natan, Gil Kalai, and Barry Simon have severely criticized the findings of Rips, Witztum, and Rosenberg. They are critical of the way the list of names was compiled because variations on the spelling of names or appellation could have negated the results. In addition, not all of the pairs of rabbis and dates were actually discovered. Barry Simon writes, "…the complexity of the experiment suggests that the result may be sensitive to changes of the method of measuring distances and the statistical method used" ( Simon, along with others, have used the Bible Codes system to discover rabbis' names and other word sets in both English and Hebrew texts other than the Bible.


Jewish Bible scholars, such as Menachem Cohen of the Hebrew University (, and Christian Bible scholars, such as Richard Taylor (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2000), of the Dallas Theological Seminary, have been very critical of the Bible Codes. Taylor writes, "…most important, I do not believe that the real issues in this discussion actually lie in the discipline of mathematical probability. Bible code advocates have based much of their theory upon arguments from statistical probability. However, the Bible code phenomenon is ultimately an issue of Old Testament textual criticism, and no amount of statistical probability or mathematical speculation can alter that fact. Any Bible code theory that plays loose with known facts concerning the transmission of the Biblical text is working with an inherent flaw that is actually fatal to its claims and conclusions" (ibid.). Put simply, the Koren edition of the Bible is in no way the "authoritative" text of the Bible, for there is none. For instance, there are variant spellings of words throughout the bible that appear in the Aleppo Codex, the Leningrad manuscript, the Sassoon Manuscript, and the original printing of the Mikra'ot Gedolot in Venice. These variant spellings, along with other textual phenomena in the Bible, such as ketiv and qeri, certainly affect the results of a code based on equal distances between letters. Taylor sums it up by saying, "If there are significant textual problems in the Hebrew Bible – whether in the form of pluses, or minuses, or substitutions, etc. – such a problem causes a fatal disaster for any theory of ELS, even if it were theoretically possible to allow for such a phenomenon in the non-extant original text" (ibid.).


The only Jewish organization that is actively using the Bible Codes as part of their educational curriculum is *Aish Ha Torah . A lesson about the Bible Codes is included in their Discovery seminars, the purpose of which is to prove the Divine origin of the Torah. An active defense of the Codes and their use is found on their website ( Many Jewish educators object to the use of the Codes, especially in teaching those who are relatively uninformed about Judaism (the target population of the Discovery Seminars), given the debate surrounding the validity of the Codes themselves.

In recent times, numerous people have written books purportedly predicting future events on the basis of the Codes, particularly Michael Drosnin (The Bible Code, 1997, and The Bible Code 2, 2002). Such works have been rejected by both sides of the scholarly debate. It is interesting to note that a Google search of "Bible Codes" reveals 990,000 related websites, the overwhelming majority of which are Christian sites. The Christian community has eagerly accepted the Bible Codes while the broader Jewish community has expressed a greater skepticism. Bible Codes computer programs can be purchased so consumers can run their own Bible Code searches.


E. Rips, D. Witztum, and Y. Rosenberg, in: Statistical Science 9:3 (1994), 429–-38; D. Witztum, at:; B. McKay et. al., at:; B. Simon, at:; M. Cohen, at:; R. Taylor, in: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Dec. 2000);;; D. Thomas, in: Skeptical Inquirer (Mar.–Apr. 1998); idem, in: ibid. (Mar.–Apr. 2003).

[David Derovan (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.


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