When people ask about the Bible codes, they are usually referring to one specific type of code that received widespread publicity after a paper about it was published in the scientific journal Statistical Science. The way the modern-day Bible codes work is by picking a starting point within scripture and then selecting letters from the text at equal intervals. This method of extracting codes from the Bible is called “Equidistant Letter Sequence,” or ELS.
It has been claimed that, using this method, references were found in the Bible to, among many other recent events, the Holocaust, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minster Yitzchak Rabin and the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
On the other hand, there has been plenty of criticism of these Bible codes, including the claim that the information was manipulated, and that with the right manipulations one can find these codes in other literary works, like Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
The validity of what has become known as the Bible codes has been hotly debated by leading mathematicians and statisticians, including Nobel laureate Robert [a.k.a. Israel] Aumann. As a member of a committee that reviewed the Bible codes, he wrote:
Though the basic thesis of the research seems wildly improbable, for many years I thought that an ironclad case had been made for the codes; I did not see how “cheating” could have been possible. Then came the work of the “opponents.” Though this work did not convince me that the data had been manipulated, it did convince me that it could have been; that manipulation was technically possible.
The arguments that ensued—including, on both sides, implicit or explicit accusations of manipulation—eventually became extremely complex, and I was unable to follow them sufficiently well to decide for myself who is right. [I became] convinced that the only way to settle the matter to my satisfaction is to conduct an experiment designed and analyzed under my own supervision . . . During the years of the committee’s work, I became convinced that the data is too complex and ambiguous, and its analysis involves too many judgment calls, to allow reaching meaningful scientific conclusions . . .
…We come finally to the bottom line: A priori, the thesis of the codes research seems wildly improbable. Though the original work of Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg, and that of Gans, established a prima facie case for the existence of the codes, this case was undermined by the work of the “opponents.” Research conducted under my own supervision failed to confirm the existence of the codes—though it also did not establish their non-existence. So I must return to my a priori estimate, that the codes phenomenon is improbable.”
The particular codes that have been discovered through computer analysis can neither be proven nor disproven. The question then remains: is there a traditional Jewish view on the idea of codes existing hidden within the Bible?
The truth is that the idea of encrypted information within the Bible is not new. The Talmud is replete with examples of extrapolating, through various methods, deeper meanings behind the words of the scriptures—from the more common method of gematria (assigning a numerical value to the Hebrew letters—e.g., the letter aleph is equivalent to 1, the letter beit to 2, etc.), to the more esoteric method of exchanging certain letters for others, like the method of atbash, where the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (alef) is exchanged for the final letter (tav), and so forth.
In fact, the Talmud extrapolates a hidden meaning from the very first Hebrew word of the Ten Commandments, “anochi” (Heb. אנכי), which translates as “I [am the L‑rd your G‑d].”
The Hebrew letters of the word “anochi” are aleph (א), nun (נ), chof (כ) and yud (י). They are an acronym that stands for the Hebrew words, “I placed Myself in the writing,” meaning that G‑d “compressed” Himself into the words of the Bible.
There are also many commentaries on the Bible, such as the Baal Haturim, that highlight and explain many of these hidden meanings.
And then there is the legend told in Seder Hadorot of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known as Nachmanides, of which I am reminded whenever the topic of Bible codes comes up.
Nachmanides had a student whose name was Avner. This student became an apostate and rose to power. After some time, on the Day of Atonement, the holiday of Yom Kippur, he summoned his teacher, Nachmanides. Before his eyes, Avner slaughtered a pig, cooked it and ate it. Then he asked Nachmanides how many transgressions he had committed. Nachmanides said four. Avner said, no, five. He then attempted to enter into an argument, but Nachmanides gave him an angry piercing look, and he fell silent, as he still retained a little respect for his teacher.
Nachmanides asked Avner, “What was it that brought you to such rebellion?” He replied, “Once, I heard you expound that you can find every detail of Jewish observance, as well as everything that exists in the world, in the Torah reading of Haazinu. And since I knew that this was impossible, I renounced everything and became a different man.”
His teacher replied, “I still stand by that. Ask what you wish!”
Avner was astonished, and said, “If so, show me where my name is mentioned there!”
Nachmanides immediately went to the corner of the room and prayed, then returned and said, “It is written, ‘I said that I would make an end of them, I will eradicate their remembrance from mankind.’ In the Hebrew, the third letter of every word of the verse spells out Rabbi Avner.”
When Avner heard this, his face fell. He asked his teacher, “Is there a cure for my sickness?”
Nachmanides responded, “You have heard the words of the verse itself”—telling him that he should disappear and become forgotten, as alluded to in the verse from Deuteronomy. Then Nachmanides left.
Immediately, Avner took a ship and went off to wherever the wind took him, and was never heard from again.
So yes, there is encrypted information in the Bible. However, notwithstanding the fact that there are all sorts of hints and codes hidden within the Bible, the actual art of extracting these hints and codes is not to be taken lightly. As the critics point out, with enough ingenuity anyone can find all sorts of predictions within the Bible.
Nachmanides, after explaining at the beginning of his Sefer Hageulah that the date of the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the exile from the Land of Israel is hinted to in the Bible through the gematria (numerology) method, writes that it is true, as the critics claim, that it is possible for anyone to come up with all sorts of strange hints within the Bible. However, the art of extracting and deciphering codes wasn’t given to just anyone who is capable of discovering patterns or adding up the values of letters. Rather, at Sinai, G‑d gave an oral tradition along with the Bible, and that includes ways to decipher the codes within the Bible. These codes serve as symbols and remembrances of the laws that were given to Moses at Mount Sinai that are not spelled out explicitly in the Bible.
Just as there are very specific rules on how to learn laws from the Bible in general, so too, there are rules with regards to the extrapolation of codes. Obviously, then, these codes only serve to strengthen what is already known, but not to (heaven forbid) detract from any part of G‑d’s commandments.
Additionally, the Kabbalists point out that not only are there rules about how to use the codes, but the precise method which is used to extrapolate and decipher a given code isn’t random, for it too has implications on the teaching that is being learned.
In the words of Rabbi Yosef Ergas (late seventeenth century) in his Shomer Emunim:
There are words that are extrapolated using the acronym method from the beginning or end of each word, reading the verse forward or backward. Then there are various methods of numerology and permutation of the [Hebrew letters of the] aleph-bet, all based upon the specific secret [that is being extrapolated]. So too, in the gematria method [for example], there is a difference whether the final figure is exact, or whether one needs to count the words themselves, adding one to the amount reached in order to reach the final figure. For what is hinted at using the method of including the words themselves is not hinted at using the straightforward method, as is known to anyone who has dived into the depths of this wisdom. For everything is based upon its own specific reason.
Furthermore, as the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains, the fact that two words are numerically equivalent does not necessarily indicate an inherent connection. The numeric equivalent of a Hebrew word represents the “number” of the “divine energies” that give it its existence. When two words equal the same number, it merely indicates that both words possess the same number of energies. However, this does not mean that there is any inner connection between the two words.
Only when you know that there is an intrinsic, conceptual connection between two words, does the fact that they are numerically equivalent indicate that in their spiritual source they share the same type of energies.
In conclusion, while it is true that deeper meanings can be found in the Bible using various methods of extrapolation, including certain kinds of codes, it should be kept in mind that just because one has chanced upon a code, it does not mean that that code is of any import. For without authentic knowledge of the deeper secrets of the Bible and its rules of extrapolation, not only are any conclusions reached mere speculation, but they may at times be the opposite of what the Torah is trying to tell us. Therefore, it is best if the process of finding codes within the Bible is left to those who are knowledgeable of these rules and the deeper secrets of the Bible.