Q:Are the "Bible codes" that are supposed to be discernable in the Old Testament really there?
—Lorna MacIntosh, Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada.

A: Michael Drosnin's 1997 book, The Bible Code, and several later works on the same theme claim that there are secret linguistic codes in the Bible that convey astonishing predictions about events that have happened long after the Bible was written. These predictions include Watergate, the Oklahoma City bombing, Yitzak Rabin's assassination, and Princess Di's death. Fascinating stuff—but worthy of your skepticism because of the following problems:

• Quirky methods. The supposed codes are found by eliminating spaces between words, providing a string of letters that are then subjected to computer searches. This "equidistant letter sequence" (ELS) methodology can mean skipping a few letters or words, or even a few hundred letters or words, to find hidden words. One search, for example, used every fiftieth letter in the first chapter of Genesis to find the word Israel.

Though Hebrew is written in a right-to-left direction, the researchers also looked in the opposite direction to find many of the secret codes. Which raises the question: Were these secret messages encoded both for those who have Hebrew as their primary language as well as those whose languages, like English, read left to right?

A deeper problem with Drosnin's methodology lies in the fact that we do not possess the original copies of the Hebrew Bible, only copies made many generations after the original authors wrote. At the level of lettering and words, these copies contain scribal variations that have accumulated through the recopying of the texts. Drosnin and the others must assume that the text they ...

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