Michael Drosnin's second book on the Bible Codes

Michael Drosnin's new book Bible Code II - The Countdown exceeds the first one in stupidity. A large part of the book is concerned with a pathetic futile search for some "obelisks" contained in a "steel ark" supposedly left on Earth by some Superior Intelligence in the distant past. We aren't going to stoop to critiquing such tripe, but instead will just make a few random comments.

Drosnin's first chapter concerns the Sep 11 attack on New York. Amazingly, the very text of that chapter predicts the bombing of the Sari Night Club in Kuta, Bali:

The above picture covers approximately the middle half of page 5 in the US edition of the book.

Dave Thomas found that SILLY, DUMB, FAKE, FALSE, EVIL, NASTY, DISMAL, FRAUD, SNAKE-OIL and HOAX also appear encoded in Drosnin's first chapter.

Of course, everyone is by now aware of the many examples we have found of famous assassinations and other notable events predicted by the text of Moby Dick. Drosnin's reaction to them is unsurprising: he pretends they don't exist. When forced to comment on them by an interviewer, he usually lies through his teeth and claims they are fake. We don't blame him; what else can he do?

One of Drosnin's claims is that the Bible predicts the attack on New York. This is the subject of the cover graphic (US edition) which shows "airplane" encoded close to "twin towers". Amazingly, exactly the same three Hebrew words, and many supporting words, are also encoded together in the Hebrew translation of War and Peace:

The word "the twins" (diagonal of red squares at the top of the picture) appears here at its smallest skip in War and Peace, just as Drosnin's example of the same word appears at its smallest skip in the Torah.

It is interesting that Drosnin has decided to rewrite the history of the codes in this book, even contradicting his first book. Now Eliyahu Rips has been promoted to the role of sole discoverer of the codes, and other people who actually had more historical importance, such as Rabbi Weissmandl and Doron Witztum, are totally absent. Indeed, Rips has been promoted to "prophet"; a rare honour.

Minor matters like the scientific value of his work are left to a small appendix. We will now quote a few sections of that appendix and comment on them.

Then, five years later, Statistical Science, under a new editor, did publish a rebuttal, written by a team of mathematicians led by an Australian who did not read the language of the Bible code, Hebrew. However, he had a number of Israeli allies who challenged neither the math nor the computer science of the original Rips experiment...

It's pretty funny to say that I don't read Hebrew and then to admit that I worked with a team of native Hebrew speakers. (If we were unkind, we might also ask why Drosnin never mentions that codes supporter Harold Gans, cited on the next page, doesn't read Hebrew either.) Incidentally, the last claim in the quotation above is nonsense.

Rips told me that he and his colleagues had in fact looked for the same names and the same dates, using the same computer program and the same mathematical test in three other non-Biblical texts.

Note: same names and same dates. The same phenomenon exists in all books, just not the same words in each case. For example, alternate names which are just as valid for the same rabbis appear in War and Peace close to the same dates; see here.

In fact, the names of the sages were chosen mechanically. Rips and his colleagues simply measured the column inches for the entries in the Encyclopedia of Sages, the one standard reference work, and chose first the 34 who had at least 3 inches. When the scientist supervising the original experiment asked for fresh data--specifically to rule out any possibility of fraud--Rips chose instead the next 32 sages whose entries in the encyclopedia were at least 1.5 inches long.
There was no possibility of manipulation. The choice of the names was purely mechanical.
But there was some dispute over the proper spelling of the names of these rabbis, most of whom lived in a time before spelling was consistent and standardized. So Rips and his colleagues asked the leading authority on rabbinical bibliography, Professor Shlomo Z. Havlin, to independently decide the proper spellings, and thereby make the final choice of the data for their experiment.

Here Drosnin demonstrates just how thorough his investigation was. In fact most of the rabbis are known by many names, and the choice of which names to use is the most serious dispute about the data. The spellings are also important, but less so. Rips and his colleagues claim that Havlin chose the names as well as the spellings.

Drosnin also got the selection criterion wrong - it had nothing to do with "inches".

When we asked a different expert to compile the data, just as Rips claims Havlin did, the resulting list showed no sign of codes. Drosnin knows this.

The original Rips experiment was a classic double-blind experiment. The independent expert who chose the data did not even know how the data would affect the outcome of the experiment. Indeed he had no knowledge of the experiment at all.

That's not double-blind. In a double-blind experiment, the investigators (Rips and co.) would also not know which data were good and which bad.

But beyond that, all McKay had proven was that he had faked an experiment, that he had perpetrated a hoax.

An openly cooked experiment is not a "hoax" but a revealing demonstration of what data manipulation can achieve. Drosnin knows that; he is just using this word in the hope that it will stick regardless.

To this day, no one has found any evidence that Rips is wrong. No one has challenged his math, or his computer science, or the outcome of his original experiment, which showed that the names of 32 sages who lived after the Bible was written matched the dates of their births and deaths against odds of 10 million to 1.

Alas for poor Mr. Drosnin, the editors and four referees of Statistical Science don't agree with him on this point.

"Our most telling evidence against the 'codes' is that we cannot find them," wrote McKay et al., ignoring the fact that a 25-year veteran of NSA, who spent his life making and breaking codes for American military intelligence, did find a code in the Bible.

See the disproof of this experiment, by a committee chaired by "Israel's most famous mathematician" Robert Aumann here.

Moreover, McKay et al. twice, in fact, themselves found clear evidence that the Bible code was real. First they challenged the original selection of names, claiming the column inches in the Encyclopedia of Sages were not accurately measured. When the original Rips experiment was redone using the data McKay selected, the result was actually better. McKay et al. ignored that experiment.

This is a gross distortion. Recall there were two lists of rabbis. In each case Rips and his colleagues made errors in their favour when they selected the data. Witztum found that undoing both sets of errors together made the second list perform better, but of course the errors were not made together but separately.

Then, in their own first experiment, seeking to debunk the Bible code, McKay et al. actually found a positive result. Instead of reporting it, they changed their experimental method, setting new parameters Rips warned them in advance precluded the possibility of a positive result. They then published the results of that second experiment, hiding in the new data the positive results of their first experiment.

This is an absolute lie. Nothing like this ever happened and we did not even see this claim before now.

And, of course, no one has explained how the Bible code could accurately predict the future if in fact it is not real. No one has found in War and Peace or Moby Dick a correct prediction, in advance, of a world event.

Very funny. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, JFK, Indira Ghandi, Leon Trotsky and others were encoded in the text of Moby Dick long before they happened. What difference does it make if nobody noticed these predictions until later? An example of a "prior prediction" Drosnin claims to have made is the "global economic collapse" that began in the Jewish year that ended on Sep 2, 2002. He appears unconcerned that economists don't seem to have noticed.

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Creator: Brendan McKay, bdm@cs.anu.edu.au.