`Bible Code' Debate Renewed Statistics Scholars Question Theory

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- An international team of statisticians is attacking "Bible code" theory, which claims the Old Testament contains secret references to 20th century events.

Television documentaries, fast-selling books and numerous articles have popularized the idea, which originated with a 1994 article in the academic journal Statistical Science.

Next week the same journal, published by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics based in Hayward, Calif., will publish a study by three researchers challenging the theory.

"Despite a considerable amount of effort, we have been unable to detect the codes," the study stated.

According to Bible code proponents, the Hebrew text of the Old Testament refers to events that were thousands of years away when the text was written.

The hidden references are revealed by turning the text into a string of letters without spaces and looking for words formed by equidistant letter sequences. For instance, computers might select every ninth Hebrew letter and register a "hit" when a "coded" word intersects with a Bible verse containing related words.

The technique has been used to claim encoded biblical predictions of everything from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 to a Los Angeles earthquake in 2010.

Major Bible scholars have ignored the code, noting that no one has a letter-by-letter version of the Bible as originally written. The oldest surviving manuscripts include slight variations. The new article makes the same point.

The theory was put forward in a 1994 article in the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, in which three Israeli scholars reported on tests using the Book of Genesis that produced intersections between names of famous rabbis and their birth or death dates. …