The tradition of interpreting, annotating, and commenting on the Bible has been deeply ingrained in Jewish culture for centuries. This tradition has given rise to various methods of extracting meaning from the texts, including exegesis and eisegesis. One intriguing aspect of this tradition is the exploration of Bible codes. Throughout history, numerous Jewish and Christian scholars, including the renowned scientist Isaac Newton, have attempted to uncover hidden or coded messages within the text of the Bible.
The origins of the Bible codes can be traced back to the 13th-century Spanish Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, who may have been the first to describe an Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS) in the Bible. One notable example he discovered was related to the zero-point of the Hebrew calendar and consisted of four letters. While there are indications that the ELS technique was known in subsequent centuries, concrete examples from before the mid-20th century are scarce. It was not until the 1950s that the Slovak Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl discovered several examples, which were later published by his students after his passing in 1957. However, the knowledge of Bible codes remained confined to a select few until the early 1980s when an Israeli school teacher named Avraham Oren made several significant discoveries that caught the attention of mathematician Eliyahu Rips at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Rips, along with his colleagues Doron Witztum and Alexander Rotenberg, delved into the study of Bible codes and developed computer software specifically designed for the ELS technique. Their efforts yielded numerous examples. Around 1985, they decided to conduct a formal test known as the "Great Rabbis Experiment." This experiment aimed to test the hypothesis that ELSs of the names of famous rabbinic figures, along with their birth and death dates, would form a more compact arrangement than what could be attributed to mere chance. In this context, "compact" referred to the ability to display two ELSs together within a small window. The data collected during the experiment was analyzed and found to be statistically significant, providing support for their hypothesis.
The "Great Rabbis Experiment" underwent multiple iterations and was eventually published in 1994 in the peer-reviewed journal Statistical Science. Before its publication, the paper underwent rigorous review by the journal's editor, Robert Kass, and three successive peer reviews conducted by the journal's referees. Although the referees initially found the research perplexing, they were unable to identify any flaws. Recognizing the potential controversy surrounding the paper, it was presented to readers as a stimulating puzzle.
Witztum and Rips conducted various other experiments, most of which achieved success, although they were not published in journals. In 1997, Harold Gans, a former Senior Cryptologic Mathematician for the United States National Security Agency, conducted another experiment. This experiment involved matching the names of famous rabbis with the locations of their births and deaths instead of the dates. Once again, the results were seen as meaningful, implying an outcome beyond mere chance. The awareness of these Bible codes grew significantly through the publication of The Bible Code by American journalist Michael Drosnin in 1997, which became a best-seller in many countries. Drosnin followed up with another book on the same subject, Bible Code II: The Countdown, in 2002.
The use of Bible code techniques extended beyond academic circles, reaching various religious groups. Aish-HaTorah, a Jewish outreach organization, incorporated Bible codes into their Discovery Seminars as a means to convince secular Jews of the divinity of the Torah and instill trust in its traditional Orthodox teachings. Bible codes also gained popularity among certain Christian communities, particularly in the United States.