It’s Ba-a-ack! The Bible Code II. . – Bible Code II: The Countdown – book review

David E. Thomas

Bible Code II: The Countdown. By Michael Drosnin. Viking Press, New York, 2002. ISBN 0-670032-107. 292 pages. Hardcover, $26.95.

In June of 1997, journalist Michael Drosnin’s book The Bible Code was released to great fanfare (Drosnin 1997). It quickly climbed to third on the New York Times bestseller list, and remained on that list for weeks. Drosnin’s book discussed “Equidistant Letter Sequences,” a way to derive hidden messages by selecting letters from the Hebrew Torah separated by a fixed number of intervening letters. As an example, the English word generalization contains the “hidden message” Nazi, at a skip of 3 (every third letter): geNerAliZatIon.

I discussed the Bible Code in the November/December 1997 SKEPTICAL INQUIRER (Vol. 21, No. 6), and also in the March/April 1998 issue (Vol. 22, No. 2). Much has happened since then, most notably the publication of a devastating rebuttal to the original Statistical Science paper (Witztum 1994) that really got the “Bible Code” going. The rebuttal, by Australian Brendan McKay, working with several Hebrew colleagues, showed that extremely small variations in the messages to be located, and in the procedure itself, produce far less impressive results than were obtained by Rips and Witztum (McKay 1999). McKay’s group presented compelling evidence that careful selection of particular forms of words effectively “tuned” Witztum’s and Rips’s method to their data, completely invalidating the much-ballyhooed 1994 statistical “test.”

Has Drosnin paid attention to his critics? Not at all. He has been far too busy trying to convince Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres of the reality of the “code,” and analyzing new events like the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Drosnin describes his recent efforts in his new sequel, The Bible Code II, released in November 2002 (Drosnin 2002). The first chapter tells how Drosnin witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center, and how he quickly found the event predicted as hidden messages in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible in the original Hebrew). Subsequent chapters discuss Drosnin’s meetings with Arafat and Peres, his attempts to meet with Ariel Sharon and President Bush, his search for hidden Torah messages about Monica Lewinsky and Clinton and the Bush/Gore 2000 election debacle, and his ongoing search for a mysterious “obelisk” (the “key” to the Bible code, and to humanity’s origin, which he feels is still buried in a valley near the Dead Sea). Drosnin states repeatedly that he doesn’t b elieve in God, but he certainly believes an intelligence higher than human created the “code.” Drosnin’s obsession with his own role as a major “Bible Code” player is nowhere more obvious than in his introduction to the chapter on DNA, the genetic code: “Early in my search for the key to the Bible code, I may have also stumbled onto the key for the code of life… According to the Bible code, our ‘DNA was brought in a vehicle.'” Drosnin has a whole chapter on the “aliens” he feels may be responsible for placing humans on Earth. His words might offer comfort to “Intelligent Design” supporters like the Raelians of Clonaid, but surely will disturb most evangelical Christians.

In Drosnin’s appendix, he finally gets around to discussing critics like McKay. Drosnin supplies a surprising revisionist history of the codes, often contradicting what he wrote in his first book. And he takes a number of cheap shots, for example, criticizing the rebuttal by McKay and his three Hebrew co-authors as “written by a team of mathematicians led by an Australian who did not read the language of the Bible code.” On the next page, Drosnin extols the code-supporting findings of Harold Gans, but neglects to mention that Gans doesn’t read Hebrew either. He makes a major gaffe in describing the original Witztum/Rips experiment as “a classic double-blind experiment. The independent expert [Havlin] who chose the data did not even know how the data would affect the outcome of the experiment.” McKay points out the obvious in a new article on his Web site (McKay 2002): “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 .” Drosnin unfairly labels McKay’s open, public demonstration of what can be achieved by manipulation of data as a “hoax.” And Drosnin even accuses McKay of initially finding a positive result, and then hiding it. McKay’s comment: “This is an absolute lie. Nothing like this ever happened and we did not even see this claim before now.”

Drosnin again claims that “No one has found in War and Peace or Moby Dick a correct prediction, in advance, of a world event.” Had he bothered to actually read what his critics are saying, he would have learned about my prediction of the Chicago Bulls victory in the 1998 NBA playoffs, based on “codes” in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, made months before the deciding game (Thomas 2002).

Indeed, Drosnin has failed to learn the single most important fact about so-called “Bible Codes”: this arcane technique allows one to find virtually any desired message hidden in any desired text.

Columnist Bob Novak discussed the Bible Code with Drosnin on CNN’S Crossfire on December 2, 2002. (Crossfire 2002). Novak said, “Mr Drosnin, as far as I can see all the experts, scientists, Judaic scholars, think you’re out to lunch on this book. And let me quote one of them now, Dave Thomas in People magazine, this is not the late Dave Thomas from Wendy’s, this is a mathematician and physicist. And he says, he wrote in 1997, ‘Hidden messages can be found anywhere provided you’re willing to invest time and effort to harvest the vast field of probability. He, Drosnin, underestimates the power of chance combined with the brute force of computers. He says these messages are beyond the power of chance, and I’ve proven they are not.’ [Lang 1997] What is your response to Dr. Thomas here?”

Drosnin’s reply: “It’s really silly.” I agree that the Bible Code itself is indeed silly, but my investigations into such codes are anything but. I have used only “official” Bible Code methods to find amazing puzzles in all kinds of texts, even though believers insist they can only be found in the Torah.

I have recently applied the “Bible Code” technique to the first chapter of Drosnin’s new sequel itself, available on the Internet. The excerpt consists of a mere 6,966 characters, or 1,617 words, but nonetheless contains the following striking secret message, encoded in Drosnin’s very own words: “The Bible Code is a silly, dumb, fake, false, evil, nasty, dismal fraud and snake-oil hoax.”

Figure 1 shows a small section of the complete puzzle. Drosnin’s sentences run left-to-right, stripped of spaces, punctuation, and numbers. The puzzle step is 55, which means that each letter comes exactly 55 letters after the one appearing just above it in the puzzle. The match for dismal also has a step of 55, so that word appears as a contiguous vertical column. The word oil has letters that are 440 letters apart in the text, so its letters appear every eighth row (440/55 = 8). Words with other steps between letters can appear as diagonals. The entire (and rather large) puzzle can be seen at the NMSR Web site (Thomas 2002).

Of special interest is the stunning seven-step code for hoax, which is encoded in just seven words from Drosnin’s new book: “And I never thought to look in tHe code fOr ‘airplAne.’ As I eXplained to a friend at the CIA later that day, …”

I also looked for secret messages in Drosnin’s Appendix. And, running right through his assertion that “… to this day, no one has found any evidence that Rips is wrong” is the hidden message false (figure 2).

Drosnin hasn’t learned anything in the last five years, but perhaps the world has. Drosnin’s sequel appeared on the New York Times bestseller list at number 25 on December 22, 2002; by January 5, 2003, it had slipped to number 30, three books below Hollywood Hulk Hogan. By January 19, it had broken into the top 15, at number 10.

Will Drosnin drop the Bible Code and take up wrestling? I’ll guess I’ll check on what looms ahead in Moby Dick.


Crossfire. 2002. December 2, 2002 transcript, online at

Drosnin, M. 1997. The Bible Code. Simon & Schuster.

—–. 2002: The Bible Code II, Viking Press.

Lang, S., and M. Haederle. 1997. “Code Breaker,” People magazine, November 3, 91-94.

McKay, B., D. Bar-Natan, M. Bar-Hillel, and G. Kalai. 1999. “Solving The Bible Code Puzzle,” Statistical Science Vol. 14-2, 150-173.

McKay 2002: “Michael Drosnin’s second book on the Bible Codes,” online at

Thomas, D. 2002. “The Bible Code,” online at

Wirztum, D., E. Rips, and Y. Rosenberg. 1994. “Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis,” (WRR), Statistical Science Vol. 9 429-438.

David E. Thomas is an Albuquerque-area physicist and mathematician. He is President of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, a CSICOP Fellow, and a SKEPTICAL INQUIRER consulting editor.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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