Posted December 6, 2004
Michael Drosnin has done it again.
If you thought Drosnin's first book The Bible Code was a brilliant and scientific report on the Bible code, unveiling the future, then you're going to love The Bible Code II, because it's more of the same.
And if you thought Drosnin's first book was a heaping steaming helping of doggie-doo, then you're going to hate the sequel, because it's more of the same.
In The Bible Code II, Drosnin spends the bulk of the book promoting his thesis that the Bible code predicts a nuclear holocaust (the End of Days) in 2006. Drosnin, let it be clear, does not believe in God or prophecy. In his view, some advanced civilization left a message encoded in the Bible to warn us of impending catastrophe.
Or not. As in The Bible Code, Drosnin argues that the codes merely warn of possible outcomes, that we have freewill and can choose our destiny.
I'm with Mikey on the freewill thing. I'm not with Mikey on the rest of this stuff.
Oh, this is rich. Where to begin?
Let's start with the obvious. There is almost no content to The Bible Code II. Drosnin hammers and hammers on one "code", which appears in a great many matrices throughout the book. This matrix centers on the phrase "in the end of days" in the plaintext of the Bible (it appears at Deuteronomy 4:30). If you read Hebrew, this phrase is "b'aharit ha-yamim".
Before reading the rest of this review, go ahead and read the context of this key phrase in any Bible you have handy. You'll find that it occurs in a speech given by Moses to Israel, warning them that in the future, their descendants will fall into idolatry and be scattered to the nations (as in fact happened -- Jerusalem was sacked by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. and many of the inhabitants were carried off to exile in Babylon). Moses continues his prediction that the captives would turn to God in their distress and obey him "in days to come". (This also happened, and many Jews returned to Jerusalem in the following centuries. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the discovery of the Torah.)
Are we clear here? Now the kicker is that the phrase I translated above as "in days to come" is precisely the phrase our friend Mr. Drosnin chooses to translate as "in the End of Days". I'll note that precisely this Hebrew phrase occurs four times in the Torah, at Genesis 49:1, Numbers 24:14, Deuteronomy 4:30, and Deuteronomy 31:29. In all four cases, it refers to events then future, but which are now many centuries in the past. Look them up and see.
Why does Drosnin make such a big deal out of this phrase (which is not even a "code", it is part of the actual text of the Bible)? The answer is simple. Fairly close to this phrase, one finds a phrase "qetz ha-yamin", meaning "the end of days", occurring at a skip of 7551.
If you've never heard of the Bible code, you might need a little explanation of skips here. The phrase in question (8 letters long in Hebrew) is found as an "equidistant letter sequence" by skipping every 7551 letters of the plaintext of the Bible. So the "code" Drosnin has found spans a distance of 52858 letters of plaintext. In fact, one end of it lies in Numbers, and the other lies deep in Deuteronomy.
You may be sputtering here, "But what about copying mistakes in the Bible? Wouldn't those mess up this so-called code?"
Well, yes. This is one reason why virtually no Biblical scholars believe in the Bible codes.
Mr. Drosnin has an answer, of course. On page 241, he says
"All Torahs -- the first five books of the Bible in Hebrew -- that now exist are the same letter for letter, and cannot be used if even one letter is wrong."
Drosnin made a similar claim in his first book, five years ago. He was wrong then and he's still wrong. Drosnin uses the edition of the Hebrew Bible published by the Koren Publishing Company in Jerusalem. The Koren edition is not identical to any Torah scroll from antiquity. One of the best ancient Torah scrolls, the Leningrad Codex, which dates to the eleventh century, differs from the Koren version in 41 letters in Deuteronomy. Prof. Shlomo Sternberg pointed this out in his Bible Review article, published in August 1997.
What this means is that Drosnin's second "End of Days" code, occurring at a skip of 7551 letters in the modern Koren edition, does not occur in the Leningrad Codex. Nor in any other ancient scroll. This code is a figment. If Drosnin wants to believe it's authentic, he's welcome to say so. He's welcome to scare the daylights out of people. He's welcome to earn big bucks doing so. But he's still wrong, and believing it doesn't make it true.
Virtually the entire rest of the book centers on Drosnin's attempts to milk this matrix for new information. He finds "Bush" (three letters). He finds "Arafat" (five letters). He finds "EBarak" (four letters). And he finds "Sharon" (four letters). None of these are particularly surprising. Short "codes" of 3, 4, or 5 letters occur even in random texts with high frequency.
Much of the book contains a rambling story of Drosnin's attempts to contact the various named leaders to persuade them that the world is in danger of a nuclear holocaust instigated by terrorists, and that we ought to do something about it. This is supposed to be a surprise? People have been talking about suitcase nuclear bombs for quite some time. David Hagberg wrote a novel entitled Critical Mass in 1992 with that plot. And Frederick Forsyth wrote The Fourth Protocol in the 1980s with a similar story-line.
What is new here is that Drosnin attaches a date to his predicted nuclear holocaust: 2006. Conveniently, this prediction is not iron-clad. The Bible code encodes "possibilities" not certainties. We can avoid the disaster by acting now, Drosnin says. We need peace in the Middle East. Well, duh. Peace would be nice.
In the meantime, it's a win-win-win situation for Drosnin. If something horrible happens in the next few years, then he told us so. If nothing happens, why it's because people heeded his warnings in time. And in either case, he's selling a ton of books now, which can't hurt the old bankroll.
There's a bit more in the book besides giving peace a chance. Drosnin believes that there's some sort of alien artifact near a place called Lisan on the east coast of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is lowering, you see, and there are places now on dry land that have been underwater for the last few thousand years. Drosnin finds a whole pile of "codes" that give him more and more information on this mythical artifact. It's an obelisk. It's a steel vehicle. It's an alien code. It's the key.
Drosnin spends a bit of time building this up with an account of his attempts to get permission to dig at the site. Wouldn't you know it, those Jordanians wouldn't give permission? There's no peace in the area, you see, and Drosnin is Jewish, so they just won't let him find that dratted obelisk which will be the fix to all our problems. That's his explanation anyway. A cynic might suggest that maybe the Jordanians just think Drosnin's a whackball.
There's still more. Drosnin spends much time telling us of his many encounters with Eliyahu Rips, the Israeli mathematician who is one of the very few scientists who believe in the Bible codes. Drosnin even gives Doron Witztum a little air time in this book. Witztum is the fellow who wrote that famous paper with Rips that got so much press time in 1994 and since. For some reason, Mr. Drosnin has given Witztum extremely low coverage in his two books. But it's Rips again in this book, over and over, telling us of the claimed low probabilities that any of these codes could happen by chance. There is no way to check any of these, since Drosnin doesn't tell us how those probabilities were calculated. Which is probably just as well, since such calculations by Bible coders are notoriously . . . wrong.
The scary thing about this book is not Drosnin's claim of a hidden prophecy of impending nuclear holocaust. That is thoroughly bogus and few will be taken in by it this time around.
No, the scary thing is that Drosnin has apparently succeeded in catching an earlobe of several of the major players. Drosnin had a personal interview with Yassir Arafat on April 13, 2001. Drosnin spent time with Ariel Sharon's son. With Shimon Peres. With the head of the Mossad. With Bill Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta. And some of these folks took him seriously, at least according to Drosnin. Does that scare you as much as it does me?
I'll close with some observations on a quote from page 278 of Drosnin's book:
"Perhaps that is why nearly everyone outside of a small circle of scientists accepts the reality of the Bible code."
Once again, no, on several counts.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of scientists and Biblical scholars reject the Bible code. Barry Simon's web site contains the names of more than 50 mathematicians who have personally investigated the Bible code and found it not credible. Drosnin is completely wrong. He implies also that most nonscientists accept the codes. Again, he is flat-out wrong. The great majority of the American public things the codes are for nutcakes.
But what is even worse is that Drosnin is lumping together his own fantasy-based attempts with the work of Eliyahu Rips, Doron Witztum, and Yoav Rosenberg. Rips, Witztum, and Rosenberg published a much-debated scientific paper in 1994. Though it has failed to gain scientific acceptance, it was at least presented as a true scientific experiment. Drosnin's work is not. His "codes" are not science. They are not codes. They are so bogus it hurts.
All of this is just my opinion, of course. If you really want to spend thirty bucks on Drosnin's book, be my guest. But if you want my advice, you should pay with a thirty-dollar bill. You'll get your money's worth.