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Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Mystery of the Knight

Over the course of the Twelfth Century, the Knights Templar retrieved a number of artifacts from the ruins of King Solomon’s temple in Jersualem. Many described one object as a magic box. High-ranking knights of the order sat around it and posed questions, expecting the box to answer them. Some claimed that the mystery box was in fact the Ark of the Covenant. The Bible gives some specific measurements about this legendary artifact that were similar to the item in question. Furthermore, we are told that the Ark was made to house the Ten Commandments. If so, why would anyone ask it questions? Does it work like a magic-8 ball? (Petitioner: “Oh magic Ark of the Covenant, does she love me?” Ark of the Covenant: “Answer hazy, try again.”)

We moderns also have magic boxes that answer our questions, but we don’t call them Arks. We call them computers. (We also call them a lot of other things when they don’t work as expected.) We can also store documents like the Ten Commandments in them. Of course, even if they could build one, why would the Knights Templar need a computer in the 1100s?

Mathematics professor Dr. Eliyahu Rips may have provided an answer to that question following a startling discovery in the year 1990. A rabbi friend of his casually mentioned that another rabbi, H.M.D. Weissmandel, had seen what he believed to be a code in the Torah. The mere thought intrigued Rips enough to dig a little deeper into the possibility of a Bible code.

Rips got a copy of the 1008 (AD) St. Petersburg (or Leningrad) Codex, which standardized the Old Testament into a strand of 304,805 Hebrew letters (with no spaces). He then wrote a computer program that could recognize equidistant spacing of any keyword that he chose to input. Say if a particular word can be found and has a spacing of 1000 letters, the computer then aligns the complete text into 304 rows of 1000 letters (with the remaining letters in the 305th row). This way, all of the letters of the keyword are contiguous, and can be read vertically, horizontally or diagonally. More importantly, other words intersect the keyword or lie in close proximity, like a word search puzzle.

Rips queried the term ‘Yitzhak Rabin’ in July of 1995, and the phrase “assassin will assassinate” cut through it like a crossword puzzle. He immediately contacted a friend, Wall Street Journal correspondent Michael Drosnin, who knew the Prime Minister. Drosnin and Rips warned Rabin of his impending doom, but to no avail. In November of 1995, a man named Amir shot and killed Rabin in Tel Aviv. After the assassination, Rips took another look at his Bible code grid and found that he indeed missed some of the information: the words “name of assassin who will assassinate,” “Amir,” “Tel Aviv,” and “5756 [i.e., Jewish calendar year 5756 – the fall of 1995 to the fall of 1996].”

Rabin’s death wasn’t the only consistency found. The query “Clinton,” which Rips did in the summer of 1992 intersected the word “president,” again months before it happened. The query “Watergate” yields “Who is he?” and “President, but he was kicked out”; “Kennedy” yields “Dallas”; “Hitler” yields “NAZI and enemy,” “evil man,” and “slaughter”; “economic collapse” yields “The Depression,” “Stocks” and “5690 [1929]”; “Shoemaker-Levy” yields “will pound Jupiter” “8th Av 5754 [July 14, 1994]”; and so on, and so on and so on. There are an infinite possibilities of keywords and answers, but as with the Rabin example, it is difficult to know what information might be relevant to a search until after an event has happened.

Rips tested his theory by trying to find other works of literature (both new and old) to see if any consistencies could be found in this manner, but found none. (Critics found plenty, but they admit to fudging Rips' methodology, writing, "They found that a small change in the choice of appellations for the famous rabbis can lead to War and Peace performing just as well as Genesis.") Convinced that he had sufficient reason to publish, Rips teamed up with Professors Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg to write “Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis,” and then submitted the paper to Statistical Science, the review journal of the US-based Institute of Mathematical Statistics. Editor Robert E. Kass, Professor of Mathematics at Carnegie-Mellon University, was understandably sceptical to say the least. The research had been examined and subsequently confirmed by teams of mathematicians at Harvard, Yale and Hebrew University, and by NSA cryptographer Harold Gans, Kass still subjected the paper to three peer reviews before finally publishing it in the August 1994 issue, adding in his editor’s note “Our referees were baffled: their prior beliefs made them think the Book of Genesis could not possibly contain meaningful references to modern-day individuals; yet when the authors carried out additional analyses and checks the effect persisted.”

Perhaps the encryption found in the Old Testament explains why the Knights Templar needed a computer. They could have gotten their hands on the Leningrad Codex, and lacking the computational skill of Newton, might have found it necessary to get answers from a magic box.

But even if this box were neither a computer nor the Ark of the Covenant, it still held some power and meaning to those allowed in its presence. More to the point, since it was one of the objects extracted from his temple, what did Solomon do with it?

3 Comments:

Blogger Johnny said...

The Ark is in Ethiopia. I know because I saw it on the Discovery Channel. I know about one guy who used "Moby Dick" and came up with BibLe Code-like reults. Michael Drosnin wrote a great book about Howard Hughes, in which he reports Howie goes on and on about his hatred and fear of circuses.

2:03 PM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

True, there's a lot of authors who detail Hughes' emotional/mental breakdown and dementia in his later years.

And you're right to be suspicious of the Bible code. But there are aspects of this that make me curious, and one is the nature of the attacks against the Bible code notion. As with the "War and Peace" example, most likely "adjustments" to Rips' methodology that necessary to approximate the results in alternate texts. I've also never heard any explanation as to why the NSA had interest in it.

To be fair to Rips, I have the actual paper at home, and it's actually more impressive than the book I cited.

What's more interesting is the possibility that you can actually find similar structures in other texts. If there is a consistency, and if they begin to sport the track record that Rips claims to have, then you have a wonderful illustration of the human unconscious mind in action.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

This is a good piece, X-Dell. For some reason, it made me think of all the studies on numerology.

What do we really know about the human unconscious mind? I'd like to see if they take this study further.

1:50 PM  

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