“Fools never die, they are merely replaced by others.” – Unknown
In February 1997, the Israeli Air Force suffered its worst disaster ever. Two transport helicopters carrying troops collided in mid-air over the village of She’ar Yashuv in northern Galilee, resulting in the death of 73 soldiers. The small country mourned, and a commission of inquiry was established to determine the cause of the disaster.
During the days that followed the disaster, several religious radio stations quoted Isaiah, chapter 7, verses 3-4:
“Then said the Lord unto Isaiah: ‘Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fullers’ field; and say unto him: Keep calm, and be quiet; fear not, neither let thy heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands …”
The phrase ‘Shear-jashub’ (pronounced She’ar Yashuv) is mentioned several times in the book of Isaiah – sometimes as the name of Isaiah’s son. In fact, the northern Israeli village was named after this reference. Still, it was easy for some to make the association between the name ‘She’ar Yashuv’, the two burnt helicopters, the phrase ‘two tails of smoking firebrands’ and the fact that Isaiah is considered a prophet.
Six years later, in February 2003, the world watched in horror as the space shuttle Columbia broke into burning pieces high in the sky. During the week after, the righteous were busy again rummaging the Bible for clues. It eventually came out in the shape of some other claptrap called Bible code sometimes also referred to as letter skips. It appears that if you take the current Hebrew version of the Bible, start somewhere in the middle of the 7th verse of Genesis (that talks about the sky), and skip 1822 letters at a time, you reveal the phrase ‘Death to Columbia’. Of-course, the discovery is made with computers, courtesy of simple software that you can write at home over night.
In this game of hocus-pocus there are typically two sides – the instructor and the audience. They share the enthusiasm of finding mystical clues in allegedly God-given texts. They typically also share the lack of basic knowledge in statistics, or at least have the will to ignore it.
The game is most effective when the instructor possesses good presentation skills, and the student is a teenager at the age of “asking yourself questions” about important stuff, such as life in general and the world around us. The game is even more effective when there is a large and efficient organization or system backing up and supporting the instructor, perhaps even with some public funding. The background and environment of the students have strong relation to the expected outcome of the game. In a Jewish environment, the student may become an Orthodox Jewish believer. In a Christian atmosphere, he or she may eventually become a good Christian. In an Islamic environment, the game has been known to produce faithful Muslims.
The game itself has various flavors. They may be used separately or together. Let’s examine some of the most common approaches to this mind-blunting game:
(i) Bible Code (also known as Letter Skips or ‘Dilugim’ in Hebrew) – in this version of the game, we use a trick similar to the one explained above with the Columbia disaster. We scan the Biblical text and locate combinations of letters (that have a fixed distance from one another) which make some sense. Then (this is the tricky part) we tune our mind to believe that it cannot be a coincidence. It must be some secret message coded into the text by the Almighty – how else did it get there?
In practice, fooling around with the text enough time – with any sufficiently long text – will yield almost any desired result. You can probably locate your own name (if it’s not too long or complicated) as well as obvious hints to most famous disasters in human history. Just ask Michael Drosnin, the author of The Bible Code. If you proceed to read the Skeptic column of the Scientific American, June 2003 issue – you’ll find an outstanding article named Codified Claptrap by Michael Shermer. There you can discover in other masterpieces, such as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, some interesting messages coded using this method. You can also read about the discovery of messages denying the method of the Bible Code, found in the book Bible Code II itself.
By the way, if you continue with the Columbia trick above and count two additional letters, you’ll get ‘No death to Columbia’. It’s also interesting to note that opposing religious trends have been known to find conflicting messages in the Bible. Jesus seems to be a major star of this scheme, for example, unless of-course you’re an Orthodox Jew. The other interesting thing to note is that the Biblical text itself – according to recent research – has changed quite a lot, especially (but not only) during the first millennium BC.
(ii) Numerology and Gimatria – these are other tricks to fool around with letters and numbers. Gimatria is a Hebrew version of numerology, where each letter is assigned a numeric value, based on the decimal method of counting.
The trick here is to sum up the values of all the letters in a certain word, name or phrase. Then to sum up the values of some other word, name or phrase. If by some coincidence the result is the same, it means, of-course, that God meant it to be that way. So – there must be some relationship between the two.
Example: During the first Gulf War in 1991, some wise guy found that Saddam Hussein is equal to Amalek in Gimatria. ‘Amalek’ is the ancient enemy nation that was allegedly defeated by the ancient Israelites with some help from God (see Exodus, chapter 17). Apparently, this brilliant finding did not help at the time with the total defeat of Saddam Hussein. It also did not help to defeat the use of this funny method by Israeli spiritual leaders, such as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who discovered that Evil Haman (book of Esther) is equal to Yosef Sarid (a left-wing Israeli parliament member, hated by ultra-Orthodox Jews). Ovadia Yosef himself, by the way, is equal to Talks of Nonsense, using this same trick.