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Nonactuarial Pursuits
Bible Codes
By Marty Adler 

Are there hidden messages encoded in the Bible? The normal response might be extreme skepticism or immediate dismissal. Such was the reaction of one of our Fellows, Richard Sherman, in 1998 when he read Michael Drosnin’s book, The Bible Code, which was a New York Times bestseller published by Random House. Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the possibility that some kind of code might exist. He also felt challenged to derive the formulae needed to determine the probability that such “codes” could just be a chance thing. After doing that, Rick concluded the “codes” Drosnin presented were probably a coincidence, as they were very short and statistically insignificant. He set up a Web site to help discredit the whole thing.   

Still intrigued, Rick decided to find out if some of the short codes were part of longer codes. He needed a Hebrew expert, of course. Nathan Jacobi, Ph.D., a recently retired Israeli physicist and college professor, was recommended. He had been educated in Israel from 1945 to 1969 in both Biblical studies and contemporary Hebrew. To Rick’s great surprise, some of the earliest examples they checked yielded lengthy codes in good Hebrew that were quite on topic. The odds that such long codes could just happen were extremely small. They had conducted a series of investigations and each one indicated a density of highly improbable codes. They have been conducting joint research since 2000. Probing further, they realized that they really wouldn’t know whether there was something substantive unless they started with the kinds of very short, statistically insignificant codes that Drosnin had presented, and checked to see if they were part of longer codes that could be significant. They conducted a series of investigations and each one indicated a density of highly improbable codes. They changed the Web site to and began regular publication of an online digest of their findings.
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For the last three years the site has been receiving one to two million hits a month. Rick ended up writing a book, Bible Code Bombshell (June 2005), that is now in its second printing (about 7,000 copies sold). Rick devotes 10 to 20 hours a week for research and writing articles for Bible Code Digest. He selects a topic (e.g., news about terrorist attacks) and searches for single words in Hebrew that would relate to that topic. Once these short equidistant letter sequences (ELSs) are found, a Hebrew expert checks to see if the short ELS is part of a longer ELS in good Hebrew. Then he applies mathematical formulae to the statistics about these codes to estimate the probability of their chance occurrence. He also simulates what kind of results would be expected from a nonencoded text. Further explanation can be found at ;         The formula Rick sets forth is found on The extension discovery rate (d) to an existing ELS is 16% to 20% in a widely accepted nonencoded Hebrew control text (a Hebrew translation of War and Peace). A realistic benchmark for the total number of final ELSs, in a cluster consisting of k extensions, expected to emerge from a search around n initial ELSs, is         

None of the cluster examples in other published books significantly exceed this benchmark. Many of the codes discovered to date appear to be prophetic fragments, lacking sufficient context to have them serve as the basis for a prediction. Even those where the language is more specific are subject to a wide range of interpretation. Once an event has occurred, however, some of the vagaries of a code may become clearer. For example, three months after 9/11, Jacobi found the code, “You will shock the guilty Saddam, and the month of Iyar will be restful.” The code seemed mysterious until the invasion of Iraq was completed. Bush declared “victory” on the first day of the Hebrew month of Iyar (May 3) in 2003, and that month was relatively restful compared to the heightening violence of the insurgents since then.         
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Since 2004 Rick has also been working with Moshe Shak, a Montreal engineer and a well-known Bible code researcher who is highly proficient in Hebrew. I asked Rick whether his associates, being Jewish, were uncomfortable with the research. Dr. Jacobi, an agnostic, had no problem. When asked about his beliefs, his response was similar to a remark attributed to George Carlin, “Regarding religion, I am neither an atheist nor an agnostic. I am an acrostic, because the whole thing is a puzzle to me.” Moshe Shak, however, is an orthodox Jew. While the latter has avoided discussion of any codes about Christ, Dr. Jacobi was quite intrigued from the beginning. In fact, he told Rick he wouldn’t work with him unless he was willing to focus a significant part of their research on codes about Jesus. He told this to Rick because he had been fascinated about Jesus since his youth in Israel and felt that Bible codes might provide a new way to gain insights into the Jewish teachings of Jesus.   

Actuaries should be capable of evaluating Rick’s statistical conclusions. He is quite used to the entire gamut of possible reactions. He has been interviewed on radio and TV numerous times by every kind of host, from the openly intrigued to the vigorously hostile. Rick is president of Richard E. Sherman & Associates, Inc. He is best known as coauthor of the Berquist-Sherman paper.   

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