New Moby Dick Cluster
Harpoons Code Skeptics

By Johannes Verboom

Call me "Johann." Some weeks ago—never mind how long precisely—having done one internet search for the word "Biblecode," I was very astonished, seeing how many of the web sites connect Moby Dick’s text with the subject of Bible codes in an attempt to discredit the Bible code phenomenon.

We can all understand why the idea of hidden codes in the Bible would intrigue many. It excites people in a similar way as does the decipherment of a long lost language. In a recently published book, Lost Languages, Andrew Robinson describes it as follows: "the decipherment of ancient scripts is a compelling intellectual and imaginative challenge; it makes history; it changes our perceptions of our place in the world; it casts new light on how we read."1

If proven to exist the Bible codes could of course have a far greater impact on the lives of millions of people than the decipherment of any lost language would ever have. Since the idea of codes in the Bible goes against some people’s views of God and how the Scriptures were written, it is imperative that we make a thorough investigation to uncover the truth.

Having made some checks of my own in the past I have time and again found clear indications that the Hebrew text of the Bible does indeed contain codes. As time went by I found that sometimes one can anticipate what to search for or where to look based on a background knowledge of the Bible and familiarity with the subject. Seeing then how often the text of Moby Dick was used and abused on sites about Bible codes, I concluded that if it had become so important to the issue of the code phenomenon it would not be unreasonable to expect a very clear encoding of the term "Moby Dick" in the Hebrew text of the Bible.


Moby Dick in Job 41

In Job 41 I did indeed discover an ELS2 of Moby Dick and also some related ELSs. Some people I spoke to about this were impressed, while others couldn’t fully appreciate its implications because they didn’t have enough background information on the code phenomenon. We should, of course, not just believe in something because it impresses us or dismiss it through lack of understanding. I will therefore discuss the validity of this finding and of some others I have found that display the same phenomenon.

Before I show you my findings, however, I would like to give some background information that makes even more clear why discovering a genuine encoding3 of Moby Dick could be really important to Bible Code research.

In 1997, journalist Michael Drosnin wrote The Bible Code in which he reported how Israeli scientists had discovered "codes" hidden in the Hebrew text of the Bible. Trying to find some codes by himself, he discovered a combination of words that seemed to talk about a possible assassination of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. He even went as far as to warn Rabin about this. When Rabin was indeed murdered this "prediction" came under the scrutiny of critics who claimed that the scripture that crossed Rabin’s name was not talking about an assassin but about an involuntary "manslayer." Others claimed that it was all merely coincidence. This prompted Drosnin to make the following challenge: "When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I will believe them."4 Most people may have understood this to mean that he would then have to admit that to all likelihood his findings in the Hebrew Scriptures were nothing but coincidence after all.


Skeptic's Conclusions Mistaken

Drosnin’s challenge was eagerly picked up by his critics and it wasn't long before mathematician Brendan McKay came up with examples of such "messages" in Moby Dick. To people with limited or no background knowledge of the code phenomenon this seemed to prove that all ELSs in the Hebrew text are merely random occurrences and without any special significance. In this article I would like to show you that this conclusion is wrong.

First we need to be aware how McKay managed to find "messages" in Moby Dick. As any serious code researcher knows, finding ELSs is not the real challenge; it is in fact rather easy to find ELSs in any book. The real challenge is finding ELSs that defy the laws of probability. For example: finding an ELS of my name somewhere in this article could be due to chance. But finding it in the very first paragraph of this article, coinciding with the place where I introduce myself, makes this highly improbable. Using a computer and a program that can do a statistical analysis we could examine the text. Testing the odds of my name occurring in this exact spot could then either confirm or dispell our suspicions that this paragraph was written in a particular way to accomodate a deliberate encoding.

The reason why Drosnin’s challenge was so easily met is that he never put down any strict guidelines to test the validity of the findings. Although strict guidelines existed for the original experiment5 upon which Drosnin claimed to have based his work, McKay like Drosnin did not demonstrate any use of such rules or guidelines. In fact McKay admits this on his web site.

We see there that McKay assumes that Drosnin did not conform to any rules and therefore does not apply any himself. So although some of the results on McKay’s web site may look amazing, do they really prove that there are no encodings in the Hebrew Scriptures? No, the only thing they prove is that you can find results that look significant in any text, as long as you don't apply any rules that restrict your chances of finding them. This was known to the scientists that conducted the original experiment but they emphasised in the article they published in Statistical Science that they found significant results even though they restricted the experiment to only incorporate minimal or near minimal ELSs.6


Moby Dick Matrix

We will now discuss a matrix that consists of terms relating to and clustering around the minimal ELS of Moby Dick in Job 41. In testing the odds of my results I used the program Codefinder. In order to test the clustering effect I needed a list of terms that could not just have been chosen by me to fit my expectations. I concluded that the terms should therefore consist chiefly of the names of the main characters in the book.

Since I did not possess the book, nor had read it in the past, I searched the internet for a site that discusses the book. In this way I was able to establish an objective list using the information found on the SparkNotes.com web site. Notice that the names used are primarily those of the captain and crew of the Pequod, the ship that is destroyed by Moby Dick. To make the list reflect accurately the character discussion on SparkNotes.com I had to include some people that are not part of the crew but do play an important role in the story nonetheless. I further included only a few terms that I found could reasonably be expected to be included, i.e., "Pequod" as it is the name of the ship; "Herman" and "Melville," the first and last name of the author of Moby Dick; and the names of the ones involved in the Moby Dick challenge: "M. Drosnin" who made the challenge, "B. McKay" who took up the challenge and "J. Verboom" who discovered the Moby Dick cluster.


Devising a Scrambling Method

In order to be able to recognize if any clustering is due to chance or design, I devised a scrambling method that exchanges letters inside control terms that contain the same letters as the original. The idea behind this is that we do not expect non-existing words to be encoded with abnormal low probability. As the control terms contain the exact same letters as the original they should as a group not do much better or worse than the group of valid terms. Since Hebrew uses a lot of prefixes and suffixes, substituting letters at the beginning and end of words may create new valid words that are therefore not suitable as control terms. We will therefore start in the middle of the word and adhere to the following rules:

    1. Exchange the two middle letters of each word in the case of an even number of letters, or the middle three in the case of an odd number of letters.

    2. If by chance this creates a new valid word, start again with the original word and try the letters that are one place further away from the middle of the word; if you need to, do this till you reach the outer two letters. If all this yields no non-valid words, you’ll have to disqualify this word in both valid and scrambled form since you have no options left for scrambling.

    3. If a word is only three letters, reverse the last two or if this yields no non-valid word reverse the first two. These are the only two options since exchanging the outer letters just gives the same word in reverse and is therefore not scrambled. For the same reason we can not use two-letter words for scrambling purposes.

    4. All control terms that do not comply with the above rules can not be accepted as valid control terms and should therefore remain unused along with their originals.

The following terms were initially7 not found inside the extended matrix:
    —The Hebrew spelling of "Ishmael" did not show up in its normal form.8

    —"Queequeg" can be spelled in a large variety of ways. I cannot be sure I tested them all. The acceptable spellings I checked did not show up in either form.

    —”Starbuck” did not show up in scrambled form.

    —"Gabriel" did not show up in either form.

    —"M.Drosnin" did not show up in either form.

    —”B.McKay” did not show up in the scrambled form of the alternative spelling.

If not all terms show up in the matrix, that does not prove that therefore the whole cluster is invalid. It could be they couldn’t be made to conform to the above rules, or it could be due merely to slight variations in the Hebrew text, or due to unused ways of spelling words. We will assess the validity by comparing the overall scoring of valid and non-valid words.

So as not to be able to use any "wiggle room" we will restrict ourselves to using only those terms that appear at their 100% minimal skip value within the cluster, i.e., if we find a search term at more than one skip value in this cluster, we will only use one that has the lowest skip value. Once we have carefully applied the above rules we can look at the “R-value in matrix” that the program Codefinder automatically assigns to the terms.


Less than 1 in 22.38 billion!

Since we want to compare the overall scores we will add up all the values, both positive and negative. When we do this for the scrambled terms we find an R-value of 2.126 or 1 in 134, which is well within our expectation. However, when we do the same for valid words we find an R-value of 10.35 or a probability for this cluster of less than 1 in 22.38 billion! This means that the cluster of valid words has a probability that is 167.5 million less likely than the cluster of scrambled terms. Therefore, even this cluster on its own would already be very strong evidence for encoding.

My critics will of course claim that my spelling of the terms in the searchlist is somehow "special;" that I chose the ones that did very well and ignored ones that would do very badly. All I can say to them is that I have tried to include alternative spellings that I am aware of. If they want to try and produce a list of additional spellings that conform to the rules of Hebrew spelling, I welcome them to do that. We can then add those further spellings to the existing list and recalculate the odds. Personally I don’t believe that this will significantly change the odds. The odds of finding additional terms that can undo such a strong effect are of course negligable.

This is not all however. Further evidence for encoding was found by the research team at Bible Code Digest. After I told them about the Moby Dick cluster in Job 41, they discovered independently four extended ELSs of considerable length. They all cross the cluster but are too long to be included in the matrix.

As if all this was not yet enough evidence to the validity of this cluster; there is also very strong contextual evidence. Have I already mentioned that the Moby Dick ELS appears at its 100% minimum skip value over the entire Hebrew Bible? This in itself would of course not mean much were it not for the extraordinary place where it appears: Job 41. The placement of this ELS is so perfect that I can’t see how anyone could deny deliberate encoding:

    "Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook. or tie down his tongue with a rope?
    Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?
    Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words?
    Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?
    Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls?
    Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?
    Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?
    If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
    Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.
    No one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me?
    Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs me." New International Version
Consider the following: the Bible contains only five places that mention the Leviathan: Job 3:8; 41:1; Psalm 74:14; 104:26 and Isaiah 27:1. Of these only the account in Job 41 describes man’s attempts to catch a Leviathan with all the tools of whaling, like harpoons, fish hooks, fish spears and barbed irons. There is no doubt that this is the only place in the Bible that is a perfect match for the subject of whale fishing. Coincidence again? Chapter 41 is only 930 characters long. The entire Hebrew scriptures are 1,196,925 characters long. This means that only if I had almost 1,300 different chapters in the Bible that speak about whaling could I reasonably expect that one of them would be a perfect match for the 100% minimum ELS of "Moby Dick." Unfortunately for the skeptics, there is only one such chapter. It is only one part in 1,287 of the entire Hebrew scriptures and it contains an ELS that has an R-value over this chapter of 3.334 or odds of 1 in 2,158. Even if I only had this contextual evidence, the odds would be at least 1 in 2.8 million. After considering all the evidence the conclusion is clear: Job 41 is deliberately encoded. Not just once, but several times over.

Before I conclude this article I would just like to draw your attention to the context of the first letter of the McKay extension. Read the text that crosses the bet of "B.McKay" and find here a very appropiate description of the extent of McKay’s understanding of the code phenomenon.

This is all I can say on the subject of Moby Dick at the moment. It should be clear that there is a great difference with what McKay "found." I have discovered other ELS’s that also show a very strong context-related encoding. Maybe I will discuss them in a future article. Meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments you can e-mail me at the following address: johannesverboom@mail2question.com


    1 Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts, by Andrew Robinson, McGraw-Hill Professional, New York, 2002.
    2 ELS = Equidistant Letter Sequence; this refers to a word or phrase found by repeatedly skipping an equal number of letters.
    3 An ELS is not necessarily deliberately encoded in the text; in fact most ELSs are the result of random chance. To denote an ELS that is placed in the text on purpose. I use the term "encoding."
    4 Newsweek, June 9, 1997.
    5 The "Great Sages" Experiment conducted by Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg and published in 1994 in Statistical Science.
    6 They examined the 10 shortest ELSs for all their search terms.
    7 Some of the "missing" terms were found in longer extended terms.
    8 The first scrambling of the Hebrew spelling of Ishmael gave a term that in Hebrew would mean "there exists a people of God." For this reason I had to apply rule number two and choose the next valid scrambled form. Please note that though this term scored actually quite high [R-value 1.7] compared to it’s further scrambling result and most of the other terms. This is a further indication that valid phrases score higher than non-valid ones.

Johannes Verboom was born in Rotterdam in 1964. He is married with two children and lives in Mansfield, UK. Besides English, he speaks French, German and Dutch and a little Hebrew, Greek and Latin. As a Witness of Jehovah, he has a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. He also prides himself to have a wide base of interest: from Art and Literature to Cryptology and Quantum Physics.



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