The Effects of Transcription Errors
An edited reprint of an article from the August 2000 Digest.


Q: What effects do transcription errors have on the appearance and potential validity of Bible codes?

A: Over the centuries, various errors have been made as scribes have penned new copies of the Hebrew Bible. If the "original" version of the Torah had been encoded, wouldn't such transcription errors seriously jeopardize Bible codes? Some code skeptics are quick to jump on this as a reason to totally dismiss the phenomenon. In reality, however, this is yet another example of a hasty leap from a half-truth to a hoped for whole-truth.

A more sober and rational look at the whole issue reveals a much more complex situation. In some sense, the effects of transcription errors are a bit like the scrambling of a TV transmission. The amount of key information that gets lost along the way could either be small or large. In the case of TV, the extent of lost or distorted information fluctuates quickly back and forth. Intriguingly, though, there is no doubt that a coherent picture was originally sent. In the case of Bible codes, the effect of transcription errors is fixed, but impossible to precisely determine.

The fact is that different types of errors will have widely varying effects. Let us consider this as we recount the different types of errors that can be made.


Substitution

First there are substitution errors. What was a bet gets copied as a kaf. After all, they do look quite similar. This type of error will only effect ELSs that actually include the letter that was miscopied. So their effect is quite limited.


Transposition

Second are transposition errors. The order in which two or more letters appears is rearranged. This kind of error would only effect ELSs that included one of the transposed letters.


Omission

Third are omission errors. An existing letter fails to get copied into the new version. That kind of error will result in the disappearance of all ELSs that have letters both before and after the location of the omitted letter. It will also cause the appearance of a very large number of unintended ELSs. (This problem is experienced by researchers moving from the Computronic's code search software Bible Codes (BCP99) to the recently updated Bible Codes 2000 (BC2000). Computronic Corporation decided to switch authorized texts as part of their update, and the Koren text they used for the BC2000 version leaves out letters in key passages.)


Insertion

Fourth are insertion errors. A letter is mistakenly added between two existing letters. This kind of error will also result in the disappearance of all ELSs that have letters both before and after the location of the omitted letter. It will also cause the appearance of a very large number of unintended ELSs.


Hypothetical Journey

Let's trace the hypothetical journey of an ELS from the original text to the version contained in the computer search program we are using. It first runs the risk of one of its letters being the direct victim of either a substitution or transposition error. The odds of this are quite small, unless the number of copying errors is large.

Our original ELS next runs the risk of disappearing if either an omission error and an insertion error occurs. The chances of this are quite small if the skips of the ELS are small, but could become more serious if the skips are large. A curious thing could happen, however. If the number of omission errors and the number of insertion errors that occur between any two given successive letters of the ELS are equal, the original ELS will still survive. This fact could noticeably improve the chances that the original ELS will still be in the search text we are sifting.

It should be noted that three of these types of errors are likely to only have a very limited effect (substitution, transposition and canceling). The other two types of errors (insertions and omissions) can easily have more serious consequences, depending on the usage of Bible codes that one is proposing.

If you are trying to use Bible codes to predict the future or to extract some kind of hidden message, the effects of insertion and omission errors can be very troublesome. In fact, they are so much so that it casts serious doubts on the reliability of your findings, and it is very unlikely there is any way to make those doubts go away. You come up with something very specific, but who is to say that it was there in the original text? It well could not have been there, and yet it is in the Hebrew text you are searching. If that happens, you have assigned meaning to something that was the result of errors.

Suppose, on the other hand, that your purpose is to apply statistical tests to a large group of ELSs that you have found in a small region that are potentially about a specific topic. If the number of copying errors that affect this small area of text is small (and it probably is), then the effect will be to distort your results a bit, but probably not enough to invalidate your key conclusion.

For example, suppose that 100 ELSs about a narrow topic were intentionally embedded within one page of the original text. The effect of copying errors will most likely be to reduce the number of unusual ELSs in that text, rather than to increase it. Thus, copying errors will tend to water down and weaken the indicated probabilities. This means that when we find that a particular cluster of ELSs that has odds of one in a million of appearing by chance, in all likelihood the odds of what could have been found if we had been searching the original text would have been even more remote. So what we have really calculated is that the odds are probably less than one in a million.


Our Conclusion

The existence of copying errors seriously jeopardizes the usage of codes to extract predictions of the future or other specific messages. Its effect on the calculated odds of a given cluster of codes being a coincidence is likely to be small, however. If we find an extremely unlikely cluster, it very well might have been even more improbable in the original text.



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