Nathan Jacobi, Ph.D., Interview—Part II
A continuation of the interview held on December 1, 2008, conducted by R. Edwin Sherman.
Life in Israel Now, continued . . .
Sherman: How has your current life in Israel differed from what you expected it to be before you moved there?
Jacobi: I find myself comparing it with two other situations. Everything that has happened in the last couple of years living here, I compare with how it was or would have been in the Israel of the first generation, in which I grew up, and how it compares with the nearly 40 years that I lived in the U.S. And those comparisons are quite fascinating, because there are lots of differences between Israel in its first generation and now (in its third generation).
It's not so much what I expected, because I didn't really know what to expect, but there are two things that were very different. Israel was different, and I was different, because when Israel was young, I was young. Now, we are both old.
I am tending to one conclusion. You know when you talk about your life, it depends on what you think is more important or more substantial. Do you look at your standard of living, or do you consider your quality of life?
If I look at the standard of living, like possessions, technology, and what is available, life today is at a much higher level materially. But then, if I look at the quality of life, the meaning of life, and what were our ideals, our purposes, life then was of higher quality than it is now.
So I tell people, decide what is more important in your own life, because if what is important to you is standard of living, then this is the situation. If you want quality of life, you may reach different conclusions. So, that is basically how I compare life in Israel now to when I lived here growing up.
Hebrew Language Skills
Sherman: Since you moved back to Israel, have people there commented on the quality of your Hebrew or not?
Jacobi: Yes. They have. I thought that living so many years outside Israel would have had a bad effect. I would be more removed from the country and my language would slide a little bit this way or that way.
Since I came back, people started asking me, "How is it that you speak Hebrew so well?" They said, "You speak classical Hebrew. Where is it from?" So, I keep telling people that's the language I studied in, in school. It turns out that in the 40 years that I wasn't here, the language has evolved a little bit, but not for the better. It has deteriorated.
More and more slang is being used that is not really part of Hebrew, and another thing that happened was, the Americanization of the Israeli culture and language. The language really has deteriorated, and I didn't know about all those changes. I still use the language I studied in, so people are telling me on all sides that my Hebrew is just terrific.
It gives me a little feeling like Rip Van Winkle. Maybe, I slept all those years, and just woke up from a dream, but it is very ironic, because I was a little worried that maybe my language had slipped, and it turns out it is better now than, I would say, 90 or 95% of all Israelis. So, that is a very strange feeling.
Sherman: During the time you were in the United States, when you and Rhea were alone, would you speak Hebrew or English to one another?
Jacobi: We would only speak Hebrew. We would also read Hebrew. If you are educated in a language, and you are educated on all levels, including the highest possible level, even if you make an effort, you can't forget that. I probably have even improved in some strange sense. So, people come to me just to speak Hebrew. They say, only broadcasters on the radio speak with such good Hebrew. So, I feel amused, and I feel a little proud of that.
Sherman: You aren't fully retired. You are working part-time. What do you do?
Jacobi: I don't know what the word retired means. I think that I will be fully retired when I am dead. I'm probably more busy than I ever was, but the difference is that now I choose my own activities. That is one difference, which is positive. Another difference that is negative is that for most of my activities I'm not being paid.
I do some part-time activities in a number of areas. I put a little time into Bible code research. Then, something I started in the U.S. and have done for 12 years now, I have developed a mathematical technique to forecast the market, and since I came to Israel, my results have even improved, especially now with the financial crisis. There were signs that something of that nature was going to happen, and in late September 2008, when the markets really took a crash, I had fully predicted it and even the modest gain that took place during it. So, I'm managing a number of accounts for people.
Recently, I started my own financial blog where I document and report all my results. So, just the experience of opening the blog has been very interesting. It has kept me quite busy. I'm still working on it, but the blog is up and running.
Sherman: You said you do several activities. You mentioned two. What's a third one?
Jacobi: I do a number of activities for my own education, for example, Jewish studies that are available to me, because I live in a very intellectual Jewish community. I go to different Bible classes, very deep classes that were not available to me in the U.S. Here it is done in a much more concentrated way, so I am studying some.
Also just entertaining myself a little bit, but as far as activities that are more oriented to research, it is mostly what I mentioned to you, which is market work, market forecasting, and some Bible code work. I'm just broadening my horizons. My day is full from morning to evening.
Sherman: Are you an observing or a secular Jew, or how would you describe yourself in terms of your beliefs?
Jacobi: This is a question I've been asked all my life in the U.S. and here. In the U.S., when I was asked that question, I would avoid it, and I would say, "Well, look, I'm neither religious nor secular. I am just not affiliated." And people have told me, "Oh, but you teach Hebrew so well, and so deeply. You must be Jewish." But, anyway, I still avoided this question.
I'm asked the same question here. Now I say, "I am both religious and secular." I believe that we are all a mix. Part of our life is religious in nature, part of our life is secular in nature, and it is just a matter of how they mix, but we are never one extreme or another. We are always a mix of both parts, and it is just a matter of what the ingredients are at any time. So, I am not committing myself to one camp or another.
Sherman: Let me put it another way. Are you an agnostic, or do you believe in God?
Jacobi: I am both. I'm not an atheist, because I put atheists and fundamentalists in the same group—people who are certain of whatever they say. I am uncertain, so to that extent I am agnostic, because there are things that are beyond us that we don't have the sophistication to understand. We simply cannot pretend to understand. To that extent I am probably agnostic, but then, I also believe in God. So, again, I am both.
Sherman: Well, would you say that the God that you believe in is the one that's portrayed in the Hebrew Bible or is that God somehow different? Is he impersonal or distant, or is he knowable, or not knowable, or you don't know?
Jacobi: I have my own belief. In fact, we have portions of the Torah and the prophets that are being read every week, and in Micah 6, the prophet talks about ritual and sacrifices, and says, God doesn't care so much for all those sacrifices, and then verse eight says the following.
Which means, "I will tell you man what is good. And what God is expecting of you. Nothing but doing justice and loving-kindness, and humbly [walking] with your God."
[From the NIV: He has showed you, O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.—Micah 6:8]
As far as I'm concerned, it is the most important verse that I know, certainly among the prophets, and maybe in the whole Tanakh. Because the prophets put it directly, what is expected of you, and it is put in very simple words. You don't have to go into philosophy, all of the omniscient, omnipotent, this and that. It is clear, telling you directly what the expectations are; what is most important.
The prophets keep saying over and over, "Do the most important things, the rest is secondary." So, that is my basic belief. It is very simple, very direct, and does not require many words.
And by the way, I believe that is also a lot of what Jesus preached about. So in this sense, I consider Jesus as just another in a long row of Jewish prophets.
This portion of the interview was conducted on January 14, 2009, by BCD Editor Diane James.
Bible Code Work
James: How did you start working with researchers in Ashland, Oregon?
Jacobi: They found me. They wanted somebody proficient in Hebrew, and they asked a Rabbi, one of the few Israelis living in Ashland, and he recommended me. I was teaching at the Havurah in Ashland at the time. That was almost ten years ago, in late 1999.
James: Why were you originally interested in researching codes?
Jacobi: I had read a little bit about it, and it looked like an interesting curiosity. Since it was related to Hebrew and the number system, and it involved computer activity to research it—that made it a very interesting and curious thing to do.
But what interested me was a claim that everything or everybody significant in world history would be in the Bible code, and even more ambitious claims that every man, woman, and child would have a personal code about them. But it is good enough for me that everyone that is historically and culturally significance would have a code.
Now, I have been interested for decades about different aspects of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and it all focuses around Jesus and attitudes of both Jews and Christians about Jesus. It is a fascinating topic. I have read about it and studied it for years.
In Bible code research, there are basically three groups of researchers. There are Christian researchers, and then among the Jewish researchers, there are orthodox and secular Jews. The orthodox researchers said we will not touch the word Jesus with a ten-foot pole, and the secular researchers were not really that interested in Jesus.
So, I said to myself, it really doesn't matter what your attitude about Jesus is. Whether your attitude is positive or negative, it really makes no difference. Even as an orthodox Jew you have an intellectual commitment to look into Jesus codes, because somebody can have a negative influence on history and still you look into code.
For example, there are all kinds of studies on the Holocaust, concentration camps, Nazis and Hitler codes. So, if it is good enough for us to look at codes about Adolph Hitler, we should look at codes about Jesus, even if we do not accept a word attributed to him. I still claim they should have an interest in searching for codes about Jesus. So, it is this that initially made me interested in pursuing the Bible code.
When the BCD people approached me, they didn't even mention Jesus codes, and I asked them, "What's wrong? How come? That is probably one of the most interesting things to search for in the Bible code." And they told me of course they had an interest in it, but they were afraid that they would hurt my Jewish sensibilities. So, I had to laugh at that. I laughed at it ten years ago, and now when I recall it, I laugh. It doesn't matter what your attitude it, because if you have any amount of intellectual honesty, you want to look into it.
James: How long have you been doing this, and what has been the nature of the work you have done for BCD?
Jacobi: For about ten years. I started working for BCD basically as a Hebrew language expert, because I have a thorough knowledge of the language. I came in able to do quickly and fairly efficiently Hebrew code study, and I believe it shows in what has happened to BCD in the last ten years. I think where I made a major influence was being able to work on long codes, because at that time most of the research in Bible codes really involved short sequences, and BCD started doing some of the longest codes, unique to this day. The highest quality and the longest codes are still being compiled, published, and researched by BCD.
James: Who decides what topics and words to search for as codes?
Jacobi: We work as a team. Ed directs the whole thing, I am providing the hard-core Hebrew, and there are two people doing a lot of the editorial work, one was originally Dave Swaney, then when he left it was you [Diane James], and you certainly know only too well what you do, a lot of maintenance and organization, so it is a team effort, and I think most of the time it has been working extremely well.
The three of us are interacting, making submissions, and each does their own part, and what I have done is to concentrate on taking a sequence of letters that is produced in the search, and parsing it into words, looking at the possible Hebrew phrases and sentences, and then translating them into English. So that is how we basically work as a team, and due to using the Internet, it really doesn't matter that I moved from Ashland to Israel. In the beginning, even typing the text in Hebrew and English was a problem. Now it is done quickly and efficiently, and so from a distance, we are working better than we did in the early years when we were all in the same place.
James: Do you believe that Bible codes could be used for making reliable predictions? Why or why not?
Jacobi: Certainly not. Not only can they not be used to make reliable predictions, they probably should not be used to make predictions, because there is a little misconception or misunderstanding of what Bible codes are and what prophecy is, or what the prophets have done.
The prophets of the Bible, they are not like Nostradamus. They are something very different. In fact, if you read the prophets in the Bible, they almost never make predictions. They were people who were talking about moral principles. The prophets always tells people you have choices that you can and should make, and what will happen to you depends on your choices. We have the principle of free choice, so we select which way we want to go. The prophets remind us if you make one choice that will be the consequence, if you make another choice, this will be the consequence, but you have to make the choice. So to think that the Bible code can dictate or predict the future is in direct contradiction to free will.
I want to conclude that with one little story in the Bible. It is the book of Jonah. It is a fascinating example that illustrates that the future can not and should not be predicted. There is this wicked city called Neen-veh [Ninevah], and Jonah is commanded by God to tell the people that in 40 days the city is going to be destroyed. Well, the people of the city hear him, and they really get impressed by what they hear. They repent, and they change their ways drastically, so as a result, God decides to spare the city. Then, Jonah complains to God and says look God you have made a fool of yourself and of me. Instead of the city being destroyed, now it is not destroyed. You make me look like an idiot. People do not understand, because you say one thing and you don't do it.
So, he really misunderstood. He was hung up thinking that the future can be predicted, and then once it is predicted that it has to be followed to the letter. But that is not what the principle of free will or free choice is. So, Jonah thought more like the Greek concept, that you are doomed. You have a certain fate, and no matter what you do you cannot move from that fate. But in Judaism, it is exactly the opposite. You have free choice. You are expected to exercise it, and what happens to you ultimately depends on how you use your free will.
For that reason, I don't think we can or should expect to predict the future. In fact, what we do with the Bible code, we don't really predict the future, we "post-dict" events. We find them after they happen. Another reason is, if we don't know the future, how can we look for it? For all those reasons, for the prophet's reason and for the more sensible reasons, in my opinion the Bible code should not be used for trying to predict the future.
James: Do you believe that some codes you have discovered are real? Do you believe that there is some element of reality to the phenomenon in general?
Jacobi: There is some kind of consistency in the messages that we get from the Bible code, so it means it is not a random collection of codes going in all directions. There are certain thoughts that are being emphasized, and there are codes that sometimes go through certain segments of the straight text, so there seems to be some correlation very often between the content of the code messages and the straight text through which it passes. There is some intrinsic consistency to the Bible code.
James: To the extent that you believe something about codes is real, what does that imply, if anything, in your opinion?
Jacobi: Well, I'm having difficulty answering that, because I'm used to answering questions in a mathematical way of either yes or no. This is not easy to do with the Bible code.
It is very obvious that we see so many codes and so many groups of clusters. Since they cannot happen on a random basis, it's likely that codes can happen in every direction and on every topic. There are certain groups, there are certain planes or directions in which codes appear, so it is certainly not a random event. That much we can easily conclude.
Now, as to what that means, I think the messages we get from the codes including the linguistics, the syntax, and the approach of the codes, and it is all almost exclusively in Biblical Hebrew, so all that put together implies that the codes weren't just randomly stated or found. They were planted there, somehow, by somebody. Now I don't know if we know who that somebody is. I cannot say why or how it happened, but there is something underlying the codes that we don't fully understand. There is certainly something there.
It's appropriate to ask, why are things even stated in code form? After all, why aren't they stated directly like it is in the straight text? My thinking on that is that there are some topics that people then, when the text was formulated, were not ready to hear about. There is probably a time for the Bible code, so some of those messages had to be coded or put in a way that would not be obvious to people who would read it in that time. We would have to go through the effort of using computers and software to start getting some of those messages today.
James: Is there any specific code you'd like to discuss as an example, to illustrate what you're saying?
Jacobi: The code that most fascinated me was a Jesus code we found in Isaiah 53. The chapter talks about the suffering servant, and how this servant takes on the sins of the world, and is led to slaughter like a lamb, without opening his mouth.
Traditional Jewish scholars said the suffering servant is half the Jewish people being slaughtered by the non-Jewish world. Christians say that this is a direct reference to Jesus, his work, his life, and his death. It is a very short chapter, just 12 verses long.
But then some people found some short Jesus codes in that chapter, and we extended one of those short codes. We found a code 22 letters long, and all of it is included in that chapter. Later, we extended it farther, at the same skip, all the way to 40 letters. But the basic long code that created a whole stir in the news was this 22-letter Jesus code, and it is a very significant sentence. In fact, if you don't mind, I will quote it in Hebrew and in English.
Gushing over Jesus is my mighty name
and the clouds rejoiced.
[Editor's note: Equally valid is the translation published previously: Gushing from above, Jesus is my mighty name, and the clouds rejoiced.
And the extended code reads: Gushing from above, Jesus is my mighty name, and my clouds rejoiced. Where? At the mountain, said Levi. Their light came. God is in it.]
Now the fact that we have such an explicit Jesus code in this most relevant text of Isaiah 53, I believe, was a direct hit, and in my opinion, it is one of the most significant codes ever found, even though we've found many, many other codes, and longer codes. It is also at a short skip of 20. That is a prime example of a highly significant code.
James: What kinds of uncertainties are inherent in the code translations you (or any Hebrew expert) would derive?
Jacobi: We have lots of uncertainties. Translation is only one of them. There are a lot of inaccuracies, ambiguities, and translation possibilities. There are lots of them.
For one thing, we insert spaces between some letters, resulting in a series of Hebrew words. But parsing is very often not unique. Often, a string of letters can be parsed in a slightly different way, with different words and different meanings.
Another possibility happens because there are lots of versions of the Bible. For example, when we extended the Jesus code of Isaiah 53, it turns out using two different versions of the Hebrew Bible, after a certain value, it could not continue in one version. We could continue it only in the other version, so the fact that there are many versions of the Bible, makes the code less clear. That is probably a reason for wanting to focus on short skips, because the longer the skip, the bigger the chance becomes of running into those ambiguous and non-unique codes.
And then, it depends very precisely on exactly which version and which order of books you use, so all those things make the code really full of problems and ambiguities, and in fact, I'm sometimes astonished with all those problems we still find codes, and long codes. So there are a lot of issues.
James: Do you receive any compensation for your translation services?
Jacobi: Yes. I do. I have an hourly rate with BCD. I put in a certain amount of time each month.
James: Any last comments related to contemplated Bible code activities?
Jacobi: You might think somebody who is semi-retired like me would have ample time, but then with so many very interesting things like the Bible code and other activities, I have very little free time on my hands.
There is one activity that I contemplate doing—that is to take more initiative in conducting searches—searches that are not of common interest. I have around two or three pieces of software on the Bible code. Most of the time, I'm happy that most of the search activity is done by you in Ashland, and I just concentrate on the Hebrew, but sometimes I want to go my own way and dig for my own things.
Final Comments on Life in Israel
James: Any other comments about your life in Israel?
Jacobi: When I came back to Israel, I was told by people, "Oh, it is too risky. It is dangerous." Even now, there is conflict in the south, in Gaza, and there is even some worry about hostile activity from Lebanon or Syria in the north. We are in the center. We live on the West Bank, and you would think we are surrounded by Arabs and that it is dangerous, but in reality it is just the opposite. The atmosphere here is unbelievably idyllic, and it really doesn't make sense, because we live in a country that has been in battle for the last 60 years. How can there be so much peace and quiet?
It has been almost three years since we came here. It is far enough from Jerusalem, and we live in a relatively small town. Everything here is very peaceful. So, I have had the ability, the peace of mind, to think, to contemplate on things. Whether I lived in L.A. or Ashland, things were more hectic there, and if I lived in another city in Israel, they would still be hectic. I just happen to live a quiet lifestyle, where it is me and the computer. I can call whoever I need to call, any time of the day that I want, so I feel very happy, because I can contemplate on the things that interest me and not be disturbed by all the things that I really don't want to experience. So, in this sense, it has been a real blessing.
We live on the West Bank, and some call it the Green Line. The Green Line is a fictitious border, where people who live on one side live in Israel proper, and people who live on the other side live in the so-called occupied territories. So, we live on the wrong side of the Green Line, and people have been saying to Rhea and me that we are really the barrier to peace. Rhea and I take this personal blame for having no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We are even looking at the possibility of finding accommodations of the same nature, similar socially and religiously, but in Israel proper. We are looking at that possibility, because it simply isn't clear what the future will bring. Politically, the general consensus is that in Israel we can choose between territory and peace, but we cannot have both. And if that turns out true, and we end up with some kind of peace agreement, we may not be able to hold on to some of the territories for many years. Now whether that happens in our lifetime or not, nobody can tell.
James: Would you consider a move to Jerusalem?
Jacobi: Jerusalem is much riskier than this place. When I visited Jerusalem back in 2003, there were lots of terrorist activities in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has long been a much riskier place than where we live now, because it is split. Western Jerusalem is Jewish. Eastern Jerusalem is Arab. The two parts mingle, and there are extremists and terrorists who come there. It is a very risky place.
For example, I went to Jerusalem on business, and I had with me a little thermos for coffee that I used to carry in Ashland. I went to a store and asked for a refill, without even realizing that they don't give coffee refills, but when they saw my thermos, they called the guards, because they thought is was a bomb container. That is Jerusalem for you. I gave a little talk about it in Ashland where I used to teach Hebrew, and I called it My Personal Experience as a Palestinian Terrorist. They were very amused by this story.
Enjoy finding your own Bible codes.
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