After all, in February 2001 I succeeded in getting a copy of
the important book of Professor C.J.Labuschagne, "Numerical Secrets of
the Bible" !
And now I even finished writing my review. :-)
Secrets of the Bible
Rediscovering the Bible Codes
CASPER J. LABUSCHAGNE
Haren, The Netherlands
XVI + 192 Pages
D & F Scott Publishing, 1999 Inc., ISBN 0-941037-67-3
(In my literature list)
"Numerical Secrets of the Bible"
1) Counting Hebrew Letters, Words, and Verses in Jewish Tradition
|5) The Secret of the Hidden Sacred Numbers
17 and 26
a) The "Minor Tetraktys"
b) The "Major Tetraktys"
c) The Pentateuch- and Decalogue-Model
d) The YHWH-'echad Model
e) The Numerical Menorah-Structure and the Balance-Model
a) Psalm 82
b) Psalm 8
c) Psalm 19
d) Isa 8:19 - 9:6
About the Author
Index of Scripture Citations
|Prof. Labuschagne has totally rewritten his Dutch "Vertellen
met Getallen" and published it in English. I am certainly not the only
reader to be very grateful for this translation.
The sub-title "Rediscovering the Bible Codes" obviously is only a publicity phrase by the American publisher. This book does not promote the so-called 'Bible Codes' in any way!
The main part of the book is 162 pages long and is followed by 20 pages full of notes, most of them references to relevant books and articles. Finally, there is an eight pages long index of scripture citations.
Prof. Labuschagne wants to take the readers on an "exploratory expedition" into the realm of biblical numbers. His book is "not written for specialists" he claims, and for a great part of it this is certainly true. However, there are at least a couple of messages for theological specialists as well as some rather tricky sections.
In a personal note at the beginning of the book we learn that Labuschagne's colleagues - professors of theology like himself - seem to have trouble appreciating what he has discovered, and this problem continues to echo more or less subliminally throughout the whole book. And it is this very book by which Labuschagne intends to lay a "massive amount of evidence" for the validity of his discoveries on the desks of his colleagues. So it is a 'numerical thriller' right from the start.
In seven chapters we are guided through a rich selection of well-known and unknown, simple and perplexing examples of numerical patterns in the bible. And on reaching the end we will not be surprised that it took exactly seven chapters to complete this journey. But will we be convinced of having seen real numerical secrets?
|The first chapter tells us about the basic concepts of 'Numerical
Secrets' and the historical background of counting in the Jewish tradition.
Biblical writings can be viewed as "numerical compositions". This
means they were designed with regard to the number of words and letters
that were used when writing the text. The number of words used, for instance,
is not a product of chance but was intentionally chosen by the author.
So the text is structured in a quantitative way, by numbers, not only in
a qualitative way, e.g. by sequentially ordered subjects.
The method of retrieving this information by numerically analysing the text Labuschagne calls "numerical structural analysis" or "logotechnical analysis". As part of literary criticism he calls it 'numerical criticism'.
He does not attach any mystical, magical or pseudo-scientific meaning to biblical numbers, unlike a couple of other authors who have published about this subject. According to him, numbers in biblical texts have two main functions: "first, as a technique to count, calculate and structure - also with regard to the composition of texts - and second, as a
|means of adding depth to a text and to imbue it with
Although the greater part of biblical and other ancient literature has not yet been analysed systematically, Labuschagne seems confident that numerical compositional techniques have been used in many parts of it. His reasons for this assumption are given in his own discoveries in several biblical books and in similar findings by some classical and medieval scholars in their respective literature.
Furthermore, he points out that the Masoretes carefully counted verses, words and letters of the bible. They even located the center of biblical books on the level of words, verses and letters. These "... two phenomena were never viewed together and explained in conjunction with each other". In Labuschagne's opinion the real reason behind these activities was "to keep [the] purposeful and meaningful [numerical] structures of the text intact".
(By the way: in Labuschagne's terminology 'purposeful' and 'meaningful' seem to be almost synonymous with 'significant', so in this connection 'significant' must not be confused with 'statistically significant'.)
|There are clear examples of numerical compositions in
the Old Testament: the alphabetical poems, like e.g. Psalm 119. Labuschagne
calls attention to the well-known usage of the 22 Hebrew letters as a structuring
device, but also to an un-expected interpretation of the verse divider
'atnach as a numerical divider for a complete psalm.
The Book of Lamentations seems to be a good example of numerical studies. Labuschagne (and D.Christensen) found a couple of obvious as well as more or less 'hidden' quantitative structures: A symmetrical distribution of verses, lines, and words - most of them in some connection with the number 22 - and even vowels. A sevenfold structure can be found, called 'Menorah structure', as well as a "balance-structure". Both are to be understood as symmetries in a sense that there are text-sections which have identical lengths if counted in verses. In Lamentations chapter 5 even alphabetic acrostics are found.
Labuschagne concludes from these examples and the Masoretes' counting activities, that biblical scholars should study the biblical writings with regard to their numerical aspects.
|Chapter 2 introduces us to some of the most familiar biblical numbers
with symbolical meaning: 40, 12 and 7. All Bible readers know that these
numbers occur very often explicitly in many books of the Bible, especially
the number seven: From the seven days of creation week up to its extensive
use in the Book of Revelation.
In addition to this, Labuschagne discusses several examples where there are seven items drawn up without explicit mention of the number seven. And this is the important fact: The text itself has been structured by a number. It can be seen already in a good translation of the Bible, you don't need to read Hebrew or Greek.
Just to give two examples from the New Testament (Translation: New International Version):
|Apparently, these lists are intended to say: The wisdom
from heaven 'has it all', and the Lamb 'receives everything', which corresponds
nicely to the symbolical meaning of seven: fullness, completeness and abundance
(definition according to Labuschagne, p.24).
In chapters 3 and 4 we get acquainted with the 'divine speech formulas',
as Labuschagne calls them, a subject I already dealt with in Akzent
We learn about series of seven structuring the Book of Exodus and the Book
of Leviticus, the 'Menorah-Structure' in Ex. 30,26-28 being an especially
pretty example since it is a symbolical self-reference. Furthermore we
come to know about a couple of different 11-patterns built out of 1, 3,
4 and 7 respectively.
I will not go into details here in order to leave enough reasons to buy and read the book. In these 2 chapters alone you will find plenty of material to think about.
|In chapter 5 Prof. Labuschagne shows us ocurrences
of the "divine name numbers" 17 and 26 as structuring devices
throughout the text of the Pentateuch. He explains how this designation
of the numbers can be understood utilizing simple gematrical definitions,
and what is meant by 'interweaving' the divine name into the fabric of
the text. By the way, he means nothing mystical when using this term, although
he can possibly explain the mystical (cabbalistic) tradition that is connected
with this concept.
Labuschagne claims not to treat the material exhaustively in this chapter, however, after reading chapter 5 at the latest, it is the reader who is exhausted, at least a little. We have to acknowledge that this book first of all is a collection of material. This is indeed the "massive amount" of evidence for the validity of his discoveries he intended to give his colleagues, and not necessarily suited for "lay readers" interested in the Bible as literature, as he claims in the preface. (He himself later admits this fact unintentionally in the first sentences of chapter seven.)
One problem to understand the point he is making lies in his very concise presentation of a large number of biblical passages and their numerical structures, sometimes only slightly mentioning their subject or giving a hint about their contents or context. In these places he is obviously writing for professionals in biblical studies, and even they will have to get out their Biblia Hebraica and check out by themselves what Labuschagne presented in his book. Less material could have meant more explanation.
|Interestingly, there is a reason behind this approach (p.77): "The
results of my inventory of the numerical aspects of the other divine addresses
in the Pentateuch revealed an extraordinary high frequency of the numbers
17 and 26, which is so conspicous that one can detect it without the help
of statistical analysis."
Apparently he wants us to believe that the high frequency of observations he made gives enough reason to assume that these observations cannot be explained as mere coincidence, but are valid (statistically significant) observations: statistical analysis seems to be superfluous. (This does not mean he is against statistical analysis, but only that he seems to think that he does not need it.)
But there is a catch. The main problem in dealing with quantitative structures of this kind is given by the fact that our brain is a master of pattern recognition, paradoxically it even detects patterns where there are none. This is the reason why we need to be very self-critical when it comes to evaluating observations of structural patterns of any kind, and statistics is one very helpful tool to this end.
My conclusion is just converse to Labuschagne's: Given the rich collection of materials we find in his book I can only
|say: This material is a prime candidate for statistical
analysis and we are very indebted to Prof. Labuschagne for collecting it!
We can only hope that some day someone with a profound knowledge
in mathematics as well as in biblical literature, will come around and
put the data to the test. (I guess there is enough stuff for several dissertations.)
|On chapter 6: In Akzent
I already discussed a problem with the so-called 'bible code': There is
absolutely no literary connection between the text of the Bible
and the results of the computer programs used to find such 'codes'. In
my opinion this is perhaps the most important indicator against
the validity of 'Bible codes'. Not so with the research of Prof. Labuschagne!
In chapter 6 he shows us how 'numerical criticism' can be (he would say:
should be) understood as a part of traditional literary criticism. Of course
it is no surprise that he can give a clear and again very concise presentation
of its position in literary criticism, since he has been thinking in these
categories for decades as a lecturer and professor of Old Testament at
the State University in Groningen, The Netherlands.
His traditional literary approach also implies a critical reflection on the results of numerical research. It is almost reassuring to see how the protagonists of numerical research differ in their view of a couple of questions of definition and interpretation. And, not surprisingly, Labuschagne does not hide these discussions but honestly tells us about some moot points. There seem to be lively discussions 'behind the scenes'.
But there is more: In this chapter again - while writing on the "Theoretical Foundations of Schedl's Thesis" - we find Labuschagne commenting on the core problem making him troubles for so long: There are reviewers of his work who claimed that "Labuschagne has not proved anything yet", which he finds "unjustified. The massive amount of evidence I have brought to light sufficiently demonstrates the existence of notable numerical features of the biblical writings.[...] My interpretations may be challenged, disputed, falsified, and rejected, but the hard facts I have brought to light up till now simply cannot be ignored indefinitely."
|So there seem to be very different conceptions of what
the facts are and where the interpretation begins, and these differences
drill down to the very question if there is any numerical feature as described
by Labuschagne at all! How can we get out of this deadlock?
First of all, we can be sure that no critical reviewer means that Labuschagne does not count correctly in general. If this were to be his or her opinion it would simply be stated by the reviewer.
Secondly, obviously Labuschagne means that numerical structures of this type:
(Example: Sub-sections of the Book of Genesis, page 110: "... this arrangement clearly shows the structural use of the divine name numbers 17 and 26.")
Main sections Sub-sections
Total number of Sub-sections
11:1 - 25:18 Abraham Cycle 9 17+9=26
25:19 - 36:43 Jacob Cycle
are kind of self-evident in the sense of 'clearly man-made artifacts'. And the reviewers do not agree. Where is the problem? The sceptical reviewer does not assume 17 and 26 to be 'divine name numbers' ! At present it is certainly an interpretation only to call 17 and 26 'divine name numbers', not a fact. But what we are looking for is a starting point, something "proved", a statistical characteristic of so much substance that we all can agree upon its existence. If it could be proved that 17 and 26 were seen as divine name numbers at the times when the Pentateuch was written, then we would have an entirely different situation in numerical research right from the start. But there is no such proof.
|So the next step could be to numerically analyse the whole Bible
as well as other comparable literature and check out statistically if there
are significantly more sections with length of 17 or 26 words in the Bible
than in other books. Labuschagne's 'massive amount of evidence' seems to
point into this direction. But, to be honest, this 'sledge hammer' approach
would be a tremendously laborious undertaking, and given the very little
interest of theologians and mathematicians in this subject so far I do
not see any chance of successfully proceeding along this track.
However, there are still other ways to get some of the information we would like to have. To cut it short: In the last paragraph of chapter 6 "Keywords Determining the Number Of Words in a Text"
|a list of 10 examples is given where the gematrical value
of a keyword of a pericope is a common factor of the number of words of
certain sub-sections. One could do something resembling my approach to
the numbers in Genesis 5 (Akzent
i.e. try to build a statistical model that connects the keyword/number
'contained' in the text and calculate the error probability of the gematrical
number being a common factor of the number of words in this passage. In
my opinion this would be the most promising way to evaluate statistically
at least some small parts of Labuschagne's findings.
(Well, now I did not say very much concerning the contents of chapter 6, but I hope what I wrote is of some value ... and you will read the book anyway ... :-)
|Having learned about the symbolical meaning of the number
seven we are not surprised to find chapter 7 to conclude the abundance
of material in this book.
Labuschagne discusses several kinds of misuse of biblical numbers. With regard to his remarks on Ivan Panin it should be mentioned that Panin certainly was no Professor of mathematics at Harvard University (p.159). (For information on Ivan Panin compare Prof. Brendan McKay's Panin-page.)
More important: On pages 154/155 Labuschagne presents 3 categories of numbers he has found in the Bible and 3 methodical "hard conditions" that numerical findings have to meet to be taken seriously. These categories and conditions to me are the essence of Labuschagne's book.
"Will we be convinced of having seen real numerical secrets?" In the final analysis, I believe that there is no explicit proof for 'numerical secrets' to be found in this book. It is a collection of many examples, often surprising, there are interpretations, plausible at most times, the author has given good arguments that must be taken into account. However, there is no mathematical 'proof' ... but I did not expect to find one, anyway. Prof. Labuschagne is no mathematician and we should not expect him to use elaborate mathematical concepts. Certainly there is much "evidence", but this evidence still depends on interpretation. After laying 'Numerical Secrets' aside, this sceptical reviewer has the following impression: Just by reading this book, i.e. without going into the very details checking out by myself all the examples Labuschagne has compiled, it is not possible to 'see' that Labuschagne is right. It may well be that he is, and this book is one important step to clarifying the subject.
I personally would have preferred to read less examples and instead have a much more rigorous treatment of just the best examples the author could find, perhaps written by a mathematician as a co-author. However, in this case the number of buyers and readers would go down to the absolute minimum ;-) .
So, as a primer on 'Numerical Secrets of the Bible' this book is certainly as good as it can be and I recommend it to anybody interested in this subject as well as the sceptical professionals of the 'theological variety'. In all likelihood Labuschagne is right when he says: "Numerical structural analysis is here to stay and the results already brought to light simply cannot be dismissed as unimportant. (p.22)"
Prof. Casper J. Labuschagne has written a primer on numerical characteristics of the biblical text. In seven chapters we are being introduced to a great number of quantitative structures he has discovered in the Bible, especially structures using the numbers 7, 17 and 26. Furthermore this book gives an insight into the still antagonistic debate in theology about the validity of numerical research as such. We do not find a mathematical 'proof', but there is a lot of plausible evidence in favor of the numerical features Labuschagne has found. This book is an important contribution to the discussion on numbers as structuring devices in biblical writings in general, especially since there is no such thing as a 'textbook' on this subject.