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Former Reporter Runs Biblical Shell Game

What Michael Drosnin offers is not Bible study, but superstition dressed as science. In the old days, it was known as selling “snake oil.”

Well, not the words so much as their letters. Let me explain.

In 1997, Drosnin published The Bible Code. His pitch in this best-seller was that by using a special code developed by an Israeli mathematician, he was able to unlock the secret of the Hebrew Bible, revealing that it can predict the future.

Of course, Bible believers are probably thinking right now, “So what’s new about that?” Christians have believed for centuries that the Hebrew Bible, what they call the Old Testament, was able to predict the future—like the birth of Jesus, for instance.

But that is not exactly what Drosnin has in mind. The predictions he finds are not actually a part of the text as we know it. In order for the code to work, the text must first be dismantled from its grammar and syntax, and converted into long lines of letters strung together, side by side. It looks like a huge “word search” puzzle using Hebrew rather than English characters.

Employing a series of complicated formulas, Drosnin uses computers to search for words and phrases hidden in the lines of letters. Drosnin claims to have found references to the assassination of John Kennedy and the Oklahoma City bombing, just to name two so-called fulfilled predictions.

I bring all this up because he has now published The Bible Code II: The Countdown. In this new edition, Drosnin claims to have found a reference to the Sept. 11 attacks. But that is not the big news.

“It was not this terrorist attack that really shook me,” Drosnin writes. “It was what the Bible code predicted was yet to come.” In other words, Drosnin is hinting that with his mysterious Bible code, he now has information about the end of the world—information, by the way, Jesus himself claimed not to have.

One reason this kind of biblical nonsense can become a best-seller is the way many Christians regard the Bible. Sometimes there is so much emphasis placed on the truth value of individual “words” that folks have difficulty grasping the overall message of extended biblical passages. With our focus on “inerrant word,” it’s only a short step to an “inerrant letter.”

But that’s only part of the problem. Drosnin’s “Bible hucksterism” preys not only on the good reputation of the Bible, but also on the terrible anxiety that dogs so many people in our world today. By invoking the tragedies of our time, and playing upon our ongoing fears, all under the banner of Bible study, Drosnin is able to pass his work off as having something significant to contribute.

Well, it doesn’t.

In fact, one of his theories about the origin of the code is that it was embedded in the Hebrew text by space aliens. Where’s Fox and Scully when we really need them?

The Bible’s value as a source of knowledge about God, and as a source of wisdom about how we humans should live our lives, is unquestioned except by the most ardent skeptic. But that knowledge and wisdom comes from the words in the text, and in their context.

What Drosnin offers is not Bible study, but superstition dressed as science. In the old days, it was known as selling “snake oil.”

James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.