Forward or Drawrof?
Forward or Drawrof?
Reviewed by Stephen D. Ricks
In the midnineties, Michael Drosnin’s book The Bible Code appeared.1 It created an instant international sensation.
In the book, Drosnin—inspired by the researches of Israeli mathematicians
Eliyahu Rips, Doron Witzum, and Yoav Rosenberg—argued that there is a
“code” embedded in the text of the Hebrew Bible. This “code”
is discovered by searching for equidistant letter sequences (ELS). Thus, for
example, we may begin with a letter (“L”) and read every nth letter
(“N”) thereafter in the book, not counting spaces. If an entire book
such as Genesis is searched, the result is a long string of consonants (the
languages of the Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic, are represented in the original
biblical text only with consonants, without any vowels). Further, by employing
different values for L and N, one can generate many strings of consonants.2
The proximate inspiration for the writing of Gustav Mahler’s The Sealed
Book of Daniel Opened and Translated was Drosnin’s 1999 publication of a second volume, The Bible
Code II: Countdown, in which he states,
“read the letters in reverse.”3 Gustav Mahler—a native of New
York, a graduate of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) and BYU, and currently
a member of the faculty at Utah Valley State College in Orem, Utah—was
first introduced to the Hebrew language under the able tutelage of the venerable
instructors Ellis Rasmussen and Gabriel Tabor.
Mahler created a “back text” of the book of Daniel by stringing
the letters of the book—which is written in both Hebrew and Aramaic—in
order, eliminating the spaces between the words, reversing the order, and
translating the text of the book in reverse. The result was this publication,
one of a series of several prospective translations and commentaries on “back
texts” of the Hebrew Bible. In his introduction to the book of Daniel,
Mahler—who, though claiming no direct religious affiliation, “subscribe[s]
[himself] a Jew”4—describes
the pattern that will be followed in his translation of the “back text”
As an example, Mahler renders the first verse of Daniel 1 in English as “In
the third year of the reign of Jehoikim king of Judah” (p. 20).
The “back text,” translated into English, reads, “Give you
a joyous shout O Palaces on account they (the oppressed) obeyed. A lamentation of the Mark-of-All-of-Them is
for the dividing into three the jackal. Repent thou!” (p. 21). The
final verse of Daniel (12:13), rendered in the “forward text” as
“And thou, go thou to the end and rest thou and stand at thy allotted
portion at the end of days” (p. 21), is translated in the “back
text” as “Wailing is from YAH! Distress is for thee to tread the
blood of His Time. The Mark loathes distress for thee at his chamber”
(p. 22). The entire book follows this same format. But is the meaning
of the “back text” more compelling than that of the “forward
text”? Some may be persuaded that the meaning of the “back text”
is more compelling, but I am not convinced.
I have a further question: since much of the book of Daniel (2:4-7:28)
is written in Aramaic, why does Mahler translate the “back text”
as though it were Hebrew and not Aramaic? Given the relatively free syntax
of Imperial Aramaic (and the relatively restrictive syntax of Biblical Hebrew),
could it not more easily and justifiably be translated as Aramaic?
The Sealed Book of Daniel Opened and Translated is a testament to the industry and linguistic skill
of the author. Mahler demonstrates great skill and real finesse in his translation
of the “back text” of Daniel. But sometimes Mahler’s renderings
of the “back text” press the boundaries of clear sense. I must frankly
confess that I lack Mahler’s neo-Kabbalist enthusiasm: given the choice between
reading the “forward text” of Daniel in Hebrew and Aramaic (which
I regularly do with my biblical Aramaic students) and the “back text,”
I prefer the “forward text.”
1. Michael Drosnin,
The Bible Code (New York: Simon and
2. Robert Todd
Carroll, The Skeptic’s Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing
Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions (Hoboken,
NJ: Wiley, 2003), 52-55, although one may be committed to the inspiration
of scripture but still approach the implications of “equidistant letter
sequences” for the meaning and interpretation of the scriptural text
with caution and care.
3. Michael Drosnin, The Bible Code
II: Countdown (New York: Viking Books, 1999), 247.
4. Personal communication
from Gustav Mahler.