From: Will Wagers
Date: Tue, 14 Nov 1995 16:14:58 -0600 Subject: Codes in the Pentateuch Last month on this list, as well as others (May 92 AIBI-L, Oct 95 B-Greek, Nov 95 Classics), there was a small controversy entitled "Author of Genesis unveiled". If you hated it, read no further. I sought out the paper in question - Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips, Yoav Rosenberg, "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis", _Statistical Science_ (1994) Vol. 9, No. 3, 429-38 - and was able to confirm, once again, that I am not a mathematician. The bottom line, as laymen like to say, is: The authors of the statistical paper conclude: "the proximity of ELS's [Equidistant Letter Sequences] with related meanings in the Book of Genesis is not due to chance." They ascribe no cause, and certainly no higher cause, to the phenomenon. This is exactly what one accustomed to reading scientific papers would expect in the way of a conclusion to a controlled experiment. While the authors may someday embarass themselves or us with their personal feelings, they have certainly stayed well within the bounds of science here. Everything I read bore out the explanation given of the paper by Alfred M. Kriman on Thu, 9 Nov 1995. However, if one does not understand the scientific meanings of terms like "probability" and "significance" or if one cannot separate the newspaper article from the paper in one's mind, it may be worth reading the original paper. With knowledge of the paper, I will try to respond briefly to some of the comments made last week on Classics, although by reading Kriman's posting without memory of last week - all should become clear. List-member comments: Michael Hendry: (1) > No word yet on whether any New Testament names were found in the Old Testament, or vice versa, which strikes me as a rather obvious question ... For this experiment, the question is quite irrelevant; because, it would involve two (or more) different languages and violate both their statistical premise and their methods. (2) > ... -- *if* the method is valid, of course, which I seriously doubt. The statistical method is perfectly valid, although who is to say it could not be improved. Aware of the volatility of the subject matter, the authors took great care to involve other statisticians in designing the controls for the experiment. The results appear in the international, peer-refereed journal, _Statistical Science_. (3) > Finally, I hope the journal articles specified whether only con- sonants were counted: I will be much more impressed if they found the Hebrew equivalent of ZE-DE-KI-AH in coded form than if they just found Z-D-K-whatever. The word Zedekia found was WHYQDC (I hope I transliterated it correctly). Mark Williams: (4) > I wonder whether those researching this gemmatria (for that's what it is, isn't it?) included _matres lectionis_ in their computations? Yes, they did include matres lectionis. No, it isn't gemmatria, although doubtlessly gemmatrians are computing away as we speak. Jim O'Hara quoting Starobinski 123: (5) > "The error of Ferdinand de Saussure (if it be an error) will also provide an exemplary lesson.... One can produce any hypothesis about him: he neither accepts nor rejects it." Well, not in this case. The value of a scientific experiment is that one has a systematic and reproducible means of justifying a hypothesis. (The hypothesis, I remind, has nothing to do with divine authorship.) Alfred M. Kriman: (6) > I didn't find the reported J. Roy. Stat. Soc. article that was supposed to have preceded this, and no earlier work by the authors was cited in the Stat. Sci. article. Quite right, the other citation seems to have been an error. (7) > The present study has a component that might be regarded as gematria in reverse ... While I take the point, I think this is a bit misleading for most of us who associate gemmatria with mysticism and charlatanism. Certainly, one should study the article, as has Mr. Kriman, before making or responding to such a statement. [To which, David M. Schaps adds: > I have seen claims for numeralogical patterns in the new testament, in a book called _Theomatics_. These, however, are simply what would be called gematrias, summing the numerical value of the letters and finding significance in the numbers obtained. As far as I could tell, this book would indeed have been susceptible to the sort of criticism that David Meadows offered.] (8) > ... the result is surprising. Indeed, it is. Shalom, Will (I am re-posting the following with the permission of Dr, Kriman, a physicist who also read the article in question.) - ----------------------------- I just subscribed [to Classics], so I may have missed a proper citation if one was given earlier on Wednesday; in the following comments I refer to ``Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis,'' by Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg, appearing in _Statistical Science_, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 429-438 (1994). The introductory section of this article does not require specialist knowledge to be understood. FWIW, I recommend it. The article gives the impression of having been put through a responsible review process. I saw no obvious blunders. The article is nowhere near funny enough to have possibly been intended as a joke. Rips is author of some other, fairly conventional articles in the field of Statistics. No headline-grabbing ``odds'' are cited in this article, just measures of significance. However, from the data given I would estimate odds of about 400 million to one against the observed results occurring ``by chance.'' (There is not necessarily any inconsistency if another, different study comes up with different, more impressive odds.) This assumes, of course, no systematic errors in the analysis. The only news item I read on this was a copy of an AP item that came via this group. I didn't find the reported J. Roy. Stat. Soc. article that was supposed to have preceded this, and no earlier work by the authors was cited in the Stat. Sci. article. I didn't look for the _Biblical Review_ article. If they were posted I must have missed it, I apologize then but ** Could someone please post proper citations ** ** for the other articles? ** Please excuse the long posting. Search on ``==>'' to skip to next topic. I'm not sure this has anything to do with Classics, but that hasn't seemed to stop anyone else from commenting... (At least the methodology is relevant, and could easily be adapted for classical texts. At least it's not ``Physics.'') Mark Williams asks: >I wonder whether those researching this gemmatria (for that's what it is, >isn't it?) included _matres lectionis_ in their computations? If they >did, wouldn't it throw everything off? ==> Response on gematria: Will Wagers (firstname.lastname@example.org) replied: >No, gemmatria is the (theological) interpretation of a word according to its >numerical value. The question turns out to be trickier than one would expect. The numerical values of characters are used extensively because half of the ``words'' used in one part of the study are actually dates of birth or death. Usually, gematria of Hebrew uses the numerical values of proper nouns and words in the Hebrew lexicon. The present study has a component that might be regarded as gematria in reverse: certain systematically chosen characters are interpreted as dates, so that some characters from various different words are interpreted according to their numerical values. Even if one ignores this ``reverse gematria,'' I think some of the characters in the source texts originally represented numbers, but become part of words. (The original texts are a specified version of Genesis, an equal-length initial segment of a Hebrew translation of Tolstoy's _War and Peace_ used as a control, and various randomized versions of these texts used as bases for the statistical analysis. I don't know to what extent old Hebrew numbering was used in the Tolstoy translation.) I don't know what to call this pieces-of-numbers-and-words-into-words procedure, but by some definitions it might be closer to gematria than the reverse gematria mentioned above. Call it Kabbala. [14 NOV You're right about the gematria question; on rereading, my answer seems somewhat disingenuous, and it is. I was merely looking for a small issue by which to approach a discussion that had grown too wide-ranging. I made my limited point and presented my reasons, for others to judge on the merits. In the abstract, this is essentially what Witztum et al. have done.] A bigger problem may arise from different meanings of ``significance'' in statistics and in exegetical work. Roughly, statistical analysis can often tell you that an event is meaningful, without telling you what it means. ==> Response on mater lectionis: The authors write ``In transliterating foreign names into Hebrew, the letter [aleph] is often used as a _mater lectionis_; for example, `Luzzatto' may be written [lamed,vav,sadi,tet,vav] or [lamed,vav,sadi,aleph,tet,vav]. In such cases we used both forms.'' (It wasn't a major issue because mostly Hebrew and Yiddish names were used.) Other natural questions concern whether they ignore vowels, whether they distinguish word-final character forms, which spellings they use, etc. These questions are all settled somewhat arbitrarily. The arbitrariness arises in part from their concern to be statistically ``fair.'' (That is, not to overdesign the study in a way that is somehow rigged to produce the desired result.) In part also, the choices are somewhat arbitrary because, if the method and results are robust, then they should work even if many of the detailed decisions are made in ways that are ``wrong'' for Genesis. Incidentally, Questions about the _original_ nature of Hebrew writing are not really relevant to the _validity_ of the work described in this article. It may concern the explanation. If you can abide this, then you may be satisfied with the answer that, of course, they ignored Masoretic marks altogether. If this answer does not satisfy, reading the article probably will not either. ==> Response on whether it matters: I may try to report in a future post exactly how the scheme works, but here's a first attempt anyway: The authors construct a sieve for meaningfully paired names and dates systematically hidden in a text. They apply this sieve to Genesis and get a count (several, actually). They apply the same sieve to a control text and to randomized versions of both texts, in order to get an idea of whether the count for Genesis is high. It seems to be improbably high. The one-paragraph explanation naturally leaves a lot of open questions (e.g., what is ``meaningfully paired,'' ``systematically hidden''?). Giving detailed answers amounts to adjusting the holes in the sieve. If Genesis is special, the sieve should still pick that up, to a greater or lesser extent. If errors have crept into some ``truer'' original text, the sieve should be robust against it. This impression I have appears to contradict the report of David M. Schaps (F21004@VM.BIU.AC.IL) based on a seminar by Rips, but is really a quantitative issue: how large is the typical separation between related pairs, and what is the typical ``minimal'' stride needed to find a word, compared to the length of a ``passage.'' There is no discussion of the relative contribution of J and E text regions to the improbably high count. There's really no attempt to do anything but statistics that are purposely anachronistic and apparently unlikely to have anything directly to do with the book (at least in the paper I've seen). If I understand it correctly, the result is surprising. The authors offer their materials at cost so anyone can duplicate their study and look for possible sources of error. Thanks anyway. "Alfred M. Kriman"
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