The correct term for the use of numbers in divination or fortune telling is numeromancy (by analogy with cartomancy and cheiromancy for example). The term numerology which should apply to the study of numbers for their own sake (which does have its own "mystic" aspects) is often misappropriated by numeromancers. The term gematria is sometimes applied to numeromancy, but since this term comes from the word "geometry" I feel it is only properly applied where the numerical results are also interpreted geometrically. This may be the subject of a separate article in future.
Before the Hindu-Arabic numerals became the standard numeration system, the Greeks and Jews used their alphabet as a number system, the numbers 1 to 9 being represented by the first nine letters, the numbers 10 to 90 by the next nine letters, and the numbers 100 to 900 being represented by the third set of nine letters (using some extra letters to extend the alphabet where necessary). This means that any word has a unique number corresponding to it, and conversely any number has a range of words corresponding to it.
On his website The Other Bible Code Vernon Jenkins applies the Hebrew and Greek number systems to early versions of the Bible, and particularly to the first lines of Genesis, and finds correspondences with Figurate Numbers, which he claims to be more than can be explained by chance, and hence provides proof of a divine origin, proving that the Bible is literally the Word of God. His colleague Richard McGough on his website The Bible Wheel covers similar material. [Other types of "Bible Code" numeromancy associated with Ivan Panin, Michael Drosnin and others are addressed at this website: In Search of Mathematical Miracles by Brendan McKay and others.]
The properties of Figurate Numbers as illustrated by Jenkins and McGough are generally accurate, but these are purely mathematical results, their interpretation as having religious meaning (e.g. as relating to the concept of the Trinity) is an extraneous issue. A PDF version of my own study of the mathematics of Figurate Numbers, can be downloaded from the Publications page of the Mayhematics website. This pays particular attention to numbers of counters that can be arranged to form two or more different geometrical shapes. The following are all the cases less than 1000 of numbers that are square, triangular, hexagonal or star-shaped, in two ways: 36, 37, 91, 121, 169, 253; they show all six possible pairings of these four shapes.
The main claims of the Other Biblical Code are based on the fact that the first line of Genesis in Hebrew (In the Beginning the Gods created the Heavens and the Earth) adds up to 2701 which is 73×37. The number 37 being both a triangular and hexagonal number. There are also connections to the Number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation (666 = 18×37).
The question arises of whether the phrasing of the words was originally made so as to have the desired numerical outcome or whether the numerical interpretation came later. The generally accepted view of historians seems to be that the authorship of Genesis pre-dates the adoption of the system of numeration. However, on this page of Wikipedia about Gematria it indicates that the Hebrew use of numerical values for the letters predates the Greek use of the alphabet for numbering. Gematria may originally have been a method of ensuring the precise copying of the text. Knowing the system of numeration it is of course easily possible to form phrases that add to multiples of 37, since the nth, (n+9)th, and (n+18)th letters automatically add to nnn = n×3×37. So it could be that the exact wording of the first sentence of Genesis was deliberately written to produce the number 2701. On the other hand my researches below suggest that it could just be chance.
Various different methods have been proposed for obtaining numerical results from English words and phrases. One of the simplest is to give the letters the values 1 to 9.
In the book Numerology by Austin Coates (published by Frederick Muller 1974) which I found on the obscurantist shelves of Hastings Library in 1997, the author associates the first nine numbers with the 26 letters as in these 3×3 diagrams. (The middle diagram, not in the book, is implied by another chart. In the third diagram I have replaced symbols of concentric circles by the number of circles.)
Mr Coates uses this chart to plot the letters of, mainly famous, people's names (including his father the composer Eric Coates whose work I much appreciate) and suggests that certain patterns correspond to character traits. This seems very hard to believe, especially considering the arbitrary nature of the alphabetical order. For example FRANCIS BACON has the chart shown in the third diagram and a chapter is devoted to interpreting the chart for the former Lord Chancellor of England. It is not clear how the chart would be interpreted for the modern artist of the same name, whose character and life could hardly have been more different.
Something similar might be done using a phonetic chart, based on the actual sounds of the letters used in the name rather than their alphabetical position. It may be that there is a tendency for people either to grow to fit the name given to them or, in the case of film stars and authors, to adopt names that suit them better. I've often wondered, did George Orwell jaw-jaw well?
There may also be something in the length and weight of people's names. It seems notable to me how many names of great military commanders are of three or four syllables. Alexander, Marlborough, Napoleon, Wellington, Eisenhower, Allenbrooke, Montgomery, come to mind; though of course there are always exceptions, like Rommel, Slim and Smuts.
This section is based on a review that first appeared in The Games and Puzzles Journal, vol.2, issue 15, p.251 (December 1997).
In this section I summarise some results using the simple method of numbering the letters A to Z as 1 to 26. This is advocated on this curious site devoted to English Gematria.
My interest in the numeromantic aspect of the Other Bible Code was first stimulated by an exchange of messages on The Brights Forum with a correspondent calling himself "Limbo" in September 2005, and I returned to the subject in July 2006. It occurred to me that it should be possible to counter the claims of the Codists, and also to have some recreational mathematics fun, by applying their methods of alphabetical numeration to suitable English texts.
Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky has 11 letters in the title and 100 letters in the first verse, making 111 = 3×37. The number of letters in the whole poem, including the title but excluding the repeated verse, is 629 = 17×37. If we include the repeated verse we get the total 729 = 3^6, a simple power of three. The values of all the letters in the title and first verse add up to 1258 = 2×17×37. Manxome Foe = 111. There are quite a few 99s, namely Borogove, JubJub Bird, Thought, and Beamish Boy, though I'm not sure what this might be taken to signify.
Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussy-cat title adds to 259 = 7×37.
I thought I'd also try Darwin. Charles Darwin = Devil's Chaplain = 135 = 5×27 (136 is triangular). Origin of Species = 169 = 13 squared (also a hexagonal number). Natural Selection = 189 = 7×27 (190 is triangular). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection = 520 = 13×40 = 13×(13 + 27) = 13×13 + 5×27 + 6×6×6. The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life = 590, so for the full title (without the 'or') we get 520 + 590 = 1110 = 30×37. I suppose some of the above may provide ammunition for the opposition! These things can always be interpreted whatever way you want. The numbers 13 and 27 feature strongly. This may be related to the fact that the average of the 26 numbers is 13.5 = 27/2, so that a sum that is a multiple of 27 is statistically more probable.
Further, I looked up Marx and Hitler to see if there was any obvious piece of text I could apply numeromancy to, but there are problems. The Communist Manifesto for instance was issued simultaneously in several different languages and I'm not sure whether it was originally written in English or German. It seems essential to use an original text when possible, since a translation can always be rephrased slightly to give better numerical results.
Mein Kampf = 88 = 8×11. Adolf Hitler = 110 = 10×11. So multiples of 11 become significant. The first sentence of chapter 1 of Mein Kampf in (an) English translation is: "Today it seems to me providential that Fate should have chosen Braunau on the Inn as my birthplace." This gives the number 942 = 6×157 (not particularly interesting?). However by rephrasing the translation as "for Fate to" the total is reduced to 888, which the Bible nuts often take to be the Jesus number, which might seem slightly inappropriate. But then there are probably more important statements by Hitler that could be chosen. In any case it seems Hitler did not actually write Mein Kampf himself, but that it was edited together by Rudolph Hess and others from his oral ramblings.
Returning to this subject in July 2008 I decided to use the numeration method that makes A - I = 1 - 9, J - R = 10 - 90, S - Z = 100 - 800, since it is closer to the Hebrew and Greek methods used by the Codists.
Since the first line of Genesis is the first line of the Bible I thought that I should try to find a work of literary importance in which the first line is also of numeromantic significance. I didn't have far to look. "The Oxford Book of Engish Verse, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, Clarendon Press" = 4514 = 2×37×61. Where it may be noted 61 is an hexagonal and also a diamond-shaped number. Within this title page we also find that "Oxford Book" = 962 = 2×13×37. Is it not appropriate (since Oxford is known for its Dictionaries) that the factor is 26, the number of letters in the alphabet? The first three letters "Oxf" add to 666, appropriate in that Oxford is known as the home of lost causes (the Beast here being the cunning "Fox"). The other letters add to 296 (8.37), an anagram of 962, so that the part reflects the structure of the whole. We may also note that "Sir Arthur" = 888 (though "Quiller Couch" is not so obliging). I also noted that "Trinity", his College, adds to 1258 (34.37), and "New" (the College of Dr Spooner) adds to 555. Furthermore, the first line of the first poem in the collection is "Sumer Is Icumen In" = 1110, and within this "Icumen" = 407 = 11×37. The modern English version "Summer has come in" also works, though less strikingly, the total being 851 = 23.37. Isn't this all as equally "mystical" as the results from the first line of Genesis?
The English translation of the Hebrew, in the King James version is: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" which adds to 2049. This is not a multiple of 37 but no doubt would be found to have other interesting properties, given sufficient study. Also I imagine that the translation could be "tweaked" a bit to make it add to 2701. In fact I have composed one such: "Once upon a time gods caused the heaven and the earth." I'm sure this can be improved upon.
Vernon Jenkins has devised an OBC Search Protocol which he maintains other discoveries should conform to. However it seems to me that he is trying to force any other investigation to come up with an exact mirror of what he has found in applying these methods to the Bible. It may well be that other works will yield quite different patterns. I think that generally the numbers found are a matter of chance, and the patterns found are due to the human propensity for seeing pattern in all things, even where objectively there is none.
It occurred to me to apply this approach to the Robin Hood stories. I converted the well-known names of many of the main characters to numerical form. I give full details below. The most striking finding is that three of the main characters in the stories are all exact powers of simple digits! Robin Hood = 7^3, Nottingham = 5^4, John = 2^7. An interpretation might be that 7 represents freedom, 5 represents constraint or force, and 2 represents indecision or plotting. The office of Sheriff itself is two for constraint one for freedom. Maid Marian is two for freedom, one for constraint. Much and Maid Marian are very strong supporters (7^2), while Little John and Will Scarlet are lesser supporters (7). That "The Adventures of Robin Hood" adds to a prime indicates that the stories form a connected whole. Friar Tuck is also self-contained. The fourfold square-free Will Scarlet, and The Ballad of Robin Hood, and Adventures, and Son, suggest a complex story of relationships.
|THE ADVENTURES OF||213 + 1155 + 66 = 1434||(2.3.239)|
|THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD||1434 + 343 = 1777||(prime)|
|THE BALLAD OF ROBIN HOOD||213 + 68 + 66 + 343 = 690||(188.8.131.52)|
|ROBIN HOOD||211 + 132 = 343||(7^3)|
|ROB IN THE HOOD||213 + 343 = 556||(2^2.139)|
|LITTLE JOHN||474 + 128 = 602||(2.7.43)|
|FRIAR TUCK||196 + 523 = 719||(prime)|
|ALAN ADALE||82 + 41 = 123||(3.41)|
|MUCH||351||(3^3.13) = triangle 26|
|MUCH THE MILLER'S SON||351 + 213 + 304 + 210 = 1078||(2.7^2.11)|
|WILL SCARLET||569 + 429 = 798||(184.108.40.206)|
|MAID MARIAN||54 + 191 = 245||(5.7^2)|
|SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM||224 + 66 + 625 = 915||(3.5.61)|
|KING RICHARD||86 + 205 = 291||(3.97)|
Perhaps I should emphasise that all this is of course just an amusing recreation. Perhaps story-tellers should give their characters names that code in some such way as this.
The Morse Code + + arranges the English alphabet in a sequence based on the frequency of occurence of the letters in normal English texts, and gives short symbols to the more frequent letters. This provides an alternative way of assigning numbers to the letters. Each combination of dots and dashes can be read as a binary number, interpreting dot as zero and dash as unity. The binary numbers can then be converted to denary. This gives a piecewise sequence that runs 0, 1; 0, 1 ,2, 3; 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. This numbering could perhaps be used for divination directly.
However, by adding 1 to the series of 2, 3 to the series of 4, 7 to the series of 8, and 15 to the series of 16, we get the following numbering from 1 to 30.
Unfortunately the codes numebered 18, 20, 29, 30 are for accented letters which rather spoils the scheme. So I've not so far followed this idea further. Someone may like to adapt it.
There are alternative sequences given to the frequency of occurrence of letters depending on the sources used to assess them. For instance Wikipedia lists the sequence etaoin shrdlu cmfwyp vbgkqj xz used on linotype machines. Apparently the Modern International Morse Code uses the sequence: e it san hurdm wgvlfbk opjxcz yq.
An alternative approach might be to use a "pangram" which is a sentence that uses each letter of the alphabet once. Here is one I devised in the form of a headline: WRY JUMP FANS BLITZ DOCK VEX GHQ.