Magical Criticism


A Rebuttal of Hank Hanegraaff's article
Magic Apologetics

On 29 January 1999 I composed the following letter and mailed it to Hank Hanegraaff. I never received a written reply. It's possible that he responded on his radio program The Bible Answer Man or in his magazine Christian Research Journal where the article was first published but I'm not aware of it. I have edited my letter slightly for grammar, punctuation, and similar oversights, and for two phrases that may be considered too inflammatory for a public posting.

I like Hank Hanegraaff a lot. His radio program has helped me think through some tough issues, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Better than 90% of the time, I agree with him. Even when I don't, I usually think that he makes his points admirably. My beef is not with him personally, only with his reasoning on this single issue.

Dear Bible Answer Man,

Your article Magic Apologetics, as found at, offers many strongly worded opinions but virtually no reasons behind them, no real arguments nor evidence to support them. This puzzles me.

I believe that you are right to criticize the Word-of-faith crowd and similar pseudo-evangelicals for their misuse of information about the Bible code. I agree with you that the codes should not be used as an oracle, an evangelistic tool, or part of an apologetic methodology. However, you seem to have confused the real, mathematical Bible code phenomenon with the sensationalistic shenanigans of the kooks. I infer from the article that you have read only the kooks' writings about it, and none of the conservative, serious-minded books and articles. This, if true, possibly indicates a careless failure to do sufficient homework, and dangerously shallow thinking on your part. I would prefer not to think that of you.

You say, "a cursory examination of ELS unmasks it for what it is - little more than a fringe variety of Jewish mysticism (i.e., the cabala) repackaged for Christian consumption." This is simply not true of ELS. While Grant Jeffery, et al, have taken the idea of ELS in scripture and sensationalized it, they do not represent the work being done in the field of ELS statistical research in the Torah.

The problem, it seems, is that you have made only "a cursory examination." A closer examination will reveal that the Jewish mathematicians researching ELS in Jerusalem today are not cabalists, nor have they the slightest interest in the American evangelical market. They are professional mathematicians, among the most highly trained in the world in the field of statistical mathematics, men of solid reputation in their field of expertise, having published many important papers prior to their interest in ELS in the Torah on many facets of statistical research. They are not flakes. It is wrong for you to impugn their good work because some have misused information proceeding from it.

To be fair, there is a brief reference in your article to the Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg paper Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis published in the journal Statistical Science. It is clear, however, that you have not read that paper, or that you don't understand the significance of its acceptance for publication in a serious mathematical journal. For you say, "The core problem with ELS - as with all numerics - is that its "discoveries" are far too arbitrary to be considered scientific" and "ELS is best described as a pseudoscience." [sic] These statements are true of the things made-up by the self-proclaimed experts of pseudo-evangelicalism. However, they fly directly in the face of evidence set forth in the Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg paper. These men use no "numerics," as you call it, no numerology, if you will, in their analyses, only methods well accepted by the professional mathematical community. Your "clear example of the application of ELS's flawed methodology" may be a valid criticism of the kooks' methods but does not resemble the methods used by Witztum, et al. If, as you claim, arbitrariness or numerology flaws all ELS, if their work were pseudo-science, their paper would never have been accepted for publication.

In fact, it almost wasn't. As documented in the book Cracking the Bible Code by Dr. Jeffery Satinover, the journal editors were highly skeptical (as you can imagine). They demanded that the mathematicians jump through extraordinary hoops to demonstrate the veracity of their claim, far more than had ever been asked for any paper in the history of statistical science. Over a period of years their methods and results passed stage after stage of tests conceived by their critical peers with flying colors, surpassing even their proponents' expectations.

These tests were conceived and conducted in accordance with the strictest rules of scientific research. Each test was run not only on the Masoretic text of Genesis but also on a set of control texts including several that were generated by randomizing the Masoretic text of Genesis in a variety of ways. Statistically significant sets of ELS (pre-selected by the critics, obviating the possibility of "a rigged 'game' complete with after-the-fact prophecies and self-validating 'messages.'") were consistently found in the original and not in any control text. In addition, 999,999 random permutations of each piece of required ELS data were searched for in all texts. None of them was found in statistically significant clusters in the original or control texts. Such results cannot be dismissed as "smoke and mirrors," as you have done.

In contrast, not a single piece of contrary evidence nor a single substantial argument has ever been put forth by their critics. The only answer given so far (to my knowledge) by their fellow mathematician critics is, more or less, "It can't be real because God doesn't exist" -- the same excuse used by evolutionists to reject the creation story.

You say, "It is also significant to note that none of the prophecies can be known beforehand." Time has no bearing on the analysis of clusters of ELS data. The only relevant issue is the likelihood of a given data set occurring in a given portion of text in a statistically significant array. It is interesting in this case that the alleged Encoder is said to have used data that could not have been known by humans at the time the text was written. However, that has no direct, logical impact on the analysis itself. (It does provide incentive to make the analyses.)

You say, " in the esoteric message 'CRI yes' used in my illustration above, it might be tempting to conclude that its self-validating message is 'the signature of God,' in reality this technique is virtually identical to those used by psychics." Don't be silly. Your illustration serves against your argument. You deliberately encoded the message, did you not? It is, in essence, the signature of you. If your encoded message could not have been known by a human at the time of its writing, what would that have said about you? A better illustration would be to use a commonly known text, one not believed to be encoded. Find some ELS in it and extrapolate a "prophecy." That would more nearly parallel the foolish use of the Bible code phenomenon by the kooks.

You state, "when ELS practitioners say that the assassination of Rabin is "embedded" in the Torah, the uninformed may well be duped into believing God has validated Scripture with such a secret message. Nothing could be further from the truth." It would be safer to say that it doesn't prove anything one way or the other. An improperly constructed argument for something doesn't serve as evidence against it, either. That is, if someone uses invalid logic to say something is true, that doesn't mean it's untrue.

You say, "wording extracted from the Torah, such as 'Rabin, Bang, Bang,'" and go on and on about the preposterous things that the letters could be taken to mean. Here we run into real problems with your use of second-hand information. Journalist Michael Drosnin (in his book The Bible Code) is the one who claims to have first found the supposed prophecy about Rabin's assassination. He has witnesses who verify that he made many attempts to warn Rabin during his last year in office that he would be assassinated, based on the ELS. What Drosnin had found was "YTZhKRBYN" in two places. In one place the phrase "assassin that will assassinate" crossed it, and in the other it was crossed by the phrase "name of assassin who will assassinate." (Both phrases are found in the original text.) He also had found an ELS that he believed referred to the Rabin assassination and which was crossed by the year 5756 (1995-6 A.D.). Rabin was, in fact, assassinated in that year.

Now, does that prove that what Drosnin found was a real prophecy? It does not. It may well be purely coincidental. His work has been discounted by those who are doing ELS research using established statistical methods. Nevertheless, none of what he found could possibly be taken as having anything to do with Batman or Pooh.

It is not my purpose here to prove that the Bible code phenomenon is real. That is beyond my ability to do. Only those who are highly trained in both ancient Hebrew and statistical mathematics are qualified to offer an opinion one way or the other.

I agree with you that our focus should remain on Jesus Christ and on His death, burial, and resurrection. Nevertheless, we should not ignore what is going on in the world around us, especially as it relates to the foundations of our faith. We should never jump to conclusions about the validity of something simply on the basis of its abuse in the hands of the irresponsible. And we should be very careful not to broadcast strongly worded opinions about anything aside from what we know to be absolute truth. "The wise speak only of what they know."

I would like to suggest that you immediately revise your article either to reflect the fact that it pertains only to events and writings within the scope of American evangelicalism, or to make it consistent with the facts about the topic at large. Further, if you have any solid arguments or pieces of evidence to support your opinions, let's see them.

Lastly, please read Dr. Jeffery Satinover's book Cracking the Bible Code. Though it was written by a non-Christian Jew, I found it to be the most enlightening work of all that I have read to date on the subject.


David J. Finnamore

David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL