texts and scripts 3 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 8)

Hi again, everybody! First, more applications of gematria!

Jerry Lucas and Del Washburn follow Kurt Fetteschoss in re-applying gematria, especially to the New Testament (‘Theomatics’). They claim that an analysis of the Bible reveals numerical patterns which are in no way explicable by chance and which a numerological analysis then converts into information about the meanings intended by God in inspiring the text of the Bible. In turn, this is used to attack atheism and other viewpoints which deny the existence of a creator entity behind the observed universe.

The linguistics invoked here is less than competent. For instance, Lucas & Washburn – misinterpreting a standard reference work– claim that there are no grammatical rules at all determining the use or non-use of the Greek definite article, the equivalent of English the. They therefore claim that God was free to include the article or not in each New Testament phrase, without thereby generating grammatical anomalies, in order to make the numbers add up. This is simply not the case; there are familiar, fairly precise principles determining whether or not the definite article is used in Greek.

In addition, Lucas & Washburn treat the various inflectional forms of Greek nouns such as theos (‘God’) – for instance, theou (genitive; ‘of God’), theon (accusative; ‘God’ as clause object, etc.) – as mere spelling variants, which they claim add to the flexibility of the language, again for the convenience of God. In fact, the decision to use theon or theou rather than theos would necessitate a complete re-structuring of the clause in question and would thus not assist at all in slightly modifying the numerological ‘score’ of the overall expression, as Lucas & Washburn suggest.

Other critiques of Lucas & Washburn include attacks on the statistical significance attributed to their ‘findings’.

Other relevant phenomena (not in general involving the Bible) include the linguistic aspects of ‘Western’ numerology as understood more generally. Numerology has a long history, and essentially involves the notion that integers or numerical digits possess inherent relationships with alphabetic letters and with linguistic or other meanings. This facilitates both a) prediction of future situations (including personalities) and events from the spellings of relevant names or other words and b) the selection of names for babies, religious converts, those adopting new languages, etc. in such a way as to maximize their future prospects. Numerology is related conceptually and/or historically to gematria and to systems such as ‘Chinese numerology’ where the words for numbers and the characters which represent them are said to have associations with specific non-numerical concepts – positive, negative, or other. However, where the direction of interpretation is from numbers to words/concepts, there are no universally agreed definitions for the numerological meanings of specific digits.

Most relevant in this context are versions of numerology where the direction of interpretation is from letters of the alphabet to numbers (single- or double-digit) and where the numbers are then combined and re-combined by way of repeated addition of digits so as to yield a single-digit number for each name or other word; these numbers are then linked with meanings. Thus, if the letters of the Roman alphabet as used to write English are paired with the integers 1-26, the name Eve obtains a ‘score’ of 5 + 22 + 5 = 32 = 3+2 = 5. It is then held that people with the name Eve will be likely to display whatever characteristics are ascribed to the number 5. This particular calculation assumes, of course, that the figures for the several letters are to be summed across the entire word before the digits are added together. Obviously, other procedures are possible; without any kind of rational argument for one procedure over another, the adoption of any one procedure appears arbitrary (although in fact most alternative procedures systematically yield the same results as the above, because of inherent properties of the integer series). Helyn Hitchcock, for instance, uses a different procedure from most other contemporary numerologists, although the reasons for this difference are not clear.

In addition, all familiar numerological systems employ Base-10. This may possibly be defended in terms of the fact that in most societies which employ alphabetic writing Base-10 is the norm; but this point threatens any attempt to claim universal status for numerology.

However, the most major issue arising here for skeptical linguists is the significance – often ignored or unconvincingly handled by numerologists – of the varied and changing membership and ordering of the alphabetic letters forming names. For example, the Greek alphabet has no letter C; its third letter (gamma) is the equivalent of G. Greek words and names were borrowed into Latin, which is written with a modified Greek alphabet, the Roman alphabet (now, of course, also used for English and many other languages). In this new alphabet, G was replaced by C (which largely replaced kappa/K) in third position and was itself reinserted in seventh position. Presumably, the numerical values associated with the various letters should differ according to whether the name or word in question was used before or after this and other such changes; thus G should have the value 3 for words used before the change and 7 for words used after the change; and the values for all letters following G should be different after the change. However, many words were used in both periods, resulting in the generation of rival scores for the same words.

A further issue arises with names which are common to various languages spelled with different versions of the alphabet with different total numbers and/or different orderings of letters. This applies especially to languages where fewer letters are used than in English, potentially affecting the numbers assigned to all letters conventionally listed after the first ‘missing’ letter. For example, native Italian words (including names) cannot feature J, K, W, X or Y. A further, similar issue arises where different alphabets are in use. Many names are shared between languages usually written in different scripts, for instance between English and Russian (Cyrillic alphabet), and are used by bilinguals. Names such as Ivan will naturally be associated with different numbers in the two languages; for instance, the Cyrillic letter B, corresponding with V, appears in third position. Some Cyrillic letters have no direct Roman equivalent and vice versa, complicating matters further: digraphs such as Roman ts are used outside numerology in transliterating these letters, and rival transliteration systems often exist.

A standard general-skeptical response to numerology as a whole is the position that, since numbers possess no genuine occult meanings and since by themselves they can have no significant influence on life, numerology is essentially superstition masquerading as science.

There are also various more specific non-standard theories of this nature. One of these is ‘acrophonology’ (variously spelled in its own literature), dealing with the alleged astrological and mystical significance of names. The name of the theory suggests that it relates especially to names as pronounced rather than written, but in fact the discussion is entirely of spelling; the title is thus misleading. As the morpheme acro-suggests, there is a strong focus here upon initial letters. For example, Laurie Baum treats people whose names begin with A as likely to be initiators and builders. Baum (an American) assumes the first-middle-last name structure for personal names as a given; and she does not discuss the issue of the changing and varying membership and ordering of alphabets, as introduced above.

Mary Scott ‘found’ a code hidden in the letters of the Roman alphabet as used to write English. Each letter allegedly has a spiritually significant meaning, and the spiritual meanings of entire words are composed of the meanings of the individual letters. These meanings apply whether a text was originally composed in English or in another language; Scott’s leading examples are Biblical texts translated from the Hebrew psalms. She pays little attention to other languages, even those written in essentially the same alphabet, and urges that the forms used in older English Bibles be preserved, since these communicate essential spiritual meanings which are lost if the spelling is altered.

More next time!


2 Responses to texts and scripts 3 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 8)

  1. Mark,

    How do you find all of the people you discuss? Have they all written books and do you read each of their books? Do you only study the best known people in each subject and how do you know who they are? I have never heard of almost everything you have discussed so far.

    Kenneth Greifer

    • marknewbrook says:

      Thanks, Kenneth!  Well, I have been seeking & gathering material in a focused manner since 1995!   And I have at least partly read all these works.  I guess I have made it my business to be that are bird, a skeptical linguist (among other things!).  As I never had a career as such, only jobs, I have had the freedom to do this.  Cheers!  Mark

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