For centuries, people have been looking for secret messages that are hidden in books, songs played backward, funny-looking Martian mensas1, or some other objects. Some believe that hidden messages in the Bible cannot be just coincidence — they must have been put in there deliberately by God himself.

The hunt for hidden messages has been popularized in modern times by the book The Bible Code2. It was written by American journalist Michael Drosnin, who claims that the Hebrew Bible contains a very complex code that reveals events that took place thousands of years after the Bible was written. Drosnin contends that some foretold events later happened exactly as predicted. Drosnin asserts that the Bible also contains hidden messages that predict the future.

cover van boek over bijbelcodes
Michael Drosnin's book The Bible Code (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1997) revived the hunt for secret messages in the Bible.
artikel van The Sun over bijbelcodes
The Bible Code has been reviewed widely and has stimulated pieces in Newsweek, Time and Sun. Drosnin has also been making the rounds of the talk-show circuit, including the Oprah Winfrey Show in June. Time said that Warner has reportedly bought the movie rights.

To find hidden messages, Drosnin makes use of a simple technique: start at a given letter in a text and repeatedly step a fixed number of letters forward of backward. Consider the verse in the Book of Genesis (King James Version): 31:28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. If you start at the R in daughters, and skip over three letters to the O in thou, and three more to the S in hast, and so on, the hidden message Roswell is revealed! A companion hidden message — UFO — is found by starting at the U in thou, and repeatedly stepping forward 12 letters. This can't be a coincidence, no?

Bible verse Genesis 31:28 (King James Version) "And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Thou hast now done foolishly in so doing." contains the word Roswell if we start reading at the R in daughters, and skip over three letters to the O in thou, and three more to the S in hast, and so on. The word UFO is found if we start reading at the U in thou, and repeatedly step forward 12 letters.

The claim that no human could have encoded the Bible in this way and that the messages cannot be just coincidence, has been questioned many times. Some critics of Drosnin say the journalist is just data mining: in any text a large amount of hidden messages can be found using Drosnin's technique and a little bit of creativity. Michael Drosnin responded to the criticism in Newsweek, by stating that "When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I'll believe them". Mathematician Brendan McKay of Australian National University and his colleagues took up the challenge, and proved that this really is not all that challenging3.


Proteins are large biological molecules consisting of a long chain of amino acid residues. There are 20 amino acids that are used by living cells to build proteins, which are all represented by a capital letter (only the capitals B, J, O, U, X and Z do not correspond to an amino acid). Because the proteins that are encoded in the human genome can be represented in this was as strings of uppercase letters, Drosnin's technique is also applicable to search for hidden messages encoded in man itself.

The Latin phrase alea iacta est (the die is cast) is mainly known because it was used in 49 BC by Julius Caesar as he led his army across the river Rubicon. With this step, he entered Italy at the head of his army in defiance of the Senate and began his long civil war against Pompey and the Optimates. All words of this phrase are for example hidden in the protein sequence


which is part of a protein complex that allows us to smell. If we start at position 21 and successively skip 4 positions forward, we read the word ALEA. The same word can also be found by starting at the same position and successively skipping 11 positions forward. We may also start at position 36, and successively skip 11 positions backward to find a third occurrence of the word ALEA. The following table shows that the same protein also has two occurrences of the word IACTA and two occurrences of the word EST.

start step length word
21 4 4                      A   L   E   A                       
21 11 4                      A          L          E          A  
36 -11 4    A          E          L          A                    
27 -6 5    A     T     C     A     I                             
27 6 5                            I     A     C     T     A     
29 -10 3          T         S         E                           
29 8 3                              E       S       T           

To find similar secret messages in a given protein sequence, you may proceed as follows:


>>> isaminoword('ALEA')
>>> isaminoword('iacta')
>>> isaminoword('Proline')


>>> positions(protein, 'A')
[3, 21, 28, 33, 36, 51, 54]
>>> positions(protein, 't')
[8, 9, 18, 41, 45]

>>> proteincode(protein, 21, 11, 4)
>>> proteincode(protein, 27, -6, 5)
>>> proteincode(protein, 29, 8, 3)
>>> proteincode(protein, 0, 25, 6)

>>> proteinsearch(protein, 'ALEA')
[(21, 4), (21, 11), (36, -11)]
>>> proteinsearch(protein, 'iacta')
[(27, -6), (27, 6)]
>>> proteinsearch(protein, 'EST')
[(29, -10), (29, 8)]
>>> proteinsearch(protein, 'EST', maxstep=8)
[(29, 8)]
>>> proteinsearch(protein, 'Proline')
Traceback (most recent call last):
AssertionError: invalid amino word
Traceback (most recent call last):
AssertionError: invalid amino word