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Cracking the Voynich Code

The quixotic quest to read meaning in the patterns of a bizarre manuscript that has bedeviled scholars for years

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At the centennial conference, SantaColoma presented these three observations, to the expected objections of the other scholars. Their objections boiled down to one: the slippery slope. If it could have been written in the 17th century, what’s wrong with saying it was written in the 20th century? Because he is a man who considers all possibilities, SantaColoma went home with their objections and seriously considered them. Indeed, what is wrong with saying that it was written in the 20th century? he wondered. “There is a nagging sense of newness in the manuscript,” he explained. “So people say, well, it looks new, but it can’t be new, so it must be old! But why?” he continued to ask. He recalled Robert Brumbaugh, who wrote about the Voynich in the 1970s, saying that the manuscript looked less like Bacon than like someone trying to make it look like Bacon.

But if it was not a 17th-century fantasy text, what then? Who in the 20th century could have cooked up such a hoax, and to what end? One man had the opportunity and the know-how: Wilfrid Voynich.

Voynich Manuscript

“I don’t want to sound crazy,” SantaColoma said, “but think about it: Voynich is a Polish revolutionary. He falls in love with Ethel Lillian Boole, an English girl working for the Russian revolutionaries. She has an affair with Sidney Reilly, the guy who James Bond is based on, a known forger, who took out books from the library on creating medieval ink. Voynich is set up in the book business, some say by the revolutionaries in order to overthrow the Russian aristocracy. There were other bizarre coincidences in his book-keeping. He had two copies of the Valturius, but only promoted one. The other was more primitive—was it a failed forgery? Voynich lived 1,300 feet from an Italian museum with 17th-century microscopes that look just like the ones in the Voynich. Are you telling me that this wonderful crazy man failed to make the connection between his mysterious manuscript and these 17th-century inventions, ruling out the possibility of a 15th-century manuscript?” SantaColoma then interrupted himself to speak to a gentleman at the table next to ours about a racing car he had overheard the man mention. (“I have one in my backyard! The trick is to keep all four wheels on the road.”)

He showed me pictures of the microscope in the Museo Galileo, just a short distance from Voynich’s Libraria. They look a lot like the tubes in the Voynich Manuscript. He points to two illustrations in the Voynich, one that looks curiously like an armadillo, and one that scholars have called a sunflower, both of which he says were New World discoveries, placing the Voynich squarely after 1492. And what about the letters mentioning the manuscript? Couldn’t Voynich, who knew of these letters, and the absence of a referent for them, have cooked up a book to look a lot like what was being described? Surely all the mystery surrounding where he purchased the book is consistent with such a narrative.

Finally, SantaColoma points out, the radiocarbon date is averaged out between all four samples, in other words, the date arrived at was done using a faulty assumption—that the book’s pages were created at the same time. As SantaColoma explained in an email, “if we had one sample only, from folio 68, the date of the Voynich would be circa 1365 to 1435, covering the range we know, but going back decades from it; and if it was one sample only from folio 8, from 1423 to 1495. So if the samples were not averaged, the range of dates given for the Voynich would have been 1365 to 1495, which as you see is quite a bit different than the announced ‘1404 to 1438’ range, which we learned was based on these average dates.”

Many experts believe that the key to the Voynich manuscript is just around the corner, but the “golden nugget,” as SantaColoma puts it, seems more likely to come from the honest skepticism he applies so liberally to his own thought processes than from an undiscovered document. If the Voynich Manuscript hides any meaning, surely it is that.


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The article has ZERO Jewish content. Not evena reference, remote or otherwise. Why’s it here?

Ater a while you figure out you have to scan these articles before wasting your time.

We think that a community of textual scholars trying to decipher a baffling manuscript is a set-up that has very clear parallels in Jewish life: Some people would say that IS Jewish life. So we don’t think it’s an accident, as the article relates, that the leading member of the interpretive community in question, William F. Friedman, is Jewish. If you want to read an article about specifically Jewish texts, you can find one here:

ajweberman says:

It says “Drink Ovaltine”

Habbgun says:

Actually I enjoyed this article and I hope Tablet has more articles like this one. The Voynich is famous among code crackers as one of the great challenges in either proving it a hoax, proving it at least legitimate or solving it all together. Documents are sometimes encoded wrong as well so that it may be legit but unsolvable for that reason.

I prefer this kind of article to pop culture articles even if the pop culture is by someone Jewish. If a rapper is Jewish it doesn’t mean that rap is worth writing about either but when they do no one complains. At least give something inherently interesting to many others a chance.

James Jones says:

Actually, Mrs. Friedman’s first name was Elizebeth. David Kahn, in _The Codebreakers_, mentions that her mother intentionally misspelled the name so that nobody would ever call her daughter “Liza”.

As a non-Jew but a reader of this site I thought the article was excellent.

dennisfisher says:

To draw out your nasty side?

TakuanSoho says:

While I can sympathize with the idea that this could be a forgery (forgers are quite an ingenious lot, and one would be wise to never doubt their ability), the length of the work would make me pause before accepting that conclusion. The same effect of this forgery could been accomplished in half the pages, so one has to marvel at the diligence of said forger. Another factor in its favor is that if the forger was its discoverer Wilfrid Voynich, I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t have directly attributed it to John Dee, rather than Kircher. From a marketing point of view, I think such an association would have greater retail value than tying it to Kircher. Dee was also a famous cryptographer and had ties with the Emperor Rudolf. Pairing Dee with Roger Bacon would be a great combination as well.

TakuanSoho says:

While I can sympathize with the idea that this could be a forgery (forgers are quite an ingenious lot, and one would be wise to never doubt their ability), the length of the work would make me pause before accepting that conclusion. The same effect of this forgery could been accomplished in half the pages, so one has to marvel at the diligence of said forger. Another factor in its favor is that if the forger was its discoverer Wilfrid Voynich, I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t have directly attributed it to John Dee, rather than Kircher. From a marketing point of view, I think such an association would have greater retail value than tying it to Kircher. Dee was also a famous cryptographer and had ties with the Emperor Rudolf. Pairing Dee with Roger Bacon would be a great combination as well.

Adrian Hope says:

MPG may have a point. I don’t see a strong connection to Jewish culture but I’m really glad you published the article. It’s by far the best on the subject that I’ve ever read and I’ve read quite a few.

Grigalem says:

Jean Shepherd – Little Orphan Annie code.

One of my favorite stories of all time!

Grigalem says:

You ARE correct, but you are boorish to point it out.

Anyway, the author is Jewish.

TomJV says:

Kudos for Batya Ungar-Sargon; she really has a knack for this sort of story – I also really enjoyed her article “The Mystery Stone”.

ajweberman says:

he does not get enough credit in A Christmas Story

韓国ドラマ 人気 says:

韓国ドラマ 人気私は助けるためにあなたのシェアは最高です、ありがとうございました!

stevemeikle says:

A Hoax? Probably. Does it matter? Probably not. One thing it is not is a Book containing All Wisdom. Looking for such a tome is indeed a futile task. The Hebrew Scriptures have enough wisdom in them for our purposes, but not All Wisdom, for the Almighty is not interested in indulging our gratuitous curiosity

Grigalem says:

Is it THAT hard to stay on topic? Is Christmas Story about a code? The rest of us are talking about codes. See the article.

ajweberman says:

Jean Shepard told a story about how he got a secret decoder ring after sending in wrappers from Ovaltine. He used the ring to decode a message on a program sponsored by Ovaltine. The message turned out to be D-R-I-N-K OVALTINE

disqus_kn8M0X6333 says:


disqus_kn8M0X6333 says:


josef zlatodej says:

Voynich manuscript is written and encrypted in the Czech language. From the beginning to the end. The manuscript began Anna Hlohovská. Wife of John II. of Rosenberg. The last entry in the manuscript Petr Vok of Rosenberg. Instructions for decryption is written on multiple sides of the manuscript. It is on the first page and the last page. Instructions are written in Czech language. As a whole manuscript. The manuscript describes the Czech history. Secret information of the Rosenbergs. Very delicate and secret information. ( I have translated many pages of the manuscript.)

Manuscript : describes life Jan Hus, life Jan of Lazy ( Czech alchemist), Rudolf II. ( Czech king), Anna of Regendorf, Tadeas of Hájek, Tycho de Brahe. And others. Describes the murder of a young Czech king Ladislaus.

Otherwise, I found this.

Habdank Michael Voynich manuscript deciphered .( The manuscript is written : Translated handwriting can only Jew. ( It is written on the last page).

josef zlatodej says:

Rosette ( page 86v Voynich Manuscript).

How to watch the big parchment. Rosette in the upper right corner.

Is written in the Czech language. Turn rosette. ( otoč rozetou).

When you turn the wheel to the left. Then connect the torso figure. Then omit the upper rosettes. A connecting leg figures. The name of the figure is written. Curled sentence. ( A spiral). The figure ( human) is woman. The woman waving hand on you. Hand movement is phased. ( phasing)( on several parts).

Figur holds in his hands. Two attributes Rosenbergs. Water and monkey. The rosette is also drawn fish. ( draw fish). The fish has two large eyes. A big smile. The castle is called Rosenberg.( as owner).

The castle is not preserved. He was destroyed. Remained only the tower.

The importance of great parchment, described in mine pages.

rsreenija says:

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A mysterious manuscript has plagued historians, mathematicians, linguists, physicists, cryptologists, curators, art historians, programmers, and lay enthusiasts alike since an antiquarian and book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich first began to mention it in his correspondence in 1912. Voynich maintained that it was the work of a 13th-century English philosopher, Roger Bacon. Written in an unknown script and replete with pictures and diagrams, and now residing at the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Voynich Manuscript has become a beacon for a secular community of quasi-Talmudic scholars whose interpretive ingenuity and stamina have few parallels.

rsreenija says:

Search for:

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rsreenija says:

The manuscript is a small book—23 x 16 centimeters (about the size of a small volume of Penguin Classics)—of around 240 pages. It is written in a code made up of an alphabet of between 20 and 30 characters, depending on the transcription. Most of the pages also bear illustrations: large-leafed plants, long tubes, astrological charts, a few goats, and many, many naked ladies bathing in pools and holding hands. Compared to the careful and sophisticated nature of the calligraphy, the drawings are primitive, even crude, a child’s assessment of the female form. (One of the women looks vaguely annoyed, her hands inserted into two pipes, a small beard sprouting from her chin.) The plants, like the language—dubbed “Voynichese”—give off a frustrating and titillating feeling of familiarity, one recorded by experts, many of whom concur when asked how they got hooked on the Voynich: “It just looked so easy,” they say.

rsreenija says:

Hyderabad i/ˈhaɪdərəbæd/ is the capital city of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Occupying 650 square kilometres (250 sq mi) on the banks of the Musi River, it is also the largest city in the state. As of 2011, the population of the city was 6.8 million with a metropolitanpopulation of 7.75 million, making it India’s fourth most populous city and sixth most populous urban agglomeration.

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Historically, Hyderabad was known for its pearl and diamond trading centres. Industrialisation brought major Indian manufacturing, research, and financial institutions to the city, such as the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, theNational Geophysical Research Institute, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and the National Mineral Development Corporation. The formation of an information technology (IT) Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by the state agencies attracted global and Indian companies to set up operations in the city. The emergence of pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries during the 1990s earned it the titles of “India’s pharmaceutical capital” and the “Genome Valley of India”. The Telugu film industry is based in Hyderabad.

lumiss says:

Most interesting read! Thank you!

Linda says:

Question. Anyone know why the manuscript talks about algea as a healing agent?

tricia says:

Hi – there’s some micrography on folio 9v.

Charles says:

I am currently deciphering the manuscript. If what I have uncovered so far is any indication of what I think, this manuscript is better left undisclosed.

The Voynich Manuscript is solved!


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Cracking the Voynich Code

The quixotic quest to read meaning in the patterns of a bizarre manuscript that has bedeviled scholars for years

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