Secret Writing, continued.
(Books #6: August 4, 1999)
Games with Codes and Ciphers
Pallas's book is different from either Gaines's or Gardner's. Pallas gives only limited tutorial material on the structures of several useful cryptograms and then poses examples as narrative problems. This is a very friendly approach to codebreaking that truly does make a game or puzzle of it all. He covers a number of very interesting encryption systems, most of which involve graphical or visual solutions, like templates or grilles.
Though the book seems to have been written for intermediate-age school children, the problems are engaging enough to challenge almost anyone. They do require a little work.
Pallas emphasizes that while the codes in the book are usable and useful, they aren't really very secure. But he does include an interesting discussion on choosing an encryption system that meets your needs—ease of use vs. security. I enjoyed this approach.
This book is fun. I bought it at the same time as the other two because I didnt know what each would really be like. If I had to have only one, Pallas's book would be a good compromise between applicability and general information on codes. It would be a great stocking-stuffer for an alert child (or adult). I could easily see a codebreaking club formed as a result of reading Pallas's book.
Gaines's, Gardner's, and Pallas's books, and several others on codes and ciphers, are published by Dover Books in unusually handsome but inexpensive paperbacks. You can obtain them directly from the publisher. Write for one of Dover's interesting catalogs.
All Bible excerpts are from The New English Bible.
And from the Good Book...The Bible is a book full of secret writing. It would only be expected–from a God who keeps Himself separated from His creation by sight would naturally come words veiled in mystery. It is not His words that are hidden, but His meanings:
The incident that generated this very enlightening edict from God began as a jealous bid by Miriam and Aaron to elevate themselves to the same status as Moses, God's friend.
This pattern, speaking through prophets in riddles, forms the basis of God's communication with man throughout the Mosaic Dispensation, and even through today.
An interesting example of code, in the form of symbols, is
found in Joshua 4, 1-7:
Hundreds of years later, when Israel had lost consistent contact with God in the time of the Judges, God used secret writing to convince one young man to follow His instructions. The man was Gideon; the task was to engage and defeat the Midianite army; the message was written in dew on a sheepskin. To read the remarkable arrangement of the code and its key, read The Book of Judges, chapter 6.
During the same period of time, about three hundred years punctuated by regular rises and falls of Israel's economic and spiritual fortunes, another man used secret writing to toy with his enemies. The story of Samson's riddle is told in Judges chapter 14. The riddle, itself, is not the exciting part of the story, but the way the riddle was solved by Samson's enemies.
Again, very much later, the Nation of Israel was being held captive in Babylon. Systematically the Jewish culture was being broken down by the Babylonians and the Jewish people were being assimilated into this pagan culture–not as full citizens, but as a slave class.
King Belshazzar was holding an orgiastic feast and using sacred
Jewish tabernacle articles as common plates and cups. They drank
toasts to their gods with them.
During the drunken merriment there appeared, quite suddenly,
the fingers of a human hand. It wrote on the plaster of the wall in
plain sight of everyone. The king saw the writing hand and became
limp with fear and began to tremble.
But none of his wise men, exorcists, or diviners were able to
decipher the written words. One of them remembered a Jew, a man
named Daniel, who was skilled at interpreting dreams. They called
him to the scene and asked him to translate this message:
To read the interpreted message you'll need to read Daniel, chapter 5. The story is terrifying, but also remarkable. Is this fragment of writing a code, or is it a tiny sample of the original language, from times before the Tower of Babel? No matter which, it is secret writing.
In the Bible's New Testament Jesus used parables, seemingly
simple stories, to teach God's word to the people He encountered. In
one case his own apostles (disciples then) asked Him a significant
question about his teaching methods:
Perhaps the greatest example of secret writing is the New Testament book of prophecy, The Revelation of John. Here is an entire book of God's word, revealed to us in secret writing. But there is a difference here—no key is provided, no interpretation is given.
Why would God use secret writing? The answer is still found in His talk with Miriam, Aaron, and Moses in Numbers chapter 12, and in Jesus' answer to His disciples' question in Matthew chapter 13. God uses secret writing–secret meanings, really–to reveal His truth to simple, faithful believers and to conceal it from the merely curious. His codes reveal the true believers.
Cryptography is a fascinating study. You can read more about it
by enquiring on one of the internet search engines. You'll be
fascinated at the subjects covered and the tremendous amount of
To get the most from your Bible reading, may I suggest that you ignore the verse notations and read in paragraphs; read only for what's written in the passage, not to affirm what you may have heard before; read at least one modern language translation, like The New International Version, and one older translation, like the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version. You can find several Bible translations in our Online Bookstore.
You can protect your valuable hardbound books with
our crystal clear polyester book jacket covers. See the
selection in our
See you next time for more reviews of interesting books. To read book reviews from previous issues see "Back Issues" in our "Library."
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