Voynich-Artif-Bar - Kopie

Meanwhile over 50 scholars have claimed to have solved the Voynich Manuscript. The latest alleged solution was published earlier this week in a renowned literature magazine. Does it make sense?

The Kennedy murder and the Voynich Manuscript have one thing in common – both have been “solved” dozens of times by hobby researchers and investigators. However, while “solving” the Kennedy murder seems to have gone a little out of style, still one Voynich Manuscript solution is chasing the other. So far, I have introduced only three of these on my blog. It would be no problem to list 50 of them.


Yet another solution

A few days ago, another alleged Voynich Manuscript solution was published (thanks to Sven Rudloff, Tobias Schrödel, Eberhard Bauer, Stefan Fendt, Knut Junker, and Dr. Ralf Bülow for the hints). This time, the new theory is not the work of a hobby scientist, who has made available his findings on a private website. In fact, Nicholas Gibbs, who discovered this solution, is a professional history researcher. He has published his theory in a leading British literature magazine, which is closely tied to one of the most renowned newspapers in the world – the Times Literary Supplement. Apparently, Gibbs’ Voynich Manuscript solution is even the title story of the current issue.


On the one hand, never has a Voynich Manuscript solution been published in such a prominent magazine. On the other hand, no scientific magazine with peer review (such as the Cryptologia) has reported on this story. As long as no publication of this kind has accepted Gibbs’ findings, I remain skeptical.

Gibb’s article tells us a lot about bathing, medicine and herbariums in the Middle Ages. However, the actual solution is not explained in detail. According to Gibbs, the Voynich Manuscript is written in an abbreviated Latin with every letter standing for a word.

Apparently the following figure Gibbs calls the “diagram of nine illustrated spheres” played a key role in breaking the Voynich Manuscript code:


Though Gibbs writes a few lines about the alleged meaning of this diagram, it doesn’t become clear to me how he derived his alleged Voynich Manuscript solution from it.

There’s not much more of cryptographical interest I can find in the TLS article. Announcing a solution to one of the world’s most spectaccular mystery and then giving so little information is not necessarily what I call quality journalism.

It can be said that Gibbs’ alleged solution is one of the less spectacular ones. Other Voynich solvers believe that the manuscript was written in some old or lost language or that it was encrypted in a peculiar way. Still others even believe that the Voynich manuscript was written by extraterrestrials. None of these claim has ever been accepted by the Voynich experts.



Gibbs’ Voynich Manuscript theory has received a lot of attention in the Voynich scene. Almost all expert comments I have seen so far are negative. For instance, Nick Pelling included the following statement in a blog post titled What’s wrong with today’s Voynich theory?:

I could list a whole load of things that are wrong with this [solution], but I’d be typing all night on a TL;DR post and nobody would care. *sigh*

Most reactions on the Voynich Manuscript mailing list were negative, as well. Richard SantaColoma, another Voynich Manuscript expert and reader of this blog, posted a long list of “red flags” that make Gibbs’ solution suspicious. For instance, he wrote:

Author writes, “The foldout diagram of nine illustrated spheres found in the Voynich manuscript proved the key to understanding it… …The design, in spite of its Persian influence, is definitely Mediterranean in style and content.”

“Definitely”? Anyway, they note different influences here, but then, they stop. The Voynich shows reasonable comparisons to dozens of regions, cultures, styles, eras… but here we have two picked. In his work, he cherry picks several, which suit the theory, and ignores all the very many others.

As a reply to Richard’s comment, Julian Bunn wrote:

Nice analysis, Rich! You picked up on most of the things that jumped out at me, too. It does sound like he came up with this “solution” in isolation from the VMS community, and so had no peer review to help him get an idea of how much sense he was making. Why the press pick up these things from left field baffles me – and they make such a splash about them!

For those who speak German: Dr. Jürgen Hermes, another Voynich Manuscript expert and reader of this blog, wrote the following comment on Google+:

Die Theorie stützt sich ausschließlich auf die Illustrationen des Manuskripts und lässt die Besonderheiten des Textes (Entropie, Funktionale Zeileneinheiten, Wortbildungen) völlig außer acht. Es würde mich wundern, wenn man mit der vorgeschlagenen Methode mehr als fünf Zeilen findet, bei der eine Übersetzung passt. Aber um das wirklich auszuschließen, muss der Herr erst einmal mit Einzelheiten rausrücken.

I am of a similar opinion as almost all other Voynich Manuscript experts that published statements about this alleged solution. I am very skeptical, but don’t want to make a final judgement before Nicholas Gibbs has made availabe a detailed description of his alleged solution.

I wonder why such a renowned magazine as the Times Literary Supplement has published such a speculative article with so little content with the title “The Voynich manuscript: the solution”. Naming it “A New Voynich Manuscript Theory” would have been a lot more appropriate.

As frequent readers of this blog know, I recently published a test that helps to confirm the validity of alleged Voynich Manuscript solutions. I recommend Gibbs to take this test.

Further reading: Voynich manuscript: 898 official replicas and one unofficial one

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Kommentare (15)

  1. #1 seb
    9. September 2017

    gibs das auch noch mal in deutsch?

  2. #2 BREAKER
    9. September 2017

    Voy – I Go (in Spanish)

    Nicht – Not (In German)

    Living Art
    But Page
    To Serve His Witt

  3. #3 BREAKER
    9. September 2017

    Stay Passenger ……. Why Goest By Thou So Fast?


    Bonesman at Yale are so funny aren’t they?

    The man named Voynich was in question as to his actual identity and how Yale ended up with the manuscript for so long

  4. #4 BREAKER
    9. September 2017

    BTW here is the information used as a Blackmailing tool against the agents responsible for the Kennedy Assassination

  5. #5 Rich SantaColoma
    9. September 2017

    Hi Klaus: Thank you for the quote. If you think your readers would be interested (of course remove it if it is too much), I’ve copied my entire critique from FB:

    Here are some of [my problems]:

    “The cylinder-churns mentioned above are plainly medieval cooking stoves with inverted boiling vessels. Once again I was trawling through the woodcuts of two related books of the period when I came across an example of the stove on the title page of Das Buch Zu Distillern (1485), by the surgeon and botanist Hieronyus Brunschwygk (1450–1512).”

    The author says they are “plainly” these stoves, and yet when we look at the very illustration he refers to:


    … we see there is little similarity. They also write,

    “The square ventilation apertures are clearly visible in both drawings and woodcuts.”

    Well, yes… but where are they in the Vms “cylinders”? Rather than “plainly” being just like these stoves, I’d say it is one of the worst comparisons I’ve seen… and we’ve seen inkwells, perpetual candles, and of course, pharma and herbal jars.

    “Medieval lettering is notoriously fickle: individual letter variations, styles and combinations are confusing at the best of times.”

    Red flag again: When a theorist gives themselves this “out”, i.e., “Medieval/Renaissance/Old Stuff is really vague and hard to pin down, so the Voynich is, too… but I can tell what it is…”

    “The foldout diagram of nine illustrated spheres found in the Voynich manuscript proved the key to understanding it… …The design, in spite of its Persian influence, is definitely Mediterranean in style and content.”

    “Definitely”? Anyway, they note different influences here, but then, they stop. The Voynich shows reasonable comparisons to dozens of regions, cultures, styles, eras… but here we have two picked. In his work, he cherry picks several, which suit the theory, and ignores all the very many others.

    “The artists engaged in illustrating the Voynich manuscript ranged from the proficient to the downright naive.”

    Red flag again: “It was the best of works, it was the worst of works”.
    Anything that doesn’t look like what one wants, say the artist was bad, or a child, or didn’t care, or they didn’t care at the time it was written so it does not matter. But then, anything that matches one’s theory EXACTLY, well, that artist was then excellent! They got it just right! This theorist has a new twist on this: Both good and bad artists drew it!:

    “There appears to have been a different hand for each genre incorporated in it. The draughtsman responsible for the botany possessed a good sense of depth, while the colourist of the same images was slapdash, not with a brush but with a nib; the artist of various cylindrical and bulbous vessels had an eye for detail, but absolutely no sense of depth, and in stark contrast to the attached depictions of the root and leaf ingredients; while the artist of the nine spheres appears to have used an optical device.”

    Optical device! Well, yes, I feel this is most likely the case… but then, some theories pose a time when such optical devices were possible, while this one? What “optical device”? The camera lucida was not invented until about 1807. So, a camera obscura? And is he implying it is “from life”? But then, there is clearly no exact comparison to the ports and buildings they claim are being copied in them, so why do they think this in the first place?

    “It became obvious that each character in the Voynich manuscript represented an abbreviated word and not a letter.”

    But no translation, only a smattering of examples. As you know I often point out, the Friedman’s explained, a successful translation must be both repeatable by someone who only knows the system, and two, make sense. Most “solvers” know this, so we rarely see but a few words. Maybe I missed it, but this “solution” shows no translation, nor list of words to plug in, to do so oneself.

    “One other noticeable difference from the Herbarium Apuleius Platonicus is that not a single plant name or malady is to be found in the Voynich manuscript. This was problematic until I realized that not only had the folios of the manuscript been cropped (the images of flowers and roots have been severed and the tops of folios hacked) but, more importantly, the indexes that should have been there were now absent…. …Not only is the manuscript incomplete, but its folios are in the wrong order – and all for the want of an index.”

    Another “red flag”, i.e., “If my theory does not make sense, it is because stuff is missing or added. It WAS there, the proof is just gone now…”.

    There are many, many other problems with this. Many terms are thrown in there without explanation… many claims without evidence. The comparisons hinted at are not shown, and when looked up, are not good; the circles are called “spheres”; the mention of optics, without explanation; the claim that Pleiades is shown, without comparison; along with the noted ignoring of various large elephants in the room, and on.

    I only imagine that this person worked in isolation, as I did when I worked on my Drebbel theory. I mean, I don’t think he got any critical feedback, or if he did, he recoiled from it, and didn’t take it to heart.

  6. #6 Nick Pelling
    9. September 2017

    This kind of glib, navel-gazing, speculative, media-fuelled nonsense is what has poisoned the Voynich research well so comprehensively, and is part of the reason I don’t review crappy Voynich theories any more.

    Shame on the Times for gullibly publishing such ungrounded rubbish without even the semblance of fact checking. Articles like this waste everyone’s time, and are about as close to institutionalized trolling as you can get.

    There are probably ten thousand people the Times could have fact-checked this with, and they’d all have said basically the same thing. What a pathetic mess. :-(

  7. #7 Marc
    9. September 2017

    Ich hätte da eine Frage. Gibt es irgendwo Informationen zur Buchstabenhäufigkeit mittelalterlicher Sprachen bzw. inwiefern sich diese in einer Sprache über die Jahrunderte verändert hat ? Speziell suche ich nach Informationen über Italienisch.

  8. #8 Kattelkass
    9. September 2017

    Deutsch: Voynich Manuskript: Gähn.

    English: Voynich Manuscript. Yawn.

  9. #9 Thomas Ernst
    10. September 2017

    I have a detailed response to Nicholas Gibbs’ “detailed description of his alleged solution”. It contains four letters, Cesar substitution: D S B Q. Don’t misunderstand me – it’s a clever way to make your money, and climb the academic ladder. All you have to produce is: C R A P.

  10. #10 Torsten Timm
    10. September 2017

    Gibbs admits himself that he is only reading something into the manuscript. He wrote himself “But interpretation of such abbreviations depends largely on the context in which they are used.” If he would be able to read the text it wouldn’t be necessary to know the topic before reading it.

  11. #12 Charlotte Auer
    11. September 2017

    @ Marc

    Selbstverständlich gibt es solche Dinge wie Frequenz-Analysen, Lautverschiebung und sonstige linguistisch-statistische Untersuchungen zur Entwicklung von Sprachen über historische Zeiträume hinweg. Insbesondere die deutsche Sprache des Mittelalters weist da eine enorme Vielfalt auf, vor allem im südlichen Sprachgebiet zwischen dem südwestlichen Alemannischen bis hin zum südöstlichen Bairisch-Österreichischen in Tirol. Eine “einheitliche” Information gibt es nicht, da es keine einheitliche mittelalterliche Sprache gab.

    Italienisch als “einheitliche Landessprache” gab es zur Zeit der Entstehung des VM ebenfalls nicht, es existierten lediglich regionale Idiome, die teilweise so unterschiedlich waren, dass es sehr lange dauerte, bis sich durch Handel und den Einfluss der Kirche so etwas wie eine hinreichend gemeinsame Volkssprache durchsetzte. Die gemeinsame Sprache für Klerus und Verwaltung war einfach Latein, das nach und nach auch in die abgelegendsten Regionen getragen wurde,
    aber dem Klerus vorbehalten blieb, da nur ein ganz winzig kleiner Teil der Bevölkerung überhaupt Lesen und Schreiben konnte. Die lokalen Idiome blieben davon tatsächlich weitgehend unberührt und sind es sogar teilweise auch heute noch.

    Wenn du dir erhoffst, über statistische Analysen italienischer spätmittelalterlicher Texte den Voynich Codex zu knacken, dann muss ich dich enttäuschen. Das haben schon zahllose andere mit Null Ergebnis versucht, ganz einfach weil das VM nicht in Italienisch und auch nicht in Latein geschrieben ist. Denn würde das eine oder das andere zutreffen, dann hätte man schon längst eine zweifelsfrei saubere Transkription. Hat man aber nicht.

  12. #13 collider
    11. September 2017

    “The Atlantic” published an article about this as well: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/09/has-the-voynich-manuscript-really-been-solved/539310/

    If Gibbs needs Cappelli’s book to get an idea how medieval abbreviations work it is quite worrying. As a manuscript scholar you very rarely have to use the book since you get so used to the abbreviations.

    Furhtermore, Cappelli’s abbreviations cover a long time period and most of Europe, which means they weren’t in all in use at the same time and therefore most likely not known to late medieval/early modern scribes. One notices that when looking at copying mistakes in later manuscripts that are the results of misread abreviatiions.

    Of course, some “letters” look indeed very similar to specific symbols used for abbreviations in the late middle ages (e.g. Symbol for -us, symbol for -er/ir) and also the letters 4 (in the “half 8 form”) and propably 5 (in the form similar to modern 4) seem to appear (as loads of people have proabably pointed out already). I don’t think this would help to decipher the book, but do people think it helps to date the manuscript? The older forms for the numbers disappear during the second half of the 15th century.

    I would be grateful if someone could point out serious scholarship by medieval manusript experts on the book as an object (not so much on the content).

  13. #14 Josef Zlatoděj Prof.
    16. September 2017

    Klaus. The manuscript is written in Czech language. And decoded by Jewish substitution.
    In Germany, you do not have the chance to translate and understand the manuscript.
    Manuscript 408 is not alchemy, herbal, pharma, astrology.
    The manuscript was written by Eliška of Rosenberg.
    There is probably so much in common with Germany. She went to Germany. Her husband was. Hendrik Graaf van Hardegg. Machlade Vrijheer van Stettenberg. ( 1460 – 1513 ).
    She had 3 children wiht them. Ulrich Graaf van Hardegg ( 1485 – 1535 ). Johan Graaf van Hardegg ( 1485 – 1535 ). Julius van Hardegg ( 1500 – 1559 ). :-)

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