A German egyptologist claims to have deciphered the Voynich Manuscript. Does this solution make more sense than the dozens that have been published before.

The Voynich Manuscript is not only the most popular cipher mystery in the world and the number one on my Top 50 Unsolved Cryptograms list, but also the cryptogram that has been deciphered the most often.

Source: Beinecke Library

Voynich solutions

I guess that at least 60 Voynich solutions have been published over the last 100 years, with none of these having been accepted by crypto experts. I am not aware of a list containing all alleged Voynich decipherments and I don’t think anybody will ever be interested in compiling one. An incomplete list has been published by René Zandbergen, who is my view the world’s leading Voynich expert.

The problem is that if one assumes a complicated encryption method (e.g., a MASC with homophones, polyphones, nulls, and abbreviations) and/or an exotic plaintext language (e.g., a lost Armenian dialect from the middle ages), it is always possible to “decrypt” text passages from the Voynich manuscript into something that looks more or less meaningful. For this reason, I’m always suspicious when I hear about a new Voynich decipherment.

Source: Schmeh

If you happen to have solved the Voynich Manuscript, too, I recommend doing two things:

Of course, there are many other online sources about the Voynich Manuscript. Especially, I recommend the Voynich site and discussion forum of my friend and blog reader Richard SantaColoma.


Yet another solution

This morning, Google Alerts made me aware that the Voynich Manuscript is mentioned in a new press article. Blog readers Ralf Bülow and Thorsten Voß informed me about this publication, too.

As it turned out, the article in question was published on the news portal of the German TV and radio station NDR. It is titled: Voynich-Manuskript: Mittelalter-Code übersetzt (“Voynich Manuscript: Middle Ages Code Translated”).

I was not especially pleased about this headline. As the NDR receives a big part of its funding from a quasi-tax, one would expect serious journalism instead click-baiting. Announcing a world sensation (the solution of the Voynich Manuscript is nothing short of this) without thorough verification certainly doesn’t fall into this category.

The NDR article announcing the decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript leads to a (German) paper written by German egyptologist Prof. Dr. Rainer Hannig. Apparently, Hannig has followed René’s advice to make a description of the solution available online. I don’t know if he has already taken the test I suggested.

Like most Voynich solvers, Hannig was as good as unknown to Voynich experts before he published his alleged solution. I have never met him at a crypto conference, and I am not aware of any crypto-related publications he authored.

However, contrary to most other Voynich decipherers, Hannig has an academic background and appears to be a well respected scientist.

Hannig’s solution is mainly based on linguistics, not on cryptography. In other words, he doesn’t believe that that creator of the Voynich Manuscript used an encryption method, but that the text was written in a natural language in a non-standard way. The language Hannig thinks the manuscript is written in is Hebrew. Here is a line-by line German translation of a paragraph he provides:

1. „Sicherlich, Nymphaea ist der Zwilling. Genug Saft in der Spitze. Trink
2. vorsichtig (?), das ist wie (etwas), das liefert Geist. Wird kommen Saft mit
3. Wiederholung (?). Saft ermöglicht sprechen Prophezeiung …
4. wie rebellieren in Gegenwart von Propheten
5. Alles, was in Griechisch darüber ist Schweigen ohne sprechen. Bim
6. nicht sprechen (über) Saft, sprach: grabe doch …
7. …
8. … Gesprochen in Arabisch

To my regret, I’m not a linguist, and so it’s always difficult for me to judge a Voynich hypothesis that is mainly based on language and writing considerations. Can a reader say more about Hannig’s decipherment attempt?

As mentioned, I’m always supsicous when I hear about a new Voynich solution – I have simply seen too many false ones before. Is Rainer Hannig’s approach finally the right one? We will see. I hope that people with more linguistic expertise than I have will answer this question.

Further reading: Missing pages of the Voynich Manuscript discovered

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Kommentare (9)

  1. #1 George Lasry
    18. Juni 2020

    I tried to follow some of the Hebrew examples, and they are not easy to understand. A scholar with knowledge of Hebrew writings from that specific period could validate the (allegedly) translated segments. Another problem is that in Hebrew, you often do not include vowels, so you are left with consonants and there is more freedom for interpretation.

    The key criteria would be to take some random segments, apply the alphabet proposed, and see if the resulting texts make sense (this can only be established by an expert on Middle Age Hebrew texts).

    Maybe Moshe Rubin could comment on that.

  2. #2 Jerry McCarthy
    England, Europa...
    18. Juni 2020

    Having worked on both Hebrew and Arabic font generation, I find it interesting that he has managed to work in the final consonants, where they differ from the other positions in a word.

    An initial scan doesn’t find me any reference to the nikúd/niqqud (the dots optionally used to show vowels).

  3. #3 Richard SantaColoma
    18. Juni 2020

    I do not speak German, but I could derive certain basic concepts with this work. In my opinion, these clearly show that this cannot be a correct translation of the Voynich. I would categorize them this way:

    1) Repeatable? Multiple Hebrew meanings assigned to the same VMs characters; and multiple VMs characters assigned the same Hebrew meaning:

    The VMs double “c” can be Hebrew “m” or “n”.
    The “gallows” can be “k”, “t”, “p”, “ke”, “l”, and others…
    … and so on.

    Such variables mean that any translation using them will necessitate and allow a high degree of speculation in determining which ones to use; but is necessary in order to allow the translator to derive any meaning at all from the highly repetitive Voynich. I see this a lot… I mean, the repetitive Voynich demands it, if seen as a language, or as simple substitution for that matter. Any attempt at translation must do one of two things: Allow a high degree of variability to allow a meaningful output, which then ruins any chance of repeatability by others; or the opposite: Accept the repetitive nature of the work, and so accept an output with a high degree of repetition (for example, “duck duck pillow cook duck duck moon pillow sun sun sun”). This current translation falls somewhere in between the two…. giving enough variability to avoid grossly repetitive output, but still shoot for some meaning. Which leads to:

    2) Meaning? Even the proposer here has noted that this is problematic. For example, they list some translations:

    “1. Certainly, Nymphaea is the twin. Enough juice in the top. Drink
    2. careful (?), That’s like (something) that delivers mind. Will come with juice
    3rd repetition (?). Juice allows speak prophecy …
    4. How to rebel in the presence of prophets
    5. Everything in Greek about it is silence without speaking. Bim
    6. do not speak (about) juice, said: dig …
    8. … Spoken in Arabic”

    And then they note, “As you can easily see from the lack of words and the blurry meaning, not all difficulties have been solved so far.”

    So that is an indication the well-meaning translator has seen the problem that everyone will meet: It is so far impossible to balance an output with a “lack of words and the blurring meaning”, and this cannot be solved unless one adds FURTHER variability, and ever increasing complexity of “grammar” systems to allow for them. I do admire that they stopped there, but this does fall under one category of attempted translations of the cursed Voynich: The translation proposer realizes the problems, and really has given up and admitted this… but they have not entirely excepted that this is a sign that they are on the wrong track.

    In any case, this translation clearly does not fulfill both of the rules I have derived from the various works of the Friedmans, which I paraphrase and simplify into the below. Any translation of any work must fulfill both #1 and #2 at the same time:

    1) Repeatable: By someone given a lexicon and set of rules, grammar, and/or system of deciphering, translation and/or decoding, must be able to repeat the results of the proposer.

    2) Meaning: The output of above #1 must have meaning in some context.

    In my experience, studying dozens of such proposals relating to the Voynich, there are those translations which fall into one of the above categories, but none that come close to falling into both. That would be a solution, and we have not seen one, and this is no exception.

    Now the below is not related to this translation proposal, directly, but I point it out because it is one of the many false assumptions, based on poor and incomplete information found on the internet, which causes a great many people to waste precious life-hours, as they begin their investigations on a faulty, error-filled foundation. The author writes (Google Translation) about, and counters, the fake possibility:

    “4. A meaningless string of letters in order to simulate a natural language (thus a fake):

    “Because of the length of the manuscript and its complexity (illustrations in the style of the 15th century; still slightly schematic plant pictures with roots that signal the medical effect7 etc.), modern counterfeiting (variant c) can be excluded with certainty. This is indicated by the C14 dating to the early 15th century (between 1404 and 1438).”

    There are several problems with this: Length and complexity do not “exclude with certainty” a modern fake, as there are many cases of fakes that are long and complex (made for a multitude of purposes). Besides which, any such “complexity” is a speculative concept, as others can analyze the same characters, classifying them in different ways, and see it as a very simplistic, repetitive work. The same with the illustrations: They can speculatively be deemed accurate or not; complex, or not; genuine or fanciful; of high quality, or not, and so on. So to base any judgement on the era and/or authenticity of the work can only be based on a highly variable and speculative assessment of the text and illustrations.

    Also, the C14 dating does not date the Voynich, it only dates the calfskin it is constructed from. There are many cases in which parchment, paper, and other writing materials have been used up to hundreds of years after they were constructed. As a related note, Wilfrid himself was one of the best-placed persons to have access to such materials, as he purchased the Libreria Franceshini in 1908, which contained up to a half a million items of every type, including scrap.

    But in short, I would say that we know little with “certainty”, most of all those things which go beyond the few “certains” we do know, and into the realm of opinion. But again, the problem (as I see it) is that all new Voynich researchers are saddled with a set of such claimed “expertly determined” absolutes, which they will not have the time, energy, nor resources to take, to set their own, more accurate foundations, on which to start their work. I won’t use the terminology of the famous phrase about computer programming, as I in no way want to impugn the fine attempt of this earnest proposer, but rather I will paraphrase it, “If you use bad information to input; you will only get faulty results”.

  4. #4 Michael
    18. Juni 2020


    “I do not speak German, …”

    Dann können Sie die Arbeit auch nicht beurteilen. Sie haben so oder so einiges in den falschen Hals bekommen (das Konzept des Begadkefat, b g d k p t z. B.).

    Nebenbei: der Ansatz von Professor Hannig ist bis jetzt der beste, den ich gesehen haben.

    Sie sollten auf die englische Übersetzung warten.

  5. #5 Torsten Timm
    19. Juni 2020

    In short, Hannig argues that it is possible to read the Voynich text as Hebrew but unfortunately the Hebrew transcription of the text is missing in his paper.

  6. #6 Knox
    19. Juni 2020

    “Arabic Solution”
    Critique by Bernd Neuner somewhere on vms.list

    Twenty years ago:
    “The layered word structure does not obviously match the word structure of Indo-European languages. Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, or Ethiopian could berhaps be transliterated into Voynichese, but not by any straightforward mapping.”
    –Jorge Stolfi, A Grammar for Voynichese Words
    Last edited on 2000-06-14

    My opinion:
    (1) Some VMs words might have been patterned on Semetic word structure. One scenario would have the manuscript given to Rudolph2 by Rabbi Lowe from archives. (2) Even ignoring letter assignments, freely but consistently mapping VMs words to words in any language will yield gibberish.

  7. #7 Richard SantaColoma
    20. Juni 2020

    Hi, Michael:

    “Dann können Sie die Arbeit auch nicht beurteilen. Sie haben so oder so einiges in den falschen Hals bekommen (das Konzept des Begadkefat, b g d k p t z. B.).”

    You are welcome to believe that, but you would be incorrect. Whether or not I can read or write German becomes irrelevent once the principles of this proposal are understood. And, they are, by me. Any further nuances past the point of knowing why it fails, as I carefully explained, are moot points.

    I stand by my dissection, and rejection, of this as any sort of correct translation.

    It is also irrelevant… past that point of understanding… what the structure of Begadkefat is and how it works. First of all, it is a very easy matter to understand, as most concepts are, with a simple search. But before any such comparison of the Voynich script to the structure of Hebrew… or, for that matter, Latin, Egyptian, Czech, Walloon… whatever is proposed, it does not matter, past a certain point, in which the proposer of any solution allows and demands for the reader an infinite amount of speculative latitude in order to tailor output to a desired one, whether or not the decisions along the way are conscious, or subconscious.

    And that is clear here. The author of this work, as with many other (so similar it is hard to tell them apart), “The proposer of this solution allows and demands for the reader an infinite amount of speculative latitude”, which then renders any results they offer, useless. My knowing more German or Hebrew grammar is not going to change that situation one iota.

    “Nebenbei: der Ansatz von Professor Hannig ist bis jetzt der beste, den ich gesehen haben.”

    I would be interested to know what translation you are comparing this to, then? To Cheshire’s? Or one of dozens of others, like this? But rather than that, I would be more interested in knowing if you actually put this to the test, yourself? Here is how you could do this:

    Ask the author, Hannig, to specify a passage from the Voynich… pick a page, and a “paragraph”, and have him “translate” it, and not show you the results. Then, you do the same, on the same paragraph, without seeing his results. Use his “system”, and (multiple, variable) character assignments, and rules, and so on. Then, after you are both done, compare the end plain text translations. If:

    1) Your results, and his, are the same, you have repeat-ability, and have met the first requirement for proof of the system. I don’t mean for the two results to be similar in some ways, or some aspects… nor that they should be “adjusted” after the fact, by comparing and “fixing” your results, and his, to match better. I mean they have to be the same. This is important, because no person meaning to communicate information in the Voynich would practically want two readers to come up with two different results.

    2) If the two results, yours and Hannig’s, are the same, they have to have some meaning in some context. So far, even the results given by the author, in his work, have little or no meaning. Maybe in this test you will fare better?

    And both the above criteria are met, then Hannig has solved the Voynich, and you are correct. But as it stands, as I said, I stand by my opinion, as stated above, this is a failure. I’m not saying, by the way, that it is any worse than any other of it’s type, and I think it is well meant, and an intelligent and careful one, too. But it is of a certain “type” that I have seen a great many times before, for over ten years now, and it goes something like this:

    The author notes some similarity to several of the characters in the Voynich to some “real” characters known in linguistics. Sometimes, as happened here, they mistakenly give weight to one of the transcriptions… such as EVA, and so on… thinking that those Latin characters are meant as possible substitutes. But in any case, the author realizes, early on, that simply substituting characters will result in grossly repetitive nonsense. But rather than give up, they begin to give some room for “adjustment”: By allowing multiple character values for one Voynich character; and/or give multiple Voynich characters one plaintext value. Usually, both in some combination. They they draw from “rules” of linguistics, from usually more than one linguistic background, because one language alone will not provide the necessary latitude to “morph” the results into any usable, recognizable meaning.

    Then they take these substitutions and rules, and begin “plugging them into” the Voynich script, until some “meaning” begins to emerge. This is hopeful! So they continue “adjusting” the rules, the substitutions… maybe it is a voweless construct? Maybe here, but not there? Perhaps a Vms character changes its value when at the beginning, or end? Maybe this one means this from Hebrew, but that, from Czech, or even Latin, or French? Words like “polyglot” creep in, and “imaginative writer”, and “hidden rules” to explain the attempt hide dark secrets.

    But what the author of the proposer loses in all this is: They have created the plain text output. They have, not any Voynich author. Because it is not there. They have given themselves so many adjustable values, so many rules to use, then discard, when needed, that there is absolutely no way that another person could ever repeat their results. Sometimes this is explained because they have a special “insight”, that is the same as the VMs author, that no one else understands. Sometimes it is said that the critique who cannot repeat their results is just not expert enough in some field… linguistics, or the specific linguistics necessary “here”. Maybe if they were French, or knew ancient Greek, or understood enough German (!), or studied and learned Begadkefat (!) as the proposer did, THEN and only then would they realize…

    … that this, finally, is the correct solution.

    No, I’m sorry Michael, I’ve seen it all before, and can understand enough of this paper to realize completely this is a very similar… if smart, informed, knowledgeable, intelligent and well-meant attempt… it is clear to me that this is of that type, and another unfortunate failure. But as I also wrote, and I mean, if you think, “Nebenbei: der Ansatz von Professor Hannig ist bis jetzt der beste, den ich gesehen haben”, I respect that, but would suggest you give it the test I describe above, before committing your reputation on it. I’m throwing you a life-line here, I mean.

    “Sie sollten auf die englische Übersetzung warten.”

    I would counter with, “You should read at least six or eight of almost identical ‘solutions’ such as this one, so that you will, like me, understand the nature of such attempts: why and how they are born, and why they don’t work”.


  8. #8 Jutta Kellner
    25. Juni 2020

    Diese 64 Seiten von Herrn Prof. Hanning unterscheiden sich im Grundansatz von keinem bisherigen 08-15-Verschlüsselungsansatz. Die Arbeit strotzt von Annahmen, Wunschdenken und an den Haaren herbeigezogenen Interpretationen.
    Wenn es denn eine semitische Sprache gewesen wäre, dann hätte sie Becks damals schon gefunden, was er aber nicht hatte. Aber Prof. Hanning setzt sich hin, definiert 5 Voynich-Zeichen als Vokale, verweist auf EVA, wobei dieser Ansatz schon in sich zu verwerfen ist (hat bis heute keine Lösung hervorgebracht, außer einen Arbeitskreis zu definieren), und beginnt, um einen semitischen Ansatz zu erhalten, diese Vokale aus den “Voynich-Wörtern” zu löschen. Wahrlich genial. Wenn es ein semitischer Text wäre, dann wäre er von Beginn an ohne Vokale geschrieben worden!

    Er hat sich auf Seite 5 seiner Arbeit dazu entschieden eine “natürliche Sprache ohne Kodierung, aber einer neuen Schrift” anzunehmen, da seine gesamte Arbeit zeigt, dass er nicht ansatzweise den Intellekt besitzt einen Code zu knacken.

    Er schreibt es müsse Anmerkungen zu Besonderheiten geben – welche denn? Wenn eine Übersetzung sauber funktioniert, dann taucht dieses Problem nicht auf!

    Aber unterirdisch ist die Ausführung bereits auf Seite 4 wo er beschreibt, dass er eine Transkription von Glen Claston mit EVA korrigiert. Schlimmer geht´s nimmer. Eine Annahme wird mit einer Annahme korrigiert!

    Diese Ausarbeitung ist noch schlimmer als der Ansatz, das VM sei Protoromanisch und lässt Schlimmstes bei der Übersetzung der Ägyptischen Hieroglyphen vermuten.

    Nebenbei sei bemerkt, dass sein Ausflug in die Historie der Juden in Europa von Fehlern strotzt, er sollte vielleicht erst einmal Fachliteratur zu diesem Thema studieren, bevor er es öffentlich macht.

    Weitere Ausführungen hierzu sind verschwendete Zeit.

  9. #9 suter
    30. Juni 2020

    I will differ from all above in that I am largely uneducated about and ignorant of the niceties of linguistic decryption. However, as an artist concerned with identities of visual form, I am convinced there are definite connections , implying intentional
    “meaning” in a certain sense, with archaic imagery – including the very ancient, which of course includes Egyptian works. To me, all signs point to an earthly location; as a result, I expect there are savants who will try to distract attention from that conclusion because it is untenable politically: essentially a “pandora’s box” in the full etymologic decryption of that word.