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The Decoding of Chapter 55

We can narrow the search for the text which includes the code to a small chapter in the book, “Apologia Poetica”. Chapter 55 is the last chapter in the first part of Apologia. When he first began to write the book, Bessler had no intention of writing it in two parts. So all necessary clues had already been built into part one, however as he says himself, he had to react to attempts by his enemies, Gärtner, Wagner and Borlach, to blacken his reputation and chose to add a second part to Apologia to refute the accusations made against him. Chapter 55 would have been the last chapter in the book, and not just the final chapter in part one and we may assume that this was the one he wanted to draw our attention to because it is numbered 55 and because of the large number of pieces of code that when deciphered simply reveal the number 55, for which there seems almost no other reason. Even though it was a later addition, the second part of Apologia Poetica includes a numbere of simple clues which also point to Chapter 55.

To narrow the search further we have to identify the particular part of Chapter 55 which is where the clues are hidden. The rhyming throughout the book, (224 pages) is written according to the AABB scheme, the first line rhyming with the second line - rhyming couplets. However part of the way into chapter 55 the rhyming changes to ABAB, the first and third lines rhyming, and the second and fourth, producing a four line stanza instead of the two line ones. The text reverts to rhyming couplets before the end of chapter 55, so this implies that the text within the four-line stanzas section is of significance and because it is the only part with this rhyming scheme it is reasonable to assume that it is this section which holds the key to unlocking the secret message.

Returning to the 55 theme, there are in total, only 54 stanzas in chapter 55, so one appears to be missing. On the first page of the “Declaration of Orffyreus”, which appears on the second page of chapter 55, commencing with the first four-line stanzas, there are 5 stanzas. On the five following pages there are 8 stanzas per page. So far then, there are 45 stanzas. Now on the penultimate page of chapter 55 there are only seven and a half stanzas – the total is now 52 and a half. Mostly there are 32 lines per page in Apologia, allowing 8 stanzas, but on the penultimate page of chapter 55, there is quite clearly a gap where the last two lines should be. The last two lines of the last four-line stanza on that page have been left blank. But turn over to the last page and there they are! This produces a six line stanza on the last page, instead of a four line one. Looking at the total of stanzas again we find 5 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 +8 + 7½ + 1½ = 54. Knowing of the repeated use of the number 55 why was there only 54? Was one stanza missing – or was it hidden? Perhaps two lines should have been added to the bottom of the penultimate page and two more at the top of the final page, making 55 in all? But there is no gap apparent at the top of the last page.

missing 2 lines
         The bottom of pages 126 & 127. Notice two rows on the right are missing

I speculated that by omitting the two lines on the penultimate page, he wished to draw attention to the fact that, on the last page the remaining stanza had six lines instead of four. This might lead someone to count the stanzas to see what figure was obtained and thus arrive at the number 54. The final verse on the last page ends with the word ‘Ende’ – ‘end’ in English; and since there are only 54 to that point, there would indeed seem to be a missing verse.

But what, I wondered, what could four lines of verse reveal? I thought it unlikely that an account of the construction of the wheel could have been packaged in such a small amount of text. The answer turned out to be quite simple. Having found two missing lines on the penultimate page of chapter 55, I re-examined the text and found two further single blank lines which I had ignored before, assuming that they were merely new paragraphs. So now I had my four blank lines, but what to do with them? I could not see any way to fill in the blanks and I was unable to make any further progress with them at the time. But there were other considerations to take into account which might possibly hold the key to further progress. 55 verses made 220 lines and attached to the ends of more than half of the lines in this section were 141 bible references to explain.

Put another way, the first page, 121, has 21 lines, because there is one blank line and five full four-line verses. The second page, 122, has 33 lines, because it too has a blank line plus the full eight four-line verses. Pages, 123,124, 125 and 126 have 32 lines and eight verses each. The penultimate page, 127, has 30 lines, plus the two missing lines - and seven and a half verses,. The last page, 128, has six lines and one and a half verses. This makes 54 verses as we have discussed elsewhere - and 220 lines. 


              The Bible References Examined


abbrev, Bible refs2
You can see in the above picture that the references are abbreviated which gives considerable scope to adapt them as pointers to a specific piece of text.

These references it seemed to me, held the possibility of a coded message which might yet reveal Bessler’s secrets and were part of the code. I doubted that they are in themselves a part of the coded text but their abbreviated format looked like it might be an ideal device for pointing to specific letters or words within the text. In my search for other small anomalies used by Bessler as clues to deciphering his codes I discovered several apparent errors, which, under any other circumstances would be regarded as accidental or coincidental, but here, knowing how Bessler worked, I assumed that they were intentional. Among the 141 bible references I found some duplicates. I found this surprising, given the care with which the whole publication had been created, and I speculated that this might be another pointer to a piece of the puzzle? There were five biblical references duplicated; namely, Titus 2.verse 14; 1. Timothy 3, verse 16; 1. Corinthians 10, verse 31; Titus.2, verse 11; and Romans. 3 verse 24. Coincidence and a simple error seemed likely until I realized that there were five duplications making 5 and 5 or 55, again. To add weight to the fact that they are deliberate duplications and designed to be noticed, the first two are on the first page.

A study of the actual text referenced in the bible revealed nothing of interest and I quickly came to the conclusion that the texts to which the biblical references related were irrelevant to deciphering the clues for the following reasons. Firstly there were a number of different versions of the bible extant, with the texts and the verse-numbering varying from one to another. Another quirk of the bible references is the frequent appearance of neighbouring verses quoted in different places, making one wonder why he did not place them together. I decided that if the bible references were a clue then they probably were intended to be used as a pointer to specific words or letters within a certain line or a four line stanza.

                  Letters or Words?

Would Bessler have used letters of words? I decided letters would be better and I was able to confirm this to my own satisfaction by checking so see if there were any German words within the lines of the 55 stanzas, which might be of use in explaining how the machine worked. If the code pointed to whole words then they should appear somewhere within the text. I was thinking of the German for such words as, wheel, weight, round, rotate, lever etc. None of these appears and in any case it would be too obvious. So knew I had to search for the right letter in a certain line within the 55 stanzas.

              Which Letter and which Line?

One thing that struck me was that the upper case letters of each book referenced would make a good pointer to the exact letter in a particular line. The reason for this was that I had already noticed that there were rarely more than about 30 letters in each line so the 24 letters of the alphabet in use then might easily be used in this way.  An upper case “M” being the twelfth letter in a 24 letter alphabet could point to the 12th letter in a certain line.

Secondly the verse numbers referenced ran from 1 to 172 and the chapter numbers from 1 to 118. There were 55 four line stanzas in chapter 55 so a total of 220 lines, including the four blank ones. The verse numbers did not exceed the number 220 so it could be argued that this lends credence to the idea that the verse and/or chapter numbers could indicate the line number.

According to my speculations then, the upper case letter of each book of the bible pointed to a letter on a particular line and the line to be used was indicated by the verse number or was it the book number or both? This I felt, looked very promising and I set to work to try to identify the relevant line of each stanza. The first bible reference in chaper 55, which was isolated from the rest of the references, being the only one on the first page, did not contain a verse number, just ‘Judae 19’.

Judae 22

The bible text to which Judae 19 refers, reads, “These are they who separate themselves, sensual men, having not the Spirit.” And the text adjacent to the bible reference above, reads ( As my chattering enemies seem to). Neither items seem particularly relevant. The number 19 suggested line 19 to me, but when I checked, it was on line 18. This was so close I had to double check and it was then that I realised that the first of the four blank lines came in at line 17 and if included in the count made the ‘Judae 19’ reference, line 19.  I tried to see if the text I quoted above, “These are they who separate themselves...” had any relation to the feature identified with it, and I guess it is possible to see that the blank lines do separate or split the text, but it is a pretty vague connection. “These are they who separate themselves…” might be the nearest quotation that Bessler could get to providing a hint that these were the spaces that separate the text.

Including the blank lines in the count is a simple but clever way of protecting the casual code-breaker from stumbling across the right clues, too easily. The fact that the line numbering clue is included here in the first bible reference confirms to my mind that these 220 lines contain the encoded message. Some may argue that because the verse references only go to 172, the 220 lines are more than were needed, but remember that there had to be a multiple of 55 to attract our attention to the right chapter, so 220 it had to be.

            Spaces Between the Words?

It occurred to me that I had omitted to take into account something else. If, as I have suggested, the code is composed of individual letters picked out according to the instructions of the code, should I not allow for spaces too? The letters cannot be allowed to run together in one long stream, so there must surely be spaces indicated to separate each word. To this end I think that this is indicated in the first bible reference, Judae 19, see again, below.

Judae 23

Notice that the text which accompanies the reference has a bracket followed by a space, then the text, and finally a closed bracket without an intervening space. There are just 21 letters in the sentence, two brackets and three spaces. We have already seen that this phrase in brackets right next to the first bible reference tells us that blank lines must be included in the line count, and now a space is to be counted within the text as well. So we can add to that the possibility that the line number is indicated by the chapter number ( and possibly the verse number when present). 

Does the letter J indicate the letter position? It’s the ninth letter of the 24 letter alphabet because ‘i’ and ‘j’ are alternative versions of the same letter. So perhaps the J of Judae is indicating the 9th letter in the sentence, including any spaces? The 9th letter is ‘n’, which does not seem significant.

Bessler made much of the dual turning capabilities of his wheel and even included suggestions of it in his drawings and I considered the possibility that he might just count his letters from the end of the line instead of the beginning. Counting backwards reveals that the space in between ‘Schwatzer’ and ‘feindliche’ is the ninth item. This appears to confirm that spaces in between lines and words are to be counted and the letter or space can be identified by means of the upper case letter of the bible reference.

Typos or Deliberate Anomalies?

Before we go any further, Bessler has included another little anomaly which potentially throws some of what we have discussed out of the window. Some of the abbreviated bible books referred to have different spellings. Notice in the example below that Matthew is spelled with one “t” first and two “t”s secondly. For two reasons I think this is part of the deciphering method. Firstly it occurs right near the beginning, in the second and third references on the first page of the main list of references, and there are several more instances in the 141 references; and secondly it provides for detailed variations in the identifying procedure.

2 Ts in Matthew1

We know that Bessler used both alphabetic substitution, as in his pseudonym, and alphanumeric substitution ( as in the Romanised capitals used under the Apologia Poetica wheel drawing). However in this case, alphanumeric substitution is out because when the individual letters are added up they come to more than the number of letters and spaces in teach sentence. That this is part of the deciphering process and not careless spelling is certain and therefore there has to be a reason for it.  A clue to its use can be found, as can all of Bessler’s coded clues, in his published drawings. In more than one instance we are led to count up the number of letters used for labelling the items in each drawing and in this case I think we must do the same.

Consider this. I have said that there are about 30 letters used in each sentence, plus an assortment of spaces to count, yet we have only 24 available to identify each letter. But in fact we have fewer than 24 because Bessler uses the books of the bible to identify the required letter and therefore he is limited by their scarcity. The first bible reference on page 122, the first page of references after Judae 19, is ‘Rom.1.v.16.’ - by picking a letter such as R in Rom (Romans) he can suggest 17 as R is the 17th letter, but then by adding the letters ‘om’, they are just two letters and he can thereby add two to the total. So in the example above, the two Matthews. He can mean M = 12 and add just three to the total and get 15, or in the second example, add four to get 16. The following letters appear as the capital letters used by Bessler in his bible codes. I have only produced one example of each but there are several alternative spellings.





































Although 34 books are referenced, only 13 begin with a different capital letter, but with several alternative spellings it is possible to arrive at a total equalling any required letter count. Not only is this useful, it is also necessary as Bessler must also have had to count spaces as well as letters to find the right letter/space position along the line, but also point out a space to be included to separate the deciphered letters into words. These extra letters give him that option.

Returning to the penultimate page again, six lines from the top and apparently the fourth bible reference on the page, is a strange reference, “B.Weisth.7”. I was unable to find any indication of which bible this came from and if it had been just that, I might have assumed that it was some local book that was familiar to the local people of that part of Germany, but there was an anomaly. All of the fonts used for the actual bible references are in normal Roman script, not dissimilar to that which appears on this page. You can see the font used in the first reference below - two types of weisth3font in the first line and note that the usual font used for the references is ‘Joh 1.v.14.’ underlined in the figure below.

Notice that the text that accompanies those references, on the left, and is used in the rest of the book, is in the German Fraktur font which was commonly used at the time. But in the ringed reference the font used is the Fraktur one.  Why is “B.Weisth.7” in the Fraktur style too, like the rest of the book when all the other references here are in Roman script. There is one other example of the bible references being written in Fraktur, and it is the references immediately below “B.Weisth.7”. I have underlined it at the bottom of the above picture. I suspect that this diffference is somehow to be taken as part of the code rather than a pointer to it.  But what did it mean?

The only meanings I could find for the word ‘Weisth’ were a fairly rare last name; a reference to some text in Grimm’s fairytales, and its use as an abbreviation for ‘Weist(h)üm’ or ‘Weist(h)ümer’ or ‘Wistuom’ which means ‘wisdom’. It can also be used to refer to a collection of dictums, or sayings and also applies to a ‘judicial sentence serving as a precedent’. This was all very well but I wondered, how was I to find book 7 of wise old sayings. Then one day while checking the translations of some German words I came across ‘Weist’, without the ‘h’, meaning ‘gives, points to, alludes to, or alternatively, rejects, repels, expels, identifies, refers to, or transfers’. Quite a range of meanings and yet it seemed to me that ‘alludes to’, or ‘points to’, or ‘refers to’ or even ‘expels’, might just be the desired meaning.  Now this looked interesting and perhaps I was trying to make the clues fit my purpose but it certainly seemed worthy of further investigation.

I tried transposing the phrase, ‘B. points to 7’, or ‘B alludes to 7’. If B was equal to 7, then A must be equal to 5, and therefore V must equal 1. Or it could be reversed and if B equalled 7 then C was 6 and H equalled 1. The last just felt wrong. I was sure that Bessler would have used the letter V to represent 1 rather than creating some obscure relationship between H and 1. V equalled five in Roman numerals and besides, if V equalled 1, then Bessler had in effect moved the alphabet backwards just five positions. Five again. But if B really does allude to 7, did that mean B equalled G, five places ahead, or did it mean that B actually equalled the number 7? I feel sure that it meant the letter ‘G’ as we are looking for a text not a series of numbers.

How are we to know when to apply the alphabetic substitution? Looking at the first reference after Judae 19, we see Rom.1.v.16. According to my theory the capital ‘R’, as the 17th letter in the alphabet, means that we should look at the 17th letter, firstly on line 1, (Rom.1.v.16) and then again on line 16, because verse 16 is also in the reference. But should we first, apply the alphabetic substitution to the ‘R’, the 17th letter, to get ‘X’ and then look for the 22nd letter? Or are we meant to apply the it afterwards to the letter which is the 1st and 16th letter in the line? 

              ‘v’ for Versicle or ‘v’ for five?

Just to add to the confusion, in some areas , the inventor has altered the small ‘v’ standing for verse from a Roman font to a Fraktur one, which might mean in those case which are not italicised, that we should add five as represented by the letter ‘v’ to whatever number we have arrived at? Or, because in the first reference it is ‘Rom 1’, should we look at line ‘1’ first, then ‘5’ and finally ‘16’?

Matt & Phil Vs1

The letter ‘v’ itself is a strange one. Look at the above two references and in the left one you will see that the letter ‘v’ has an almost vertical stroke through the left leg and yet in the right one it looks like a normal fraktur font. I assume that the fraktur one is to be ignored but this suggests that the other one, with its strange additional ascending stroke has some meaning, but as I have only been able to find a single example of it anywhere other than in this book, I can only present what I have found and leave it others to interpret. According to a web site at,, the particular letter ‘v’ we are discussing meant 4½ in ancient Rome. I doubt that, in this case, this is the correct interpretation and I prefer the answer provided for me on a forum, that this is a common abbreviation for verse and versicle. In which case I must simply ignore it for now - until I know more. 

[Abridged from my forthcoming book “The Orffyreus Code”, and adapted for the internet]

Copyright © 2010 John Collins

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