Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see.
In the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme from the Enigma Variations, Edward Elgar encodes his “dark saying” using a breathtakingly original Music Box Cipher. This “dark saying” linked to the Enigma Theme is first mentioned in the original 1899 program note for the premiere. Elgar's coded message is an anagram of the 24-letter title of the unstated principal Theme, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott by Martin Luther. The secret message is a series of phonetically spelled words and phrases in English, Latin, and Hebrew.
The plain text solution derived from measure 1 is “GSUS”, a phonetic rendering of Jesus, the secret friend and inspiration for Variation XIII and Elgar’s Violin Concerto that followed in 1910. A primary language spoken by Jesus was Aramaic. The plain text solution obtained from measure 2 is “GRTS”, a phonetic version of the Latin gratias. Combining the plain text results from measures one and two produces the phrase “GSUS GRTS” (Jesus gratias), meaning “Thanks be to Jesus.” Such a message is hardly unexpected coming from a devout Roman Catholic like Elgar who dedicated the majority of his works to God.
The plain text solution from measure 3 is “INOU”.When translated phonetically, it reads as “I know you.” In measure 4, the plain text result is “BETR”, phonetic for better. When combined together, the plain text results for measures 3 and 4 generate the phrase “I know you better.” Following the plain text results from measures 1 and 2 that give thanks to Jesus, this phrase definitely implies Elgar knows Jesus better. A historic photograph taken five months before Elgar’s began work on the Enigma Variations provides an explanation for this cipher revelation. Secondo Pia took the first picture of the Turin Shroud in May 1898, and the photographic negative revealed a miraculous image of what many to be the crucified body of Jesus. This photographic negative became an international sensation in the media, and devout Catholics displayed copies as part of their devotion to the Holy Face.
|Left: Face region on the Turin Shroud|
Right: Photographic negative
For Roman Catholics like Elgar, the opportunity to gaze at the actual face of their Savior would be a deeply moving spiritual experience, and a powerful confirmation of their faith. To see the actual face of Jesus would certainly motivate a Roman Catholic like Elgar to declare he knows Jesus better. Elgar's allusion to the Turin Shroud is bolstered by the discovery in Variation XIII of an elimination cipher that spells “TURIN S”. The name Turin paired with the letter S cleverly suggests the missing letters of the second word which is symbolically shrouded in mystery. This cipher references to Jesus contained within the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII are mutually reinforcing, proving both ciphers are genuine.
The plain text solution from measure 5 is “TENI”. Popular biblical commentaries during Elgar's lifetime explain that when Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink of water, he began his request with that exact word by saying, “Teni li listosh.” The word Teni is indelibly linked to encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well when he plainly revealed his identity to her as the Messiah. In view of the plain text results in measures 1 through 4 referring to Jesus, the theological context of “TENI” is undoubtedly what Elgar intended. His personal library contained as many as 100 religious texts including Bibles, theological works, and biblical commentaries, so Elgar was well-versed in theology. In what language is the word Teni? Multiple commentaries available during the 1890s claim that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman in Aramaic. For instance, The Pulpit Commentaries dating from 1897 states:
The Samaritan woman therefore saith to him, How is it (compare this “how” with that of Nicodemus. Jesus had at once provoked inquiry, which he was not unwilling to gratify)—How is it that thou, being a Jew? She would have known that he was a Jew by his speech, for the Samaritans were accustomed to turn the sound of sh into that of s; and so, when Jesus said in Jewish Aramaic, Teni lishekoth, “Give me to drink,” while she would herself have said, Teni lisekoth, his speech would betray him.
Another example occurs in The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary on St. John dating from 1892 which also claims the word Teni is Aramaic:
The woman knew He was a Jew probably by His dress, but it may be also by His accent. It has been pointed out that the words of the question asked by Jesus in Aramaic would be תני לי לשׁחת (Teni li lish'ḥoth), whereas the woman would have said לשׂחת (lis'ḥoth) (vide Jud 12:5-6).
While these and other commentaries of his era would have reasonably lead Elgar to believe the word teni is Aramaic, it is actually Hebrew. Charles C. Torrey of Yale University lays out a compelling case that the Gospel of John was originally written in Aramaic, the vernacular of Judea in the first century. Indeed, it is well established that Jesus and his disciples spoke primarily Aramaic. For this explicit reason, the commentaries correctly report that Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman in Aramaic. However, the translation provided was mistakenly in Hebrew, a language very similar to Aramaic. The correct version from the Aramaic Peshitta is, "Hav li maya, eshteh," which translates as, “Give me water, I will drink.”
In measure 6 the plain text solution is “FETE”, a term Merriam-Webster defines as “a lavish party or religious festival.” When treated as a grand anagram, the plain text results from measures 1 through 6 (GSUS, GRTS, INOU, BETR, TENI, FETE) may be reorganized to form the 24-letter title Ein feste Burg ist Unser Gott.
When factoring in the German title of the covert Principal Theme, there is a total of four languages used in Elgar’s Music Box Cipher: English, Latin, German, and Hebrew. As previously mentioned, contemporary commentaries would have led Elgar to reasonably conclude the Biblical term teni was Jewish Aramaic, not Hebrew. A box has four sides, so the use of four languages offers a certain symbolic symmetry. From a cryptographic vantage point, the use of multiple languages in combination with phonetic spellings was a stroke of genius because it hardens the cipher and vastly complicates detection and decryption. Elgar's choice of cipher languages presents a classic example of wordplay because the first letters of each language are an acrostic anagram of “ELGAr” (English, Latin, German, Aramaic). This is just the sort of wordplay “four” which Elgar was renowned. For example, in March 1899 he named his new home Craeg Lea. This unusual title was created by reversing the letters of his last name (Craeg Lea) and adding the first letters of the first names of his daughter, wife, and himself (Carice, Alice, and Edward). Comparable traits are present in the spelling of his name by the first few letters of the Enigma Cipher languages. It is exquisitely appropriate that Elgar stealthily autographed his Music Box Cipher using the four cipher languages disclosed by its solution. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
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