This code is based on the old English alphabet of 24 letters. It is well-known and its use has been documented well back into the medieval period. One such example is a poem coming from a manuscript in the collection of Balliol College, Oxford (1).
8 is my trew love;
do beffore 9;
put therto 5;
so well it wil beseme;
18 twyse told,
The numbers here spell out by means of gematria the letters I H E S U S (Jesus). In this case the poet provides a gloss on the poem to help the uninitiated, “this goth by the letters of the abse (A B C) as the letters stonde in nombre”. What he doesn’t gloss us on is the fact that the gematria total of his poem has an equally pious message entailed. The total value of the letters is 778: this implies that Jhesus is HKHN HGDVL – the Hebrew name of ‘The High Priest’. It also reminds the devotee that Jesus is the high priest of Εκκλησια Θεου – ‘The Church of God’ (2).
1) Balliol College, Oxford, ms. 354. See R.H. Robbins, Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and Xvth Centuries, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1952, p. 253.
2) Did our poet know Agrippa’s code, too? By that code the words of his poem sum to 8261. This, as the sum of the first 13 cubes, is quite a significant number: it may well be intended to signify Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples. Medievel folk were more numerically aware than we like to give them credit for.
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