(23) The Probable Use of a Meaningless Object

This is what  I know to this point about the Codex from Rohonc.

The drawings show a Christian content, with Jesus as main character, blessing everybody, his tormentors included. Even if the themes are recognizable, in many cases they stray away significantly from the customary representations, with an idiosyncratic avoidance of showing both the Madonna and John the Baptist. The most obvious traceable influence is North-Western Catholicism but some themes were borrowed from the Eastern tradition. All in all, the modifications to the traditional drawings might be in line with the teachings of the Paulician or Bogomil faith.

The use of snakes or dragons as embellishments is not unheard of but it is still strange. They might have been used as a reminder of evil, in relation with the Apostle Paul or as a symbol of health and rejuvenation. Or just because snakes are cool.

The script, even if it has a meaning (as suggested by the corrections made) and the cipher is known, it should be extremely difficult to read, due to the hundreds of characters. The most unnerving feature is the huge number of different signs but the small number of combinations which involve one sign.

Some of the drawings might illustrate narrative sequences in the script, but large portions of it contain often repetitive strings, which are consistent rather with other types of text like prayers, chants or psalms. The script is riddled with divine names, with the unusual plentiful presence of the Tetragrammaton.

The underlying theme of the Codex is mirroring or doing things backwards, which in conjunction with the Tetragrammaton’s presence in large numbers suggests magic. I am thinking about theurgy, or the Working of God, as opposed to goetia, or the occult sciences which resort to demonic means, as explained by Saiyad Nizammuddin Ahmad here. The author of the Codex probably retorted to the occult technology of solving problems by magic which consists in the ritual use of the divine names (or texts).

The earliest probable date of manufacturing is late seventeenth – early eighteenth century. The 1743 inventory might give us a terminus ante quem, unfortunately, it is too vague to be conclusive, so I’ll stay with the date of its identification, 1838.

I presume that one signature means one author, somebody who is under the joined influence of Eastern and Western Christianity and does not care or does not know much about the differences between them.

The Codex shows signs of wear and tear. The pages are torn and stained, the leather cover is eroded as if it was handled a lot. It was used for something, but for what? Why did somebody toil over it, somebody who did not have much skills for such an endeavor? I think this is the most exciting question the “Vexier” Codex arises.

Is the information I garnered enough to find out what the booklet was used for, without knowing its exact content? Maybe not. But I won’t let a kill-joy adage such as “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” spoil my enthusiasm.

So, let the dilettante lady speak out her mind.

1. It is a hoax. Almost everybody seems to be convinced that Literati Nemes Samuel is the forger. He produced other notorious creations. What motivated those fabrications is easy to understand. A forgery is made for a reason. Either for money, for fame, for patriotic reasons, or to ridicule somebody. Examples are plenty for each case. Literati was a fierce patriot. His known “works” are in line with his feelings, they glorified Hungarian history. In this respect, the Codex from Rohonc is a poor instrument of glorification. It created interest because it has several characters similar to Hungarian runes. Well, it has similar characters with Joseph Smith’s script too, or should I say caractors.

Joseph Smith's caractors from Book of Mormon Archaeology

Joseph Smith’s caractors from Book of Mormon Archaeology

I am sure a keen eye will find the similarities. It is not more Hungarian runes as it is Elbasan, Hebrew, Klingon or whatever script. In fact, I see a stronger resemblance to Slavic scripts, Cyrillic and Glagolitic.

Had Literati wished to pass it as an ancient Szekely work, he should have laced it a bit more  with Hungarian Runes. And after all that effort: get the old paper, invent a script which shows some structure and consistency, make corrections here and there, he could have made it a bit easier on the eye.  The discrepancy between the effort put into it and its poor looks is striking. Such a modest booklet does not serve too well for the exaltation of national pride.

Forgery is associated with some level of sophistication. How the same mind came up with the idea of such an elaborate hoax and at then create this appearance of uncultivated simplicity is beyond me. And again, the pesky question: to what avail?

Now, this is a forgery:

Fourteenth century Gospel of Mark - Nineteenth century forgery - details

Fourteenth century Gospel of Mark – Nineteenth century forgery – details

As for the Codex from Rohonc, “Its authenticity is proven by its insignificance” to quote Antoine Dondaine. He was speaking about another controversial document: the Niquinta Charter. Dondaine’s quip did not resolve the problem, the authenticity of the charter is still debated.  Nothing of what I say is capable of restoring the reputation of the Codex or disconnect it from Literati, even though there is really no evidence they ever shared the same space.  In all honesty, I have my doubts about the Codex. But here are some possible uses that might indicate that the author had, more or less, genuine intentions.

2. It is a hoax. Another kind of hoax. One made for social status. Books, even after the invention of the printing machine were not available for everyone. As the main social gathering was the Sunday service it was an excellent opportunity to impress the congregation by displaying a book of prayers of your own. Let’s imagine young John going to the church with his new status symbol fabricated for the pretty eyes of the pious Mary.

  • J: Hi Mary! (as he thinks: I love you and I want to marry you).
  • M: Oh, hi! (That goat herder again. But where is George? I hope he’s not with Jane, the little fortune-hunter.)
  • J: Look fair Mary! I have my own Bible, and it has pictures.
  • M: Oh, John! (You don’t look that bad after your monthly bath. And you greased your hair nicely. And look at those strong arms.) Nice book. Hmm, the drawings are not so nice though. But show me the name of our Lord and Savior.
  • J: Look Mary (I really want to marry you) it’s all over the place. See, Je-sus-Christ.
  • M: But, John! It’s backwards!
  • J: Huh?
  • M: The name of our Lord Jesus is backwards!
  • J: No, it’s not! Oh, wait, it is?
  • M: Oh, the horror! You cunning penniless spawn of the devil, perish you Archgoat! George! Oh, George!

It probably would have been easier to carve one from stone.

3. It is the depository of the secret teachings of a religious cult.  I keep coming back to this idea because of the blatant anomalies in some of the drawings, as in “What Makes The Puzzler Sore”. I can imagine a small community in the Albanian or Bosnian mountains. They are Christians but they have been for many years under the Ottomans. The ties to their church are loose and they struggle to keep their faith but many of the subtleties of their teachings have been lost. Besides, they are exposed to the Bogomil myths and the Catholic missions are very active in the area. A rough handed djed (elder) concocts the Codex using distant memories from books seen in his younger years, mixed with the various influences he was exposed to. Familiarity with Arabica (Bosniak version of Arabic alphabet) makes him write right to left, and he throws in random Cyrillic and Glagolitic letters. This could explain the clumsy drawings, errors and all.  Or maybe it is a discreet Paulician group and the snakes are meant to be symbols of the Apostle Paul as “the name of the Paulicians is derived by their enemies from some unknown and domestic teacher ― but I am confident that they gloried in their affinity to the apostle of the Gentiles” (Gibbon, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, V. 386).

But somehow it doesn’t add up. Something is out of place. Besides the oddity of adjusting Catholic drawings to the purposes  of heresies which at their beginnings were iconoclasts. It does not justify the mysterious and unpractical writing. It does not justify the mirroring. And if the Antitrinitarianism, the irreverence towards the mother of Jesus were to be concealed with the over-elaborate cipher, why give them away with the drawings?

4. It is the tool of a trade. And the trade is magic.

In Eastern European tradition, a rural Magus roams the countryside. He controls the weather, unleashes storms and hail or abates them at his will. He can summon a dragon from the bottom of a lake and ride it in a mad race above the clouds. One of his names in Romanian is “Solomonar”.  The Solomonar is one of the few, chosen to attend  a special school, in the deepest cave, where he spends seven years learning the tricks of the trade and writing his own book of magic. This book is one of his few belongings and nobody else can read it. But no, I do not believe that the Codex from Rohonc is a Solomonar’s book. They were astrologers and weather magi and their books must have looked more like an almanac, with astronomical symbols and charts.


Jakob Honiger. Almanach in der hochebreysten Hochen Schule zu Erffort… from US National Library of Medicine

But I can imagine a similar congregation, where the attendees learn under the guidance of a master, a heretic who knows a most sought-after trade. Each of them creates his own book to hide and preserve the knowledge, scribling the signs after the master’s copy. The serpent becomes a part of the power harnessed in the book, as a symbol of wisdom,  as  Christ said “be wise as serpents yet harmless as doves” (Mat. 10:16)  They might never read it again, because having it, showing it, touching it  will do the job. The act of making the book is magic, the book itself is magic, every sign is power and all that power comes from God JHWH by intercession of his son Jesus. The entire So what would be that trade, what would be that special power that our author wants to share with Jesus? As flamboyant as it is to walk on water or as crowd pleasing is to transform water into wine, the most coveted power of Jesus was the power to heal. And this, my friends, is what I believe our John, or Joseph, or Jeremiah, gave up to the hands of the Batthyány family and to our awe: the Heretic Healer’s Codex. 

I tied together in this scenario the most striking elements of the Codex from Rohonc: the apparent secrecy due to the cipher, the snakes, the YHWH signs interspersed in the text, the fact that it was handled a lot.   But it is just one of many possible explanations. Most likely, it is  just another prayer book, written by its owner, as there are so many, even after the spreading of the printed copies. Of course, that does not explain the effort made to conceal the meaning of it in such an extravagant manner. But I don’t recall to have found any explanation for the efforts made by Gregory from Durres when writing the Elbasan Gospel manuscript. He translated the Gospel into Albanian in 1761 and wrote it down in an invented alphabet he made up for this task only. Why? He probably felt that the standard Greek or Cyrillic alphabet were not good enough. Similarly, our author might have been looking for a better way to convey his enthusiasm, maybe for the angelic alphabet, or even the angelic language. Others have done it, before him. Maybe his religious fervor crossed the line into madness and this is the work of a lunatic which only keeps up the appearence of consistency and structure.  But this would take away all the future fun, because there still is plenty to look for.

Regardless of his agenda, I learned to respect his effort.

Theriac jar, 1641, from Science Museum, Science and Society Picture Library (by permission)

Theriac jar, 1641, from Science Museum, Science and Society Picture Library (by permission)

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