Theory of the Month: Rainer Hannig

Who is the candidate for the “Voynich Theory of the Month” in June 2020?

It is Prof. Dr. Rainer Hannig, who has even managed to briefly be featured in the VM’s Wikipedia entry before being excised again. Hannig has followed the usual spiel of VTotM to the letter:

  1. He is an “outsider”, namely an Egyptologist with no direct links to cryptography, or medieval manuscripts, or…
  2. His solution doesn’t build on previous work, but is the result of a maverick approach.
  3. He assumes an initially simple substitution cipher where one letter represents one sound, and one ciphertext word is equivalent to one plaintext word. He is original inasfar as he assumes the underlying plaintext language to be Hebrew, which would be exotic enough not to have been considered by other researches, and at the same time not completely implausible.*)
  4. After having some initial success in manufacturing Hebrew words out of this, the enciphering rules become increasingly complex the longer he progresses. Things turn into a labyrinthine set of rules with multi-value letters, the ommission and reintroduction of vowels, etc.
  5. At the same time, little thought is given to problems of the transcription, which may well hold surprises for the would-be decipherer — have we correctly identified different and identical characters? Is <ch> really <cc> or a different character? Is <r> the same as <s>?
  6. The multi-faceted structure of VM words, the complex rules governing their composition, is ignored. Which is odd considering such a large number of alternative ways the author had in enciphering his text — if he had so many different options to compose his ciphertext, why do all the words so strictly adhere to only a narrow selection of rules?
  7. While it is possible to create a string of words in this way, the creation of meaningful sentences remains elusive, even when one discards most of Hebrew grammar from the game (as Hannig apparently does.) A coherent narrative spanning paragraphs is nowhere in sight. And this is where I consider the case closed and loose interest.

As an example, let me give you Hannig’s translation from f17r:

I am a bull ready which facilitates and renews house and ruins.
You are a piece of lamb which opens the mouth and is discouraged
when eye-in-eye.

Or f2v, the nymphaea page:**)

Surely, Nymphaea is the twin. Enough juice in the tip.
Drink carefully, this is like something which provides spirit.
Will come juice with repetition. Juice facilitates prophecies...
like rebellion in presence of philosophers.
All which is in Greek about is silence without talking. [sic]
When not speaking about juice, spoke: Do dig... spoken in Arabic.

We’ve had a number of those theories, and I do not only present this piece of scientifically and methodologically somewhat unsound work out of malice (though I wonder about the quailty of Hannig’s other work, if his VM paper is representative for it) or to ridicule it. But it is exemplary for a mistake made so often in VM approaches that it cannot be pointed out often enough.

No, really.

*) Interestingly enough it seems that Hannig never bothered with the question whether the text is supposed to be read left-to-right as in Western languages, or right-to-left as in Hebrew, but opted for left-to-right from the start. Which is strange, considering his background in hieroglyphics.

**) Notice the highly repetitive text with a very limited vocabulary.