The Rohonc Codex (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈrohont͡s]) is an illustrated manuscript book by an unknown author, with a text in an unknown language and writing system, that surfaced in Hungary in the early 19th century. The book's origin and the meaning of the text and illustrations have been investigated by many scholars and amateurs, with no definitive conclusion — although many Hungarian scholars believe that it is an 18th-century hoax.
The name of the codex is often spelled Rohonczi, according to the old Hungarian orthography that was reformed in the first half of the 19th century. This spelling has spread probably due to the book of V. Enăchiuc (see Bibliography below). Today the name of the codex is written in Hungarian as Rohonci-kódex.
The codex was named after the city of Rohonc, in Western Hungary (now Rechnitz, Austria), where it was kept until 1838, when it was donated to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences by Gusztáv Batthyány, a Hungarian count, together with his entire library.
The origin of the codex is unknown. A possible trace of its past may be an entry in the 1743 catalogue of the Batthyánys' Rohonc library, which says "Magyar imádságok, volumen I. in 12.", (Hungarian prayers in one volume, size duodecimo). The size and the assumable content agree with those of the codex, but this is all of the information given in the catalogue, so it may only be a hint.
Since its existence became widely known, the codex has been studied by many scholars and amateurs, but none has succeeded in providing a widely accepted convincing translation or interpretation of the text. It was studied by the Hungarian scholar Ferenc Toldy around 1840, and later by Pál Hunfalvy and by the Austrian paleography expert Albert Mahl. Josef Jireček and his son, Konstantin Josef Jireček, both university professors in Prague, studied 32 pages of the codex in 1884–1885. In 1885 the codex was sent to Bernhard Jülg, a professor at Innsbruck University. Mihály Munkácsy, the celebrated Hungarian painter, took the codex with him to Paris in the years 1890–1892 to study it.
In 1866, Hungarian historian Károly Szabó (1824–1890) proposed that the codex was a hoax by Sámuel Literáti Nemes (1796–1842), Transylvanian-Hungarian antiquarian, co-founder of the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. He is known to have created many historical forgeries (mostly made in the 1830s) which deceived even some of the most renowned Hungarian scholars of the time. Since then, this opinion is maintained by mainstream Hungarian scholarship, even though there is no evidence connecting the codex to Sámuel specifically.
- Call number: K 114
- Old call number: Magyar Codex 12o 1.
Special permission is needed to study the codex. However, a microfilm copy is available:
- Call number: MF 1173/II.
The codex has 448 paper pages (12x10 cm), each one having between 9 and 14 rows of symbols, which may or may not be letters. Besides the text, there are 87 illustrations that include religious, laic, and military scenes. The crude illustrations seem to indicate an environment where Christian, pagan, and Muslim religions coexist, as the symbols of the cross, crescent, and sun/swastika are all present.
The number of symbols used in the codex is about ten times higher than any known alphabet (Némäti counted 792), but most symbols are used rarely, so the symbols in the codex might not be an alphabet, but a syllabary, or logographs like Chinese characters. The justification of the right margin would seem to imply the symbols were transcribed from right to left.
Study of the paper on which the codex is written shows that it is most probably a Venetian paper made in the 1530s. However, it may simply have been transcribed from an earlier source, or the paper could have been used long after it was produced.
Language and script
Those who claim the codex's Hungarian authenticity either assume that it is a paleo-Hungarian script, or try to find resemblances to the Old Hungarian script, that is Hungarian (Székely) runes ("rovásírás"). According to others, in the Dobruja region in Romania similar characters or symbols are engraved in Scythian monk caves. Still others tried to find resemblance to the letters of the Greek charter of the Veszprémvölgy Nunnery (Hungary). Another claims it to be a version of the Brahmi script.
Attila Nyíri of Hungary proposed a solution after studying two pages of the codex. He simply turned the pages upside down, identified a Sumerian ligature, then he associated Latin letters to the rest of the symbols by resemblance. However, he sometimes transliterated the same symbol with different letters, and vice versa, the same letter was decoded from several symbols. Then he even had to rearrange the order of the letters to produce meaningful words. The text, if taken as meaningful, is of religious, perhaps liturgical character.
Its beginning: "Eljött az Istened. Száll az Úr. Ó. Vannak a szent angyalok. Azok. Ó." – "Your God has come. The Lord flies. Oh. There are the holy angels. Them. Oh."
Nyíri's proposition was immediately criticised by Ottó Gyürk, pointing to the fact that with such a permissive deciphering method one can get anything out of the code. Also, the mere fact that Nyíri makes an uncritical allusion to the fringe theory that the Hungarian language descended from Sumerian, discredits his enterprise.
A translation has been published by Romanian philologist Viorica Enăchiuc. She claims that the text is written in the Vulgar Latin dialect of Dacia, and the direction of writing is right-to-left, bottom-to-top. The alleged translation indicates that the text is an 11-12th century (CE) history of the Blaki (Vlachs) people in their fights against Hungarians and Pechenegs. Toponyms and hydronyms appear as Arad, Dridu, Olbia, Ineu, Rarău, Dniester and Tisa. Diplomatic contacts between Vlad and Alexis Comnenus, Constantine Dukas and Robert of Flanders are also mentioned.
"Solrgco zicjra naprzi olto co sesvil cas" – "O Sun of the live let write what span the time"
"Deteti lis vivit neglivlu iti iti itia niteren titius suonares imi urast ucen" – "In great numbers, in the fierce battle, without fear go, go as a hero. Break ahead with great noise, to sweep away and defeat the Hungarian!"
On one hand, Enăchiuc's proposition can be criticized for the method of transliteration. Symbols that characteristically appear in the same context throughout the codex are regularly transliterated with different letters, so that the patterns in the original code are lost in the transliteration. On the other hand, Enăchiuc is criticized as a linguist and historian. She provided the only linguistic source of a hitherto unknown state of the Romanian language, and her text (even with her glossary) raises so serious doubts both in its linguistic and historic authenticity that they render her work unscientific. There is no relation between the illustrations of the manuscript (of clear Christian content) and her translation.
Another alleged solution was made by the Indian Mahesh Kumar Singh. He claims that the codex is written left-to-right, top-to-bottom with a so far undocumented variant of the Brahmi script. He transliterated the first 24 pages of the codex to get a Hindi text which was translated to Hungarian. His solution is mostly like the beginning of an apocryphal gospel (previously unknown), with a meditative prologue, then going on to the infancy narrative of Jesus.
According to Mahesh Kumar Singh, the upper two rows of page 1 go like: "he bhagwan log bahoot garib yahan bimar aur bhookhe hai / inko itni sakti aur himmat do taki ye apne karmo ko pura kar sake"" – in English: "Oh, my God! Here the people is very poor, ill and starving, therefore give them sufficient potency and power that they may satisfy their needs."
Old Hungarian Alphabet hypothesis
Marius-Adrian Oancea considers that the codex focuses on New Testament-related topics; the language of the codex is Hungarian and the words are encoded in a version of the Old Hungarian Alphabet also known as székely rovásírás or székely-magyar rovás.
Strictly methodical (and successful) investigation of the symbols was first done by Ottó Gyürk, who examined repeated sequences to find the direction of writing (he argues for RLTB (Right to Left Top to Bottom), pages also going right-to-left), and identified numbers in the text. His later remarks suggest that he also has many unpublished conjectures, based on a large amount of statistical data.
Miklós Locsmándi did some computer-based research on the text in the mid-1990s. He confirmed the published findings of Gyürk, adding several others. Although with no strong arguments, he claimed the symbol "i" to be a sentence delimiter (but also the symbol of 11 (eleven), and possibly also a place value delimiter in numbers). He studied the diacriticals of the symbols (mostly dots), but found no peculiar system in their usage. As he could see no traces of case endings (which are typically characteristic to the Hungarian language), he assumed that the text was probably in a language different from Hungarian. He could not prove that the codex is not a hoax; however, seeing the regularities of the text, he rejected that it be pure gibberish.
After 2000, research around the codex has become more intense. Benedek Láng summarized the previous attempts and the possible research directions in an article and in a book sized monograph. He argued that the codex is not a hoax (as opposed to mainstream Hungarian academic opinion), instead it is a consciously encoded or enciphered text. It may be (1) a cipher, (2) a shorthand system, or (3) an artificial language. Láng assessed these possibilities systematically in his publications with the help of historical analogies.
In 2010 Gábor Tokai published a series of three short articles in the Hungarian popular science weekly, Élet és Tudomány. Tokai tries to date the codex by finding historical analogies of the imagery of the drawings. Although he brings up numerous valuable observations, his conclusions are somewhat vague. Nevertheless, his research was the first of its kind. Tokai could not rule out the possibility of a hoax, but he (like Locsmándi) insisted that whatever be the case, the text has regularities that strongly suggest a meaning. Several months later Tokai also published two similarly short articles in which he started to give meaning to specific code chunks. He based his arguments mainly on character strings that appear in pictures (such as the INRI inscription on the cross). His statements are sometimes too hypothetical. However, he claimed to have identified the codes of the four evangelists in biblical references, built up of an evangelist's name and a number, possibly some kind of chapter number. Based on Gyürk's and Locsmándi's work he also showed that many of the four digit numbers in the text are year numbers, using presumably a peculiar Anno Mundi epoch.
Simultaneously with, and independently from Tokai, Levente Zoltán Király has made significant progress in describing some structural elements of the code. He demonstrated a method for cutting down the text to sentences with a good probability. He identified a 7 pages long section that is split by numbered headings, with the whole section preceded by its table of contents. Like Tokai, he also discovered the codes of the four evangelists, and in addition he provided a persuasive argument for a "chapter heading system" in the codex that contains biblical references. He also dealt with the overall structure of the codex, showing that the chapter structure is not present the first fourth of the book—partly because that part contains the long, continuous narration of the passion of Jesus Christ.
According to Tokai and Király the script is a code system that does not indicate the inner structure of words, and the language of the text is most probably artificial, as optionally proposed by Benedek Láng. They claim that the codex contains the date 1593 CE as a probable reference to its writing. They also state that by character it is an ordinary Catholic reader or breviary of the time, mostly containing paraphrases of New Testament texts (primarily from the Gospels), but also some non-Biblical material, like e.g. Seth returning to the gate of Paradise, or prayers to the Virgin Mary.
- See Jerney 1844 and Némäti 1892.
- See Némäti 1892.
- See Szabó 1866.
- See e.g. Fejérpataky 1878, Pintér 1930, or Kelecsényi 1988 (chapter 23: The forgeries and Sámuel Literáti Nemes). Tóth 1899 and Csapodi 1973 mention this opinion as probable.
- For an official catalogue entry see Csapodi 1973.
- See Némäti 1889.
- See Jerney 1844.
- See Jerney 1844 and Némäti 1892, and their minor corrections by Láng 2011.
- According to Joe Nickell the pages were written not long after the production of the paper, see Láng 2011, p. 53.
- See Némäti 1892.
- See Singh–Bárdi 2004.
- Nyíri 1996
- See Gyürk 1996.
- See Enăchiuc 2002.
- Enăchiuc 2002, p. 224.
- Enăchiuc 2002, p. 22.
- See e.g. Láng 2011, p. 40–43., Ungureanu 2003.
- Singh–Bárdi 2004, pp. 12–40.
- Singh–Bárdi 2004, p. 13.
- See Géza Varga 2005 and Csaba Varga 2005.
- See Láng 2011, pp. 44–46.
- Gyürk 1970.
- See Gyürk 1996.
- Locsmándi 2004.
- Láng 2010.
- Láng 2011.
- Tokai 2010.
- Tokai 2010–2011.
- See Király 2011.
In chronological order
- JERNEY, János (1844), "Némi világosítások az ismeretlen jellemű rohonczi írott könyvre (= Some Enlightenments Concerning the Rohonc Manuscript Book of Unknown Character)", Tudománytár (in Hungarian), 8 (new series) (Vol. 15, Book 1.): 25–36
- TOLDY, Ferenc (1851), A magyar nemzeti irodalom története (= The History of the Literature of the Hungarian Nation) (in Hungarian) 1, Pest, p. 28
- SZABÓ, Károly (1866), "A régi hun-székely írásról (= Of the Old Hun-Székely Writing System]", Budapesti Szemle (in Hungarian) 6: 123–124
- FEJÉRPATAKY, László (1878), Irodalmunk az Árpádok korában (= Our Literature in the Age of the Árpáds) (in Hungarian), Budapest, p. 3
- NÉMÄTI, Kálmán (1889), A Rohonczi Codex Ábéczéje (= The Alphabet of the Rohonc Codex) (in Hungarian), Manuscript Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Ms 884 (on microfilm: Mf 5913/IV.)
- NÉMÄTI, Kálmán (1892), Rohonczi Codex Tantétel (= Rohonc Codex Doctrine) (in Hungarian), Budapest
- TÓTH, Béla (1899), Magyar ritkaságok (Curiosa Hungarica) (= Hungarian Rarities), Budapest: Athenaeum, pp. 18–20. (2nd, enlarged edition: 1907, pp. 20–22.), reprint: Budapest, Laude Kiadó, 1998 (ISBN 963-9120-16-2); Budapest, Anno, 2004 (ISBN 963-375-277-9) (Hungarian)
- PINTÉR, Jenő (1930), ~ magyar irodalomtörténete (= Jenő Pintér's History of Hungarian Literature) (in Hungarian) 1, Budapest, pp. 43 and 724–725.
- GYÜRK, Ottó (1970), "Megfejthető-e a Rohonci-kódex? (= Can the Rohonc Codex Be Solved?)", Élet és Tudomány (in Hungarian) 25: 1923–1928
- CSAPODI, Csaba (1973), A "Magyar Codexek" elnevezésű gyűjtemény (K 31 - K 114) (= The Collection "Hungarian Codices"), Catalogues of the Manuscript and Old Books Department of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (in Hungarian) 5, Budapest, p. 109
- RÉVAY, Zoltán (1978), Titkosírások. Fejezetek a rejtjelezés történetéből (= Secret Codes: Chapters from the History of Cryptography) (in Hungarian), Budapest: Zrínyi Katonai Kiadó, pp. 57–59, ISBN 963-326-256-9
- KELECSÉNYI, Gábor (1988), Múltunk neves könyvgyűjtői (= Famous book collectors of our past) (in Hungarian), Budapest: Gondolat, ISBN 963-282-032-0
- NYÍRI, Attila (1996), "Megszólal 150 év után a Rohonci-kódex? (= After 150 Years the Rohonc Codex Starts to Speak?)", Theologiai Szemle (in Hungarian) 39: 91–98 = "A Rohonci-kódexről (= About the Rohonc Codex)", Turán (4), 2004: 85–92
- GYÜRK, Ottó (1996), "Megszólal a Rohonci-kódex? (= Does the Rohonc Codex Really Speak?)", Theologiai Szemle (in Hungarian) 39: 380–381
- ENĂCHIUC, Viorica (2002), Rohonczi Codex: descifrare, transcriere şi traducere (Déchiffrement, transcription et traduction) (in Romanian and French), Alcor Edimpex SLR, ISBN 973-8160-07-3
- UNGUREANU, Dan (May 6, 2003), "Nu trageti in ambulanta", Observator Cultural (in Romanian) (167)
- SINGH, Mahesh Kumar; BÁRDI, László (2004), "Rohonci Kódex (Hindi-Hungarian interlinear publication of folios 1-13, with introductory notes)", Turán (in transliterated Hindi and and Hungarian) (2004/6 = 2005/1): 9–40
- LOCSMÁNDI, Miklós (2004), "A Rohonci Kódex. Egy rejtélyes középkori írás megfejtési kísérlete (= The Rohonc Codex: An Attempt to Decipher a Mysterious Medieval Script)", Turán (in Hungarian) (2004/6 = 2005/1): 41–58
- VARGA, Géza (2005), "A Rohonczi [sic!] Kódexről. Olvasói levél (= About the Rohonc Codex. A letter to the editor)", Turán (in Hungarian) (2005/2-3): 195–197
- VARGA, Csaba (2005), "A Rohonczi [sic!] Kódex Mahesh Kumar Singh-féle olvasatának ellenőrzése. Olvasói levél (= A Critique of Mahesh Kumar Singh's Rendering of the Rohonc Codex. A letter to the editor)", Turán (in Hungarian) (2005/2-3): 198–202
- LÁNG, Benedek (2010), "Why don’t we decipher an outdated cipher system? The Codex of Rohonc", Cryptologia 34: 115–144, doi:10.1080/01611191003605587 (with freely downloadable pre-print version)
- TOKAI, Gábor (2010), "A Rohonci-kódex művészettörténész szemmel (= The Rohonc Codex through the eyes of an art historian)", Élet és Tudomány (in Hungarian) LXV (2010/30, 32, 35): 938–940, 1004–1006, 1104–1106
- TOKAI, Gábor (2010–2011), "Az első lépések a Rohonci-kódex megfejtéséhez (= The first steps towards an undeciphering of the Rohonc Codex)", Élet és Tudomány (in Hungarian), LXV–LXVI (2010/52–53, 2011/2): 1675–1678, 50–53
- LÁNG, Benedek (2011), A Rohonci kód (= The Rohonc Code) (in Hungarian), Budapest: Jaffa, ISBN 978-963-9971-67-7
- KIRÁLY, Levente Zoltán (2011), "Struktúrák a Rohonci-kódex szövegében. Helyzetjelentés egy amatőr kutatásról (= Structures in the text of the Rohonc Codex: A status report on an amateur research)", Theologiai Szemle (in Hungarian) (2011/2): 82–93
- KIRÁLY, Levente Zoltán (2012), "Struktúrák a Rohonci-kódex szövegében. Helyzetjelentés egy amatőr kutatásról (= Structures in the text of the Rohonc Codex: A status report on an amateur research)", in Zsengellér, József; Trajtler, Dóra Ágnes, "A Szentnek megismerése ad értelmet." = "Knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" – Proceedings of the conferences Conferentia Rerum Divinarum 1 & 2 at the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary, Dec. 4. 2009 & Dec. 6. 2010 (in Hungarian), Budapest: Károli Gáspár University; L'Harmattan, pp. 153–163, ISBN 978-963-236-097-3
- SCHMEH, Klaus (2012), Nicht zu knacken. Von ungelösten Enigma-Codes zu den Briefen des Zodiac-Killers (in German), Carl Hanser Verlag, ISBN 978-3-446-42923-9
- Rafael UDRIŞTE, Dan MICU, Ion CRISTODULO (2010-06-05). "Cine a scris misteriosul Codex Rohonczi? (= Who wrote the mysterious Rohonc Codex?)". Semne (Signs). 25 minutes in. TVR1 (Romania).
- László VELTI (2011-08-30). "Kódolt evangéliumot rejt a Rohonci kódex? (= The Rohonc Codex – a ciphered gospel?)". XXI. század (21st century). 14:30 minutes in. RTL Klub (Hungary).
- The Rohonc Codex digitised at the Library and Information Centre, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
- Bobory, Dóra, A rohonci kód (The Rohonc Code). By Benedek Láng. Hungarian Historical Review, 2:(4), 938-943. (2013) on academia.edu
- Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
- Scanned pictures of the Codex
- A Romanian introduction to the Codex