“Frankly I’m a little surprised the TLS published it,” says Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America. When she was a doctoral student at Yale—whose Beinecke Library holds the Voynich manuscript—Davis read dozens of theories as part of her job. “If they had simply sent to it to the Beinecke Library, they would have rebutted it in a heartbeat,” she says. She told me that, by coincidence, she had dinner recently with Beinecke’s curator, who had not heard from TLS about the article.
Gibbs’s article broadly consists of two parts. The first part details various old illustrations and writings from which the Voynich manuscript appear to be derived. In this section, Gibbs weaves in an impressive amount of autobiography, noting at various points that he is: a professional history researcher, muralist, war artist, former employee of Christie’s in the 1970s, and descendent of the great English herbalist Thomas Fromond—all of which are notable because they had some role in helping him find and interpret sources to solve the Voynich manuscript. (The style, which reminded me of Pale Fire, made some wonder if the whole article was just a work of satirical fiction.)
Taking it at face value, the problem with the first section, says Davis, is that little of it is new. Other scholars, cryptographers, and sleuths have looked at the illustrations of plants, astrological charts, and bathing and already surmised it has to do with health. For example, one of the texts where Gibbs finds illustrations matching up with the Voynich manuscript’s is De Balneis Puteolanis, a bathing guide. Voynich.nu, a popular website devoted to the Voynich manuscript, lays out the similarities between the two manuscripts.
In the second part—only two paragraphs long—Gibbs gets into the meat of his solution: Each character in the manuscript is an abbreviated word, not a letter. This could be a breakthrough, but the TLS presents only two lines decoded using Gibbs’s method. Davis did not find those two lines convincing either. “They’re not grammatically correct. It doesn’t result in Latin that makes sense,” she says.
The lines are supposed to represent a generic medicinal recipe (like “take three leaves and five stems … ”) Gibbs goes on to note that the Voynich manuscript does not actually contain any words for illnesses or plant names. His explanation is that the index laying out which illnesses and which plants these recipes correspond to have been lost. To Davis, this represents a kind of magical thinking. “This is the piece that really killed it for me,” she says. Yes, there is evidence that the Voynich manuscript is missing pages and has been trimmed as it’s been rebound, but there is no evidence of an index. If Gibbs can present his theory in greater detail, like in a future book, Davis says she’d be open to it.
More Info: theatlantic.com