Thursday, May 11, 2006

The True Number of the Beast

A friend who is familiar with my interest in religion sent me the following article:
Revelation! 666 is not the number of the beast (it’s a devilish 616)

A newly discovered fragment of the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament indicates that, as far as the Antichrist goes, theologians, scholars, heavy metal groups, and television evangelists have got the wrong number. Instead of 666, it’s actually the far less ominous 616.
Lets go ahead and hold the presses right there. When I read the last sentence I collapsed in a fit of giggling. I enjoy how the author describes 616 as being less ominous than 666 and later in the article he refers to 616 being less memorable than 666. Now I wonder why the author might find 666 ominous and memorable? The repetition of the number 6 makes it easier to remember than a random collection of any three numbers, such as 826, however it is not particularly more memorable than 888 or 333 for example. (Upon reflection I find it less memorable than 888, which has a very nice symmetry and thus is easy to remember because it is a simple pattern and has aesthetic appeal.) As for how ominous (would it be ominousness or ominosity?) 666 is when divorced from any other meaning, I would think 999 is a far more ominous number. Look at those nines all looming over you like a threesome of bullies ready to beat you up and take your milk money. He’s a bastard, that nine, particularly in packs. Of course 666 may be memorable and ominous because for the past two millennia or so we have been under the impression that 666 was one of the signs of the Antichrist.

Okay, enough snark. Let us return to the article:
Professor David Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, thinks that 616, although less memorable than 666, is the original. He said: “This is an example of gematria, where numbers are based on the numberical values of letters in people’s names. Early Christians would use numbers to hide the identity of people who they were attacking: 616 refers to the Emperor Caligula.”
While a bit short I found this article interesting. This is despite my long-held belief that the concept of a Number of the Beast was a bit ridiculous. Do you really think the Antichrist is going to show up with 666 emblazoned on his forehead as a warning sign?

When I was younger my mother settled at one church, I want to say the Abundant Life Assembly of God, where we spent a large amount of time learning about the End Times. My personal favorite was the speaker who told us the Number of the Beast was secretly encoded in EVERY SINGLE BARCODE applied to products. Every UPC barcode begins with two thin lines, has two thin lines in the middle, and ends with two thin lines. For verification I just looked at every item around my desk with a UPC barcode, a total of twenty-five different items, and they each follow this pattern. According to this guy, whose name I wish I could remember, these two thin lines represent the number 6 therefore every UPC has a 6 at the beginning, a 6 in the middle, and a 6 at the end. The ominous and memorable 666. His implied, but never stated point, was that if you buy something you are engaging in a bit of Devil worship. I think it goes without saying that I am a bit skeptical about this whole theory. But enough sidebars. Back to the article Jeeves!

Operating under the assumption that is actually code for Caligula, what does this do for the rest of the Book of Revelations? It has been a long time since I read Revelations and I am aware of the fluidity of Biblical time lines, however I always understood the coming of the Beast as being an immediate precursor to the rest of the fun detailed in Revelations. Caligula ruled in Rome from 37 to 41 AD just missing the whole Jesus show by a couple of years but putting him smack dab in the middle of the post-game. This is a very interesting position for one who would, according to the author of Revelations, play an important part in the end times. This reinforces the teachings I have heard where it is posited that the Disciples and other early Christians believed the end times would come in their life times. This also makes me wonder if Revelations is more a commentary on the politics of the time than an actual prophetic vision. The problem with this theory is that it is hard to nail down when the books of the Bible were actually composed. Just a few thoughts this article engendered that I thought I would share.

An interesting post-script to this post is how much I learned through the writing of the post. For example did you know that the Antichrist is only mentioned five times in the Bible and that at no time is he mentioned explicitly as the Antichrist in Revelations? Also I was under the impression that Caligula ruled for much later and longer than he actually did. That he was a contemporary of Jesus was an interesting twist to the story. I also learned that Nero may not have been all bad and that most of the historical records we have about him were written by opponents.


Anonymous said...


That nine is a bastard.



Kyle said...

Actually 666 comes from Hebrew numerology predating the Christian bible by almost 600 years (I am fairly sure about this). It is supposed to correspond to the name of Nebodchudnezzar (I am fairly unsure about the spelling of this) who was ruler of Babylon when Jerusalem was sacked by those wily Mesopatamians and the First Temple was destroyed.

James said... 666 might be the number of the beast for Jews and 616 might be the number of the beast for Christians.

And the Mesopotamians were wiley indeed, though not quite as wiley as the assyrians who came down from the trees.

(Bonus points to anyone who gets that reference.)