The entire concept of the “number of the Beast” and the associated number of 666 is based upon something scholars call “gematria”. In Hebrew, letters all have a numerical value. Gematria is the calculation of the numeric value of Hebrew letters, words, or phrases. Because of the nature of the Hebrew language and its symbolic character, gematria offers insight into the meta-meaning of Hebrew writings (i.e. the Tanakh (Torah, aka the Old Testament) and the Talmud).

In the Book of Revelation 13:18, the text reads something like:

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

The “beast” in question here is Nero Caesar. The Greek form of this name, transliterated in Hebrew, yields the gematria of 666. Nero, as some of you may recall, was somewhat nuts, and not a nice person to folks of religious convictions other than Roman. Hence, his characterization as a monster.

However, it seems that the number may be wrong:

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.

This information comes to us from the Oxyrhynchus collection that I blogged about recently. Among the deciphered material thus far is a newly discovered fragment of the Book of Revelation written in ancient Greek.

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 numerical 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.”

Even though all of this seems to have little more than historical academic value in terms of who the writers of the text considered to be the enemies of their faith, the significance of this in Christianity has assumed a much more dramatic scope:

The Book of Revelation is traditionally considered to be written by John, a disciple of Jesus; it identifies 666 as the mark of the Antichrist. In America, the fundamentalist Christian right often use the number in sermons about the coming Apocalypse.

As ominous numbers go, 616 seems quite a bit less scary than 666. It sounds less like the Number of the Beast and more like the Number of the Beast’s Apartment. It remains to be seen whether modern Christians will adopt 616 as the true number, or whether Revelation 13:18 as traditionally known will continue to be used.

Considering how much fake “gematria” some people find in things that conveniently yield 666 as their result, I’m guessing that pseudo-numerologists and armchair prophets will be in a tizzy for a few years to come.

Personally, I think that the Bible as a text should be taken primarily as historical literature. It also presents various sorts of philosophical thought and allegorical stories that are useful in illustrating various values.

But scrutinizing the supposed numerical values of various things in the world around us is to miss the forest for the trees. Evil is easily identified, and does not need to be “verified” in this way to be treated as such. So-called “Satanists” may continue to play their silly games of scaring the chickens and the womenfolk, but they should remember: It’s not the number that has power. It’s what the number represents.

24 Responses to “The Number of the Beast is…616?”
  1. Oscar Cwajbaum says:

    The Torah is only a small subset of the Tanakh. The Tanakh is what Christians refer to as the “Old Testament”, of which the Torah is the first five books.

  2. Anne Haight says:

    The way I phrased it in the entry is imprecise, yeah. I appreciate the clarification. πŸ™‚

  3. Alexandra says:

    Oh, it’s 666. The King James Bible is the only accurate English version today. The other PERversions are brought to you by the same system that brought about the Catholic church.

    Of course they want to mess with Scripture and change the number–that’s to try to catch Christians off-guard.

    Stop paying attention to the modern versions. They’ll steer you wrong.

  4. laughingcenter says:

    “Stop paying attention to the modern versions. They’ll steer you wrong.”

    I guess that means the folks reading a translation from king james should probably put it down and start leaning the language that the book was written in in the first place. Just a BIT hypocritical to claim that the VERSION you like is the right one. But maybe you’re right, congratulations.

    Personally I can’t imagine knowing everything, and i try not to be too judgmental when new information seems to contradict old information.

  5. Kyle Haight says:

    I think (I hope) that Alexandra was being sarcastic.

    I’ve been told that we can be confident in the accuracy of translations of the Bible because God was working through the translators to make sure no errors were introduced. I find this claim unconvincing. One reason is the one alluded to by laughingcenter — if God ensures that translations are accurate, then why do we have multiple translations that don’t agree with each other? And how do we pick the ‘right’ one?

    A second reason is the existence of typographical errors in some printings of the Bible, such as the infamous one that had one of the Ten Commandments as “Thou shalt commit adultery.” I’m dubious that God would guide the hands of the translators and then let the typesetters run wild.

    Then again, I’m an atheist. From my point of view the Bible is mostly interesting as a source of pernicious ideas that lots of people I have to deal with seem to believe. The valid moral truths that are found in the Bible are pretty easy to validate on their own merits, without recourse to scripture. I can explain why dishonesty is immoral without having to drag God into the argument.

  6. Anne Haight says:

    I presume that Alexandra (assuming she is being serious) is aware that the King James version of the Bible was created in AD1611, and that the “616” material from Oxyrhynchus collection has been dated to the Third Century.

    That makes the King James version the “modern” version she is so quick to deride, and the Oxyrhynchus material “original”.

  7. Kyle Haight says:

    If she is being serious, she’s just illustrating the point I made a few days ago. The type of modern Christian who obsesses over things like the Number of the Beast is not typically concerned with the scholarship of the Bible’s origins.

    Frankly, I think Christians would do better to attend to C.S. Lewis’ observation that evil is many and small, not single and large. Inside the Christian moral framework, there’s nothing men can do to combat the devil directly; all that can be done is combat his works inside the hearts of men.

  8. Michael Andrews says:

    When Jesus was asked about his return (which will be the start of the rise of the Beast), he said not to be concerned about this. He was concerned for each of our salvation, and spreading the Gospel and good news of salvation through faith. He commanded we do this in love not through factions. We should be more concerned with what we are doing today rather than the identity of the Beast.

  9. Mathew says:

    This is old news. :p
    Catch up with the times…

  10. matthew 2 says:

    Yes, I knew the number 616 as an alternative 20 years ago and it was always assumed as an alternate form for Nero.

  11. Jethro says:

    Scholars have known about this variation for centuries. This is merely the oldest instance of this variation yet found. But it still gets the old Christian-hater juices flowing doesn’t it? “Hee hee! We’ve got ’em now!”

    It doesn’t matter that you hate Christians. Christ still loves you and it’s never too late to accept Him as your saviour.

  12. Kyle Haight says:

    For the record, I don’t hate Christians. I find them baffling, and a bit sad. When they threaten my politican freedom, I oppose them in the same way and for the same reason I oppose secular leftists who threaten my political freedom.

    Christian doctrine as an ideology contains a number of points I find false and pernicious, and I think they lead to bad consequences when hewed to consistently, but Christianity is hardly unique in that regard. In that sense I’m not anti-Christian; I’m just pro-truth.

    Christianity doesn’t really loom that large in my life. As far as I’m concerned Christians can go to hell (or heaven) in their own way.

  13. Anne Haight says:

    This is merely the oldest instance of this variation yet found. But it still gets the old Christian-hater juices flowing doesn’t it? “Hee hee! We’ve got ’em now!”

    Mostly I am amused by the people, both Christian and Christian-hating, who are making a big deal out of this (in the theological sense), when really it’s just a point of academic interest. πŸ™‚

  14. david burchell says:

    Though it is true that there are many mysteries concerning christianity, faith in Jesus was often described as a mystery. Jesus often said let them who have ears to hear. This can often be contorted to many an unbelievers wishes, however the truth is right below the surface. If you believe then you will hear. If you do not you will not. If you will not you are lost, and it is I that am sad for you.

  15. Richard Baerwalde says:

    Hm. Does this mean that Apartment 13 is now safe to rent out (after all the cobwebs and three inches of dust are cleaned off, of course) and Apartment 616 is, figuratively speaking, hell?

    Sweetness. I’ve always wanted to move to Unit 13. *swoons* Heh.

    As Always –
    Your Friendly Neighborhood Pandaman

  16. What If says:

    It doesn’t matter, it’s just a number. You can throw all the scripture, all the “facts” and all the heresay you want, it is still just a number, whether it be 666 or 616. Some people believe it will be a mark on someone born as the antichrist. Some people have hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, the fear of the number 666 (those who refuse to pay that amount or hear that number spoken even) and plenty of other “interesting” effects that the “number of the beast” inspires in people.

    What if God and Satan are one in the same? What if it’s all 2 sides to the same coin? None of us will know for sure until it’s time to leave the planet.

  17. Richard Baerwalde says:

    It’s been a year.

    Is Apartment 13 still available for rent?

    As Always –
    Your Friendly Neighborhood Pandaman

  18. jamie says:

    Here’s a thought… who gives a shit… instead of worrying about some evil number why dont people get involved in some good within their own community… Everyone talks about the wrath of god because of what we’ve “done” to our planet… How about giving a homeless person a sandwhich… or even simpler, hold a door open for someone… Then you can tattoo 666 or 616, or whatever the hell it is on your forehead and you’ll still be doing more good for the world then all the “Christians” on here debating the true number of the beast! PS – IRON MAIDEN ROCKS!

  19. God says:

    Oh for me’s sake. I leave you people alone for a few centuries and look what happens. For your information the number of the beast is 555 78659… oh never mind I have more important things to do, people to smite like they have never been smote on before. Son, get off that bicycle I’ve told you before.

  20. Bilderberg Watcher says:

    Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
    Leviticus 19:28

    Wait until the nuke goes off in the south and the world adopts biometric identity cards without question. When they scrap the cards for a tattoo run and hide.

    Rev 13:18, which reads:

    16. [The second beast] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17. so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark(!), that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.

  21. Art Collantes says:

    “Oh, it’s 666. The King James Bible is the only accurate English version today. The other PERversions are brought to you by the same system that brought about the Catholic church.” This is the quote I take offense with. What a rediculous statement! I was born into Catholisism & I’m not defending it but guess what stupid? Protestant religions are a result of a king (Henry VIII) who coulden’t get permission from the Pope to divorce his wives so he chopped off their heads & created his own damned church. Ask yourself, who the hell was King James that he was divinely decreed to publish his own damned bible? Was he born of a virgin? Was he the son or at least the nephew of God? HELL NO! He was just a damned king that wanted to publish what HE thought was the appropriate version of the bible with his own political agenda in doing so. Listen to me people. Don’t take my word for this. Do your own research & force yourself to keep an open mind despite what you have been spoon fed ever since you were a child. So few people actually know who wrote the bibles (there are many versions). Find out for yourselves. The information has never been so readily available as it is today.

  22. jakk_frost says:

    There are many things to see here…obvious bias and closed-mindedness, and then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the willingness to learn and be open-minded. If all who believe they are Christians are true to their beliefs, shouldn’t they all learn as much as possible about opposing ideas, so they can counter them effectively? Different mindsets should be crucibles, designed to either strengthen our own beliefs or adapt them into something even more truthful.

  23. Seth says:

    Christians are crazy motherf*ckers!

  24. Charles says:

    I love this quote:

    Going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a Garage makes you a Car !!!!

Leave a Reply