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The Number of the Beast
March 26, 2005 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Why was (is) 666 the number of the beast? Revelation says that the number of the beast is six hundred threescore and six; I know the verse, but I'm curious as to why that's the number and not, say, 555, 637, or 8.

I tried googling some, but all I could find was a bunch of wacky conspiracy sites and 'number of the beast decoders.' I did learn that Bill Clinton has the number of the beast, though.
posted by Yelling At Nothing to Religion & Philosophy (27 answers total)
 
Here is a Wikipedia entry on the subject. Essentially, in the Bible, the number 7 represents perfection, and the number is repeated three time to represent the Trinity. Therefore, the number of perfection (God) is 777. Evil (Satan) is seen as being just short of perfection, and is therefore represented by the number 6, hence 666.
posted by thewittyname at 9:19 PM on March 26, 2005


Sort of relevant Pixies lyric, from Monkey Gone to Heaven:
If Man is 5... (repeat)
Then the devil is 6... (repeat)
And if the devil is 6, then
God is 7 (repeat)
There must be some more meaning to these numbers. I'm interested to hear what people think.
posted by knave at 9:54 PM on March 26, 2005


There are many interpretations of the name represented by the number 666. The most popular one is that it stands for the Roman Emperor Nero. The numerical value of the letters of the Latin name Neron Caesar adds up to 666.

By a similar reckoning, "George Bush" also adds up to 666. People have been playing "pin the tail on the Beast" this way for a long time.

No one really knows for sure what John was getting at, and the symbolic meaning suggested by thewittyname is as good as any.
posted by SPrintF at 9:57 PM on March 26, 2005


There was a lot of wine back then, you know what I mean? Morning, noon, and night, sometimes in place of water.
posted by dong_resin at 10:03 PM on March 26, 2005


i always thought it was Kabbalah stuff. (the wiki mentions that too)
posted by amberglow at 10:06 PM on March 26, 2005


numerology is weirdly interesting in the way it's intuited... Seven is not just a 'perfect' number in the bible; it is widely a beloved number - it's no accident we have a 7 day week,7 colors in the rainbow (when 6 would really have sufficed; the indigo/violet thing is a stretch...) - even 7 dwarves or deadly sins or whatever. The obvious thing is that it's a prime and it's under 10. 2 and 3 are special in their own way, and 5 is a little too neat because it's exactly half 10. But 7 retains some mystery...

6 has no mystery. It's the duplicitous trinity.
posted by mdn at 10:18 PM on March 26, 2005


SPrintF, don't forget the 6-6-6 hit in the number of letters in "Ronald Wilson Reagan."
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:32 PM on March 26, 2005


Cabalistic numerology is much more complex and subtle than is implied in that Wikipedia piece. Very clever old Hebrew scholars invented it, and they made it rather inscrutable, not having computers to play with back then. Revelation is not in the Torah though, and I'm not sure what the odds might be that it was written to have some specific numerological significance, but certainly there are many people who think it does.

Among things that add up to 666 in Hebrew are "Shem Yehoshuah" (that'd be Jesus), "Elohikam" (Your God), and "The spirit of the sun." Any good numerologist should be able to give you an answer or two as to what this means, but I won't even try. Any simple answer you find is meaningless.

Have you read the rest of Revelation? There's some weird shit in there. Maybe you might as well be asking what special meaning is in the number 16793.

6 - that's Tiphareth. Heart of the tree of life. 6 is also the number of a bear, a roof, and white linen. And the Supernatural Father. Sure, 7 is a big number too, but don't count out 6. 7 is the number of deadly sins. The number of dwarves in Snow White. The atomic number of nitrogen. Netzach. Can be challenging. Seven isn't so perfect.

I know nothing of this stuff, but I do have a copy of Godwin's Cabalistic Encyclopedia. Not that it's in any way a definitive work. There is more to it than numerology, of course.
posted by sfenders at 10:37 PM on March 26, 2005


My NIV Study Bible concurs with thewittyname, and adds that 888 represented Christ.
posted by brownpau at 10:49 PM on March 26, 2005


Here's what my Greek divinity teachers used to say to explain 666 (which I am guessing, considering Greek education, is probably the official stance of the Orthodox Church): Revelation was originally written in Greek, and you have to remember there were no Arab numerals used at the time. In Greek numerals, digits are represented by letters (the Wikipedia entry has the explanation), so 666=??? (hope this shows up right, Chi, Xi, Sigma). Well, ???, sorta looks like Christ (???st??) with a serpent through it (?, the letter Xi). Never bought it, but as good an explanation as any...
posted by costas at 2:55 AM on March 27, 2005


I think you are all speaking of mythology, not truth.
posted by Dean Keaton at 4:55 AM on March 27, 2005


I heard before that it was just a symbolic number chosen because its cool in Roman numerals (uses each letter symbol it contains once): DCLXVI. But that begs the question, why not 1666, since then it could have been even cooooooooler cause then we could add a nice M in front of it. Also, since costas just pointed out that the New Testament is written in Greek, this makes much less sense...
posted by leapingsheep at 4:56 AM on March 27, 2005


haven't you people read foucault's pendulum? these things don't mean a thing. except that people believe them.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:13 AM on March 27, 2005


we have a 7 day week

From the observer's point of view, most of the stars in the sky are fixed, apart from comets/meteorites - and also the seven regularly moving bodies - the sun, moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, after which the days of the week are named in a number of cultures. This is a very old system. See here, for instance.
posted by carter at 7:43 AM on March 27, 2005


From the observer's point of view, most of the stars in the sky are fixed, apart from comets/meteorites - and also the seven regularly moving bodies - the sun, moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, after which the days of the week are named in a number of cultures. This is a very old system. See here, for instance.

Yes, I know the history of the week (although the romans did try a period of 8 days for a while, and I remember reading about a culture which had a 10 day week); there's also the medieval observation that there are seven "portals" to the head - two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth... I was just saying that people find 7 really appealing. If there had been a different number of observable planets, I wouldn't be surprised if the ancients would have 'played' the numbers to end up with seven - e.g., not count the sun, or add in a comet, or whatever (the way, I maintain, we did with the colors of the rainbow).

And of course, the week is described in the OT - 6 days of work, but the 7th day for rest and observation - the 7th day is the mystery, or divine part; with only 6, it's all just work, the pointless machinations of nature. For the religious, the meaning of life is not the process of life, but the excess or overflow, the non-utilitarian part.

as for all the "this name adds up to 666", I would definitely bet that those observations came after the fact, rather than being what defined the fact. That is, I'm pretty sure it's the 'sense' of the meaning of these numbers that makes them symbolic. Compare it to 'why is purple a royal color' - not because the royalty wore it; rather, they wore it because it has a feeling which can represent nobility (dark and sombre like blue, but not as cool and rational/removed; it has a tinge of passion or strength which blue lacks)

I think you are all speaking of mythology, not truth.

I don't think anyone was claiming otherwise.
posted by mdn at 8:40 AM on March 27, 2005


6 - that's Tiphareth. Heart of the tree of life. 6 is also the number of a bear, a roof, and white linen. And the Supernatural Father. Sure, 7 is a big number too, but don't count out 6. 7 is the number of deadly sins. The number of dwarves in Snow White. The atomic number of nitrogen. Netzach. Can be challenging. Seven isn't so perfect.

Huh. That's something I'd never thought of. One could (perhaps) argue, then, that 666 being the Beast's number is Tiphareth thrice, representing the heart/base nature of humanity, with the Supernals far above. Though that doesn't work so much, unless you further argue that it's a step after Netzach (progressing upwards; in victory there's yet another task to be conquered), or that it leads into Netzach (victory over the Beast as the Universe is created). Or, I'm over-tired, and talking out my ass ;)

All that said, is there any evidence to suggest that John was a student of the Kabbalah? Further, as pointed out above, given that the original is written in Greek, Hebraic numerology does fall apart just a wee bit.

It does seem apparent that Aleister Crowley, for example, subscribed to the 666=one less than perfection, thrice idea when he wrote Liber 777; he intended the book to be associated with perfection. Now, while Uncle Al was, to put it mildly, a bit of a nutcase in his personal life, I have found that his esoteric/symbolic knowledge is generally pretty trustworthy.

Oh, and sfenders, if you study Kabbalah, I'd love to talk to you. email is [myusername]@gmail.com.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:41 AM on March 27, 2005


And of course, the week is described in the OT - 6 days of work, but the 7th day for rest and observation - the 7th day is the mystery, or divine part; with only 6, it's all just work, the pointless machinations of nature.

And there's another possible explanation... the number of the Beast representing work, the mundane, the profane, tied to the length of the week. Hm.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:45 AM on March 27, 2005


Well, even the explanation I posted above is bogus (may very well be), there is still the point that Revelation was written in Greek and that the number 666 was not actually represented as three "sixes" in neither numeral system used at the time (i.e. Greek or Roman): both systems had different digits used for tens and hundreds, and the original Greek text doesn't mention the number of the Beast as three sixes but as six-hundred sixty-six (which is DCLXVI in Roman and Chi Xi Sigma, ??? in Greek). If I can make up my own explanation, I'd rather go with the fact that "six hundred and sixty six" in Greek, repeats the sound "ex" (or "hex") three times ("exakosia exikonta exi"), which is also the prefix meaning "out" (as in "cast out").
posted by costas at 12:02 AM on March 28, 2005


The most lucid hypothesis I heard about that was that the 666 was an intentional bit of coding used to refer to someone powerful, probably the Emperor Nero, without naming that person explicitly and hence attracting unwelcome attention.

Nero was not very kind to Christians. Burned hundreds of them, if not thousands, in great public auto-da-fes on numerous occasions. I can see why you wouldn't necessarily want to call him the Beast in your holy text, at least not explicitly. So the word gets around that this part of the text means Nero, the Christians get it, the Romans don't hear about it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:35 AM on March 28, 2005


It's probably symbolic. In Hebrew every character is a number, too, in addition, they have a different way of looking at numbers.

For example, 40 days and 40 nights, does not mean literally "40 days and 40 nights", it means "a long ass time, after 40 days, we quit counting"

So, 666 probably means something else. And if I recall, scripture says it's the MARK of the beast, not the number, though I could be mistaken on that point.
posted by jaded at 6:29 AM on March 28, 2005


Yes, jaded, but seeing as Revelations wasn't written in Hebrew, as noted above, applying Hebrew numerology to it is a bit of a stretch.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:37 AM on March 28, 2005


No one knows what the 666 means. Some have said that it was said cryptically so as not to offend the person it referred to (Nero, for example), but that's actually not very likely considering that the early Christians (and John) were already pissing off the Romans, and really had little to lose by being blunt. Kabala is equally unlikely, as one would expect a Kabalic book to be written in Hebrew, which and Revelation of John was not. It's probably not symbolic, but a word game of some kind based on the values of letters and numbers in the Greek alphabet. Various theories have been proposed, both serious and laughable. The 666 has been said to refer to emperors, kings, the Catholic Church, and Bill Gates. In reality, no one really is sure what John meant.

For reference, here is the passage in question:

16He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.

18This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.
posted by unreason at 6:49 AM on March 28, 2005


There was a lot of wine back then, you know what I mean? Morning, noon, and night, sometimes in place of water.
posted by dong_resin at 10:03 PM PST on March 26 [!]


FYI, the reference is a copy of Dr Pepper marketing.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:02 AM on March 28, 2005


fyi this thread's in meta
posted by andrew cooke at 12:00 PM on March 28, 2005


Yes, jaded, but seeing as Revelations wasn't written in Hebrew, as noted above, applying Hebrew numerology to it is a bit of a stretch.

My college New Testament professor talked about this aspect as a reason why it was likely that Hebrew numerology was in play-- only the target audience would be accustomed to playing the gematriya game and the author ("John") could therefore insult the caesar without explicitly saying it was he. And it was written around the time of Diocletian, not Nero, who lived forty years or so earlier, which is why Jews might readily recognize the code number. In other words, he's saying "Diocletian is so bad he's like Nero".
posted by norm at 12:04 PM on March 28, 2005


I also agree with the symbolism of the 666 to represent Nero (also helps that is what I was taught by my theology teacher). As others have referred to, Christians were starting to be crucified by Nero and thus needed a warning symbol for him and hence 666. In fact, it can be argued that pretty much all of Revelations is just one big warning via massive imagery from John to the Christians to watch out for the Romans & Nero.
posted by jmd82 at 12:19 PM on March 28, 2005


What I want to know is what the "mark of the beast" stuff is talking about...
posted by ac at 2:13 PM on March 28, 2005


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