I started this small thread in response to a question about the use of “gematria” in the New Testament, the ancient Jewish interpretive technique that uses the numerical value of letters to find deeper significance in the words they are found in. If you did it in English, and a = 1, b= 2 and so on, when you got to j it would = 10, k = 20, and so on. In that case if your name is Jack your name would add up to 34; when you found another word whose letters also add up to 34 (say, “brilliant” or “egocentric” – neither of which, of course, does add up to 34…) then you could connect the two words and say that the one explains the other.
One possible use of gematria occurs in the very first passage of the NT, the genealogy of the Gospel of Matthew. I pointed out in my previous post that Matthew presents a numerically significant genealogy of Jesus in order to show that something of major significance happen every fourteen generations: from Abraham, the father of the Jews, to David, the greatest king of the Jews: fourteen generations; from King David to the Babylonian Captivity, the greatest disaster for the Jews: fourteen generations; and from the Babylonian Captivity to the Messiah Jesus, the ultimate savior of the Jews: fourteen generations.
It’s a terrific genealogy. But to get to this 14-14-14 schema, Matthew had to manipulate the names in a couple of places, for example, by leaving out some of the generations and by counting the final set of names as fourteen, even though there are only thirteen. And so, we might wonder whether the number fourteen, in particular, was for some reasons significant for Matthew. Why not 15, or 12?
Over the years interpreters of Matthew have puzzled over the question and have suggested two interpretations, in particular, that strike me as interesting.
First, an interpretation that plays with the significance of the number but does not involve gematria: In ancient Israel, as in a number of other ancient societies where numbers had symbolic significance, the number 7 was supremely important: it signified…
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