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666: The Number of the Beast

This post will be the culmination of my thread that deals with ancient numerology, especially as it is based on the fact that ancient languages used letters of the alphabets for their numbers, making it possible to add up the numerical equivalent of any word.   In this post I will explain how that relates to one of the great mysteries of the Bible, the identification of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, whose number was 666. Yesterday’s post was meant as background to this brief discussion, and I’d suggest reading it first to make sense of what I’ll say here.  I also need to point out that this kind of numerological investigation was turned into a major interpretive method in Hebrew-speaking and –reading circles, since the inspired words of Scripture each had numerical equivalents, and one can always play with numbers.  The ancient interpreters who did such things were not “playing” of course.  It was a very serious and complex business.  This use of the numerical value of words in Hebrew, to help fathom [...]

2020-04-03T14:00:11-04:00February 18th, 2015|Revelation of John|

Creative Uses of Numbers in Scripture

Here I resume my interrupted thread on the use of letters as numbers in ancient languages.   As I had indicated earlier, Greek and Hebrew did not use a different system for their alphabets and their numerals, but the letters of the alphabet played double duty, so that each letter had a numerical value.  One pay-off of that system was that every word had a numerical value, discovered simply by adding up the letters.   In Greek, for example, the six letters in the name Jesus, Ιησους , add up to 888. Or another example: in Hebrew, the three letters in the name “David” (ancient Hebrew did not have vowels, only consonants), D-V-D were worth 4-6-4, so that the name added up to 14.   That may have been significant for the genealogy of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 1:1-17), since, as Matthew presents it, Jesus, the “son of David” had a genealogical tree that can be organized around the number 14:  between the father of the Jews, Abraham, and the greatest king of the Jews, David, was 14 generations [...]

2020-04-03T14:00:26-04:00February 17th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

More on Greek Numerals

A member of the blog, Douglas Harder, was inspired by yesterday's post on how to make numbers in Greek, to come up with a full description and chart of how it works.  He sent it to me and gave me his approval to post it.  I think it is very clear and interesting.   So here is what he has come up with.  (In my next couple of posts I'll talk about how knowing this information matters for understanding some early Christian texts, including a curious passage in the letter of Barnabas and, then, the 666 -- the number of the Beast -- in the book of Revelation.) ************************************************************************ Greek numerals Like the Romans, the Greeks used letters to represent numbers.  An older pre-Hellenistic Greek alphabet had 27 characters, not 24, and this allowed them to create three groups of nine letters where the first nine represented the values 1 through 9, the next nine represented 10, 20, 30 up to 90, and the last nine represented 100, 200, 300 and up to 900. These [...]

2020-04-03T14:06:02-04:00February 11th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

Another Instance of Gematria

From my last post on the gematria at work (possibly) in Matthew’s genealogy, I can’t resist adding a note about the Jewish use of gematria – or its Greek equivalent – in another early Christian writing, the epistle of Barnabas. First: two bits of background. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, NOW'S YOUR CHANCE!!! The epistle of Barnabas was seen as part of the New Testament by a number of early Christian writers.  It almost made it in.  It is attributed (not by the author himself, but by later readers) to Paul’s traveling companion – mentioned in Acts – Barnabas.  But the book itself is anonymous, and it was certainly not written by Barnabas, who was long dead by the time it was produced.   Scholars generally date the book to around the year 130 or so (Barnabas would have died at least 70 years earlier).   The book represents an attempt to show its Christian readers that the Jews who [...]

Matthew’s Genealogy: The Number “Fourteen”

Like my previous post, this one takes material over from my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. I pointed out in the 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 [...]

2020-04-03T19:07:23-04:00December 19th, 2012|Canonical Gospels|
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