Or maybe it was Bonaparte...
"I alighted at a bungalow appertaining to the British Residency. There I found an Englishman, who, without any preface, accosted me thus;
"Pray, Mr Macaulay, do you not think that Buonaparte was the Beast?"
"No, sir, I cannot say that I do."
"Sir, he was the Beast. I can prove it. I have found the number 666 in his name. Why, sir, if he was not the Beast, who was?"
This was a puzzling question, and I am not a little vain of my answer.
"Sir," said I, "the House of Commons is the Beast. There are 658 members of the House, and these, with their chief officers- the three clerks, the
sergent and his deputy, the chaplain, the doorkeeper, and the librarian- make 666."
"Well, sir, that is strange. But I can assure you that if you write Napoleon Buonaparte in Arabic, leaving out only two letters, it will give
G.O.Trevelyan, "Life and letters of Lord Macaulay" (ch6)
I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation ch13 v18
Obviously I'm going to be asking the question; what is the meaning of 666?
We're told, in most translations, that it's "the number of a man."
The NIV says "It is man's number", which implies "Man" as a collective noun. But that's a modern English idiom; surely the Greek word for
"humanity" would have been "men"?
If it's the number of a man, who is that man?
We're told that the number can be calculated, and in the previous verse we were told that it is the number of a name. There's an obvious link
between name and number in the standard practice of the time, which was to represent numbers by means of letters of the alphabet.
We can't, unfortunately, work "forwards" from the number itself; we get nothing useful from the letters which represent the number 666.
So that's where the "calculation" comes in- the practice of Gematria. Choosing a possible name and working backwards from it, turning the letters
into numbers and trying to make them add up to 666.
Part of the process might work like this;
Our real difficulty, in practice, is that the "target number" of 666 can be reached only too easily, giving us multiple solutions.
If we limit the field to the people, and especially the Emperors, who would have been around in John's time, then the choice is manageable.
Nero seems to be the clear favourite amongst scholars. Apparently his name works equally well (in different forms) for 666 and for the variant reading
"616"- which might be the explanation for the other reading.
John Robinson, in "Redating the New Testament" (ch8) gives a similar puzzle about Nero which was quoted by Suetonius.
"Count the numerical values
Of the letters in Nero's name,
And in 'murdered his own mother'
You will find their sum is the same."
There's an alternative theory based on possible abbreviations of Domitian's titles- but apparently they haven't been found on coins in that
But once we bring in later candidates, the ambiguity of the process becomes much more problematic. Even if we knew (as we don't know) that the Beast
belonged to our own generation instead of some future generation, the choice would still be overwhelming. I can find even on one site the calculation
being applied to Bush, to Obama, to Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and to Georges Papandreou.
Furthermore, the fact that people are starting from their expected conclusion and working backwards from it gives them a strong temptation to
"fudge" the calculation. The most obvious method is to tinker with the name of the chosen candidate, until they find the form which best suits their
purposes. Leaving out two letters of Buonaparte. Giving his middle initial to "George W.Bush" and taking it away from "Bill Gates III". Allowing
"Charles, Prince of Wales" to have only one of his titles.
The result is that we've got no reason to feel confidence in any of these conclusions.
The process which purports to identify the Beast for us cannot, in fact, identify him with any certainty.
As far as I'm concerned, there's also something problematic about the basic assumption, that God would choose this way to address the later
It was a fairly natural way to communicate with the church of John's time. They were using letters to represent numbers as a matter of course, and a
code based on the fact would not be obscure to them- no more obscure than a code based on acronyms would be to us ("...and there was a great king in
the West called UKUSANATO...").
It is NOT a natural way to communicate with the church of later generations. We don't use letters to represent numbers, in daily life, which means
that we've lost the ability to make sense of Gematria. The technique is kept alive for code-breaking purposes, but it's not a language understood by
the people at large.
"In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers..."- Hebrews ch1 v1
My understanding of the Biblical God is that he is a God who wants to communicate.
Which means that he would want his meaning to be reasonably accessible.
I find it difficult to believe that he would deliberately send a message to the later church in a form which nobody would be able to read, leaving his
meaning to be uncovered by code-breakers.
Incidentally, this is not just about Gematria. The same objection applies to each and every interpretation which involves finding 666 in "hidden"
So what we need is a way to interpret "666" which would be reasonably accessible to the church at large- including, ideally, those who were around
when the book was first written.
I can offer three suggestions, all of which point in approximately the same direction.
One option is to apply the Gematria calculation in the usual way, limiting the field to the candidates known to the original church. We can then
regard the identified man as a model for the later Beast. This keeps us obedient to the instruction to "calculate" the number, and it liberates us
from the thankless task of disentangling all the other claims.
So if the identified man is Nero, then the point of comparison would be the persecution of the church.
If we can convince ourselves it relates to Domitian, then we can make use of the fact that he claimed the title DOMINUS ET DEUS ("Lord and God"),
and we can infer that the Beast would make similar claims for himself. And we've already assumed, for other reasons, that he would be calling himself
the returned Christ.
Either way, the parallel would be "Ruler who thinks highly of himself and kills many Christians".
Another option is to see significance in the detail that 666 was King Solomon's annual income in silver talents.
The anti-Masons haven't been slow to notice this, but I disregard that angle on the ground that the Christians of John's time would not have heard
of the Masons. Therefore the concept "Solomon- patron of the Masons" would not have been accessible to them.
More to the point, perhaps, is the information that Solomon was a multiple idolater.
"For when Solomon was very old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God."- 1 Kings
(He was also responsible for the cruel exploitation which caused the rebellion of Israel)
So this gives us the parallel "Great ruler who worships many gods, not faithful to the Biblical God."
The combination of these two suggestions produces a picture which is well in keeping with the rest of the chapter.
Finally, we can pay attention to the symbolic meaning of the number "6".
In Revelation, "7" is the number which points us towards God.
It's argued that "6" is the number which points us towards humanity (which brings us back to that slightly suspect NIV translation).
In both cases, the association goes back to the story of Creation. The 6th day, when humanity appeared- the 7th day, when God rested.
So the number "666" would be about a focussing upon humanity.
Which would be an evil- not because humanity is evil, in itself, but because humanity is not-God.
Idolatry is the act of setting up not-God in the place which belongs to the Creator God.
The raising of humanity itself to the place of God is that ultimate idolatry which goes right back to the Tower of Babel.
I've already suggested (in my previous thread) that the world-religion of the Beast would be focussing on humanity in two different ways.
There would be the worship of the world-state itself. I don't have the space to repeat my previous description of what Arnold Toynbee calls
"corporate self-worship", when a society becomes its own god. He saw it in modern nationalism, and he foresaw the possibility that it could be
enlarged to a "collective worship of Humanity". I suggested that this might be fulfilled in the worship of the "first Beast", which the population
of the world would be worshipping precisely because they could recognise it as a projection of themselves.
As for the second Beast, the leader, it is generally understood that he would be identifying himself with the returned Christ (whatever other
religious titles he might be claiming), and this, of course, would be the ultimate act of setting a human individual in the place of God.
So then, one way or another, the worship of humanity.
And that, I suggest, is the central meaning of "666".
[edit on 25-7-2010 by DISRAELI]