Continued from Part 3, Jewish Themes.
Some of the imagery of Revelation may reflect mythic images from gentile cultures.
Revelation is famous for its numbers. In this section, I will list the more prominent ones and hazzard theories about their meanings.
In particular, the 144,000, together with the 24 elders, are a clear parallel to the muster of Israel in 1 Chronicles 22- 23, where David entrusts Solomon with the commission to build the Temple. This puts God in the role of David and the Lamb in the role of Solomon. What temple is the Lamb to build? There is the living temple of Israel, Old and New. The only other new temple to appear in the vision is one that never strictly appears at all; when John beholds New Jerusalem (a cube lined with gold, like the Holy of Holies), he notes that there is no temple in it because God and the Lamb are its temple. The new temple is the divine rule of Kingdom Come, and the sealing of the 144,000 is the mustering of Israel that leads to it.
In the second half of the 1 Kings 10 is a catalog of Solomon's wealth. It stands between the visit of the Queen of Sheba and his acquisition of many foreign wives and subsequent descent into pagan practices. And the kings of Israel were not supposed to acquire great personal wealth, anyway (Deuteronomy 17), so the catalog of wealth can be taken as marking the start of Solomon's decline. Item one in the catalog is a yearly income of 666 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:17).
Assigning the standard numerical values to the Greek letters, the name of Jesus in Greek adds up to 888:
Iesous = Ιησουσ = iota eta sigma omicron upsilon sigma = 10 + 8 + 200 + 70 + 400 + 200 = 888
The Number of the Beast is thus a numerical parody of the Number of the Lamb.
666 is the triangle of the square of 6. Taking the triangle of a number was commoner in the mathematics of late antiquity than it is now. Example:
Square of 5 (=25) Triangle of 5 (=15)
o o o o o o
o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o o o
The square of 6 is 36, and the triangle of 36 is 666. Thus, not only in its notation but in its magnitude, 666 is a thorough expansion on six. And six is not only a falling short of seven, it may echo the six suites, the six Days of Judgement in counterpoise to the six Days of Creation – the Beast as an instrument and object of judgement.
Continuing the triangle theme, if you take the triangle of 666 dots and divide it into a concentric series of nested triangles, you get twelve triangles. The outermost triangle has 105 dots. 105 = 30 x 3.5 Also, 1260 = 12 x 30 x 3.5 Here we have the "time, times,and half a time" the Woman spends in the Wilderness, sheltering from the Dragon (12:14), which is also 1260 days (12:6), and the 42 months of authority of the Beast (12 x 3.5, at 13:5).
Also note that 666 is about two thirds of 1000. One thousand is the natural numerical badge of the millenial kingdom. The Beast comes into its kingdom, however, only after the first four trumpets have plasted blasted away one third of the world; the Beast rules only two thirds of everything.
Continuing the millenial theme, 666 in Roman numerals is DCLXVI – the first six letters used in Roman numerals. The series points to the only remaining letter numeral, M, one thousand. The kingdom of the Beast presages and falls short of the kingdom of the Lamb.
The Number of the Beast is explicitly the number of a name. But I have yet to see a convincing choice of whose name.
Finally and most speculatively, there may be a connection to Platonism and Pythagorean number symbolism. Plato, writing in a Pythagorean vein, mentions a "human number." Plato gives a formula for this "human number" but doesn't actually give the number. Mathematical terminology was very little developed in his time, so even his contemporaries had a hard time determining what number he meant. General concensus is that his number was 216, which, in modern terminology, is 6 cubed, that is 6 x 6 x 6. The number 666 is not a cube, but it is the triangle of the square of 6. And, like 216, it is a way of expressing six three times over.
John may easily have known something of Greek philosophy. Perhaps John knew of Plato's "human number" and calculated it differently than the concensus of modern scholars, or perhaps he was more concerned with the triplicity of 6 than with the actual numerical value (and, as mentioned, 666 has other interesting properties).
In the Greek, the "number of a man" is not the number of an andros (a male human being) but the number of an anthropos, a human being, gender unspecified. I do not know enough Greek, but could the passage be translated "for the number is a human number"?
If this conjecture holds, it could mean the Beast, though demanding worship, is not even demonic (though raised up by Satan) nor, of course, divine, but merely human. It also might mean that, rather than looking for someone whose name adds up to 666 in Greek or Hebrew numerals, Beast-spotters should look for someone or some human thing (like a political movement) that demands worship of the merely human.
How many of these connections are truly intended in the number 666? I have no way of telling.
Whether taken literally or not, 3.5 seems to signify the ascendancy of evil and the eclipse of good. In Daniel 7:25, the mysterious fourth beast, apparently the Beast of Revelation, is given the saints to grind down for "a time, times, and half a time." The war that destroyed Jerusalem lasted 3.5 years, ending in 70 AD. So did the Macchabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes.
Continue to Part 5, Interpretation.
Back to Part 3, Jewish Themes.
Return to Introduction to Essays
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011