Return here to the Shadows in Eden home page.....

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

666: The Number of the Beast

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” Oh, how much dread this brief phrase has invoked! The phrase, from the New Testament’s [1]Book of Revelation, has provided fertile source material for [2]artists, assorted metal bands and horror blockbuster scriptwriters, and has been the source of much speculation by serious scholastic opinion at one end of the spectrum and doomsday conspiracy theorists at the other.

The number has even generated its very own medically-recognized phobia with the Scrabble-defying name of hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either), which has resulted in such startling urban changes as U.S. Highway 666 being renamed Highway 491 for that specific reason.

When fear gains the upper hand then chaos reigns, and common sense goes straight out the window. But as often as not, fear is not a rational thing, and just how irrational our fear of the ‘beast’ and the number 666 really is can be realized with a better understanding of the true meaning behind the phrase. The first clue is right there in the phrase’s opening words: “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding…”. With these words we are given the clear signal that this phrase is not intended as some ghastly portent, but as containing concealed ‘wisdom’, if only we can unlock the puzzle and gain access to that inner knowledge. We are specifically told that we will need understanding – insight – to solve the puzzle, or as Jesus himself says [3]elsewhere: it is the sort of knowledge intended ‘for those who have ears to hear’.

We are further told that 666 is ‘the number of a man’. But which man? Based upon [4]gematria, candidates ranging from the [5]suitably bestial Roman emperor Nero to the [6]Pontiff and even Mohammed have been put forward. So we have a two-part puzzle to solve: the identity of this ‘man’, and why his number totals that mysterious 666. But there is another factor: we need to remember that we are reading what is in reality a translation from the Greek original. Did the author of Revelation really mean a ‘beast’? The word in English is immediately scary and emotive, suggesting all manner of misshapen horrors lurking in the shadows. But the word used in the original Greek is Θηρίον (thērion), which suggests something wild, primal and untamed. And such a force need be neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’, but merely impartial – as neutral as an unleashed thunderstorm which, for all its display of awesome power, simply ‘is’. So our lurking beast is already looking a touch more friendly and less sinister. But what about that most notorious of numbers?

In the ancient world the sun and moon were thought of as planetary ‘spheres’ together with the other then-known [7]planets, and each of these seven spheres were assigned their own seals and [8]magic squares. And it is the magic square of the sun that provides the key to unlock our puzzle. For adding all the numbers together in the sun’s magic square produces (as you probably have now guessed) the total of 666. So it is the [9]sun which must have some special connection with this number. And surely the sun fits the job description of thērion – not a beast, but an untamed (and untameable) force of splendor and power.

But the phrase is not an isolated number. About the ‘man’, it ends: ‘and his number is 666’, which in its original Greek yields the gematria value of 2368. And this number in Greek letters spells out: Ιησούς Χριστός – ‘Jesus Christ’. I am aware that to many, the realization that the ‘man’ alluded to in this notorious passage turns out to be Jesus himself will probably either provoke an outraged rejection, or require them to sit down quietly for awhile to catch their breath. But that the number values of the text in its original Greek yield this actual name is surely beyond all coincidence. And the only way we can make sense of these findings is to press on deeper into Gnostic beliefs.

The spiritual vision of the Gnostics involved the belief that all that is visible to us in our material existence – including the life-giving sun – has a higher equivalent in the spirit. So there is a ‘spiritual’ sun beyond the actual sun – the ‘666 sun’ – which we see in the heavens, just as there is a true Christ – the Christ of the Holy Spirit – beyond the man – the son – who appeared on earth. What the phrase is telling us is that we need to seek beyond the material world – beyond what we see and experience with our senses – to reach the greater mysteries of the spirit which lie behind these outward appearances.

I cannot deny that a part of me rather regrets raining on the parade of all those growling goth metal bands and horror scriptwriters, but I would sooner press on to the heart of a mystery, wherever it might lead. And where this particular mystery leads is to realize that what this notorious phrase in the Book of Revelation describes is anything but the creature of bestial evil which our own [10]misreading of the phrase has created. It is rather a message of grace and hope, and its messenger is our own life-giving sun.

[1] The Book of Revelation 13:18

[2] Ah, mea culpa! It provided one of the key sequences for my own REVELATIONS video. Please see my post Hawkwood and Divine Retribution.

[3] This phrase is usually repeated in scriptural texts as a way of signaling that a statement has both an everyday ‘story’ meaning and a hidden spiritual message intended for an inner circle of followers.

[4] Gematria: the system of attributing numerical values to written letters in those alphabets which have no numbers. This would include both Hebrew and the Greek in which scriptural texts were written. Names and phrases then yield a numerical total which can have a further esoteric significance.

[5] Known for his persecutions of those belonging to the new faith (at this early date the term ‘Christianity’ and its doctrines had not yet been defined), Nero was said to have lit the grounds of his villa with their crucified and burning bodies. A stroke of ruthless political maneuvering also had him arranging and carrying out his mother’s murder. Desolate at the death of his first wife, he had a freed slave castrated and then married him, apparently because the slave bore an uncanny resemblance to his late wife. Facing ultimate revolt, he decided on suicide, but balked when the moment came and instead ordered his private secretary to murder him. Nero was just thirty years old when he died, which for history was probably not a day too soon.

[6] Yes, I’m aware of all the conspiracy theory websites and assorted YouTube videos which claim ‘proof’ for the alleged link between the Papal office and the beast of Revelation. But none of them as far as I am aware make the connection that were this to be so, then it would establish a pro-Gnostic, if not an actual Gnostic author for Revelation. In an increasingly hostile orthodox environment, and with their own faith coming under threat from the Church of Rome, the Gnostics would have had good reason to encode the identity of the perceived threat into scripture. As this post summarizes, I personally consider the truth to lie elsewhere, and in more positive directions – although this in itself still makes a pro-Gnostic stance for the Revelation author both likely and plausible, It is tempting to speculate about other encoded information in the text, perhaps in the form of gematria. The mere fact that there are no less than twenty one separate sets of sevens mentioned (seven candlesticks, seven seals, seven plagues, etc.) must at least give pause for thought.

[7] Outwards from the earth, the planetary spheres were believed to be: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, with beyond these seven, the sphere of the stars, and beyond the stars, the realms of the different orders of angels. 

[8] Magic squares are figures set out in a grid whose numbers create the same totals when added along all the vertical, horizontal and two principal diagonal columns. Each planet is ascribed its own magic square, and one – the magic square of Jupiter – has been adapted from the writings of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (who resurrected these figures from antiquity) by the artist Albrecht Dürer, who incorporated it into his famous masterpiece engraving known as Melencolia 1 (left). Agrippa gave his three-volume work the title Occult Philosophy – although the word ‘occult’ did not then carry our own contemporary overtones, but was used in the sense of describing ‘hidden knowledge’. The relevant page of Agrippa’s text can be viewed here: Occult Philosophy, Book 2, chapter xxii. Of the tables of the Planets, their vertues, forms, and what Divine names, Intelligencies, and Spirits are set over them.

[9] That these pre-Christian teachings of Pythagoras and Plato exist in canonical scripture is already established by the story in John’s gospel (John 21: 10-11) of the miraculous catch of 153 fishes in the net (please see my post: Vesica Piscis: The Tale of a Fish), and there are other examples which I would like to cover in future posts. I can only imagine that these examples of pre-Christian Gnosticism survived the 3rd-4th-century purges of such material to make it into the canon simply because the uncomprehending orthodox editors failed to realize their significance. But there they are in any Bible – and there is the encrypted reference to the sun in the Book of Revelation.

[10] An idea, once it has taken root, can be more resilient and more powerful than the truth. Few examples which I can think of illustrate this point so tellingly as the way in which the literal reading of the ‘number of the beast’ phrase has embedded itself in our culture. And how ironic is it that it is Gnostic insight – the very beliefs which were so ruthlessly rooted out by the early Church Fathers – which transforms this seemingly-dark phrase into a message of hope.  

John Michell: The Dimensions of Paradise: Sacred Geometry, Ancient Science, and the Heavenly Order on Earth. The gematria calculations in this post are those of Michell’s in this title. A considerably more detailed exposition of these conclusions can be found in his book than is given here.
David Fideler: Jesus Christ, Sun of God: ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism.

Nero sesturtius coin, 54-55 CE, from: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
Melencolia 1, engraving by Albrecht Dürer, 1514, in the British Museum, with other original prints housed in various museums around the world. 666 'beast' and all other graphics by Hawkwood, ©David Bergen Studio. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

You are welcome to share your thoughts.