Last Sunday we looked, briefly, at a cryptogram of Hebrew numerals and the number 666. If you would like to take more time to study it I have some good information for you from Peter Rollo who writes, using numerous academic sources, the following:
In ancient days alphabets served two purposes. Their first purpose was to create words, but secondly, the letters were also assigned a numerical value. You may have already heard of “Roman numerals” such as “I” (1), “V” (5), “X” (10), and so on. Most ancient languages at the time functioned in the same way. That is how John’s mark of the beast, who is a man, can be both a name/word and a number. Because of the two-fold function of letters, numerical “cryptograms” were fairly common in antiquity. Among the Greeks it was called isopsephia (numerical equality); among the Jews it was called gimatriya (mathematical). Any given name or word could be reduced to its numerical equivalent by adding up the mathematical value of all of the letters of the name. For example, a cryptogram discovered in excavations from Pompeii, which was buried by a volcanic eruption in AD 79. In Greek the inscription written was: philo es arithmos ph m e (“I love her whose number is 545”).9 This, of course, is just one interesting example of countless that can be found in Hellenistic and Rabbinic literature.
If we were to take Nero’s name in Greek (Νέρων Καῖσαρ) and add up the letters in his name it adds up to 1005. That doesn’t quite match 666. But remember, John was a political prisoner in the custody of the Greek-speaking Romans. It would have been wiser for him to use another language like Hebrew, which was much less commonly known at the time.10 In Hebrew, Nero’s name (נרון קסר) when transliterated into English letters is “Nrwn Qsr”. This is the way it was found to be spelled in Hebrew in the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings.11 When converted to numbers, Nero’s name adds up to exactly 666.
HEBREW LETTERNUMERICAL VALUE
If that isn’t convincing enough: there is an intriguing textual variant that appeared very early in Revelation’s manuscript history. These variants rendered the mark of the beast number as 616 rather than 666. Many highly respected scholars believe this change was intentional, rather than due to a scribal error.12 This change to 616 occurred when the Bible was being copied in Latin and appears in other historical writings.13 In the Latin form Nero Caesar (נרו קסר) adds up to 616 instead of 666. This change allowed for the cryptogram to be deciphered by contemporary Christians whose main language was Latin. Early Christians wanted their brothers and sisters to know who the beast was and were willing to update the Bible in order to do that.
9. ‘The name of the lover is concealed; the beloved will know it when she recognizes her name in the sum of the numerical value of the 3 letters ph m e, i.e., 545 (ph = 500 + m = 40 + e = 5). But the passing stranger does no know in the very least who the beloved is, nor does the 19th century investigator know which of the many Greek feminine names she bore. For he does not know how many letters there are in the name which gives us the total of 545 when added numerically.’ Cited in Oskar Ruhle, “arithmeo” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., TDNT, trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 462. See also: Miller Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New Haven: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1941), p. 270.
10. ‘Even though most in John’s audience did not know Hebrew, some no doubt did and could have explained the mystery to others. More importantly, John knew Hebrew and no doubt understood the significance of this number in his vision by Hebrew consonants rather than by Greek letters.’ Robert W. Wall, Revelation, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 173–175.
11. Moses Stuart, A commentary on the Apocalypse, 1861.
12 ‘When Greek letters are used as numerals the difference between 666 and 616 is merely a change from ξ to ι (666 = χξς and 616 = χις). Perhaps the change was intentional, seeing that the Greek form Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters (נרון קסר) is equivalent to 666, whereas the Latin form Nero Caesar (נרו קסר) is equivalent to 616.’ Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 676. For a more thorough discussion of this textual variant and the significance of the number, see Aune, Revelation 6–16, pp. 722, 770–73; Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, pp. 384–407; and Smalley, The Revelation to John, pp. 350–53.
13. Such as Irenaeus and the Donatist Tyconius. See: Textual Apparatus, ad. loc., in Aland, The Greek New Testament, p. 869. Also see: Metzger, Textual Commentary, pp. 751-752.