Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Number & Mark of the Beast

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Number of the Beast is a term in the Book of Revelation associated with the Beast of Revelation.  In most manuscripts of the New Testament and in English translations of the Bible, the number of the Beast is thought to be 666.  In the Novum Testamentum Graece and other editions of the Greek text, is it thought to be 616.

Revelation 13:15-18
15 Further, it was able to put life into that Beast’s image, so that even the Beast’s image uttered speech; and if anyone refused to worship the image of the Beast, it had him put to death.  16 All alike, little and great, rich and poor, free men and slaves, must receive a mark from him on their right hands, or on their foreheads, 17 and none might buy or sell, unless he carried this mark, which was the Beast’s name, or the number that stands for his name.  18 Here is room for discernment; let the reader, if he has the skill, cast up the sum of the figures in the Beast’s name, after our human fashion, and the number will be six hundred and sixty-six.

The actual number is only mentioned once, in verse 18.  In the Greek manuscripts of the Book of Revelation, is titled the Apocalypse of John.  This number is rendered in Greek numerical form, or sometimes literally as, hexakósioi hexekonta héx, ‘six hundred and sixty-six’.  There are several interpretations-translations for the meaning of the phrase, “Here is room for discernment; let the reader, if he has the skill, cast up the sum of the figures in the Beast’s name” where the peculiar Greek word psefisato is used.  Possible translations of this world include not only ‘to count’, ‘to reckon’ but also ‘to vote’ or ‘to decide’.  Both in Greek and in Hebrew, the letters of the alphabet are used for numerical figures.  In Greek, the letters of Latinus; in Hebrew, the letters of Nero Caesar, would add up to the sum of 666, but these identifications are uncertain, and likely, purely speculation.

In the Textus Receptus, derived from Byzantine text-type manuscripts, the number 666 is represented by the final three letters χξς.  The last letter of the Greek alphabet is not the equivalent of the English letter ‘Z’, but ‘Omega’. The Greek letter ς used for the number 6 is a late form of the digamma letter.  In Novum Testamentum Graece, the number is represented by the final three words, meaning ‘six hundred sixty-six’.

Irenaeus, in the 2nd century CE, affirmed the number to be 666 and reported several scribal errors of the number.  But there is still a minority of theologians who have doubt about the original reading because of the figure 616 being given in Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, one of the four great uncial codices; as well as by the Latin version of Tyconius; and by an ancient Armenian version.  Certainly, Irenaeus knew about the 616 reading, but did not adopt it.  Several centuries later, correcting the existing Latin language version of the New Testament, commonly referred to as the Vetus Latina, Jerome of Illyria left it in.

Around 2005, a fragment from Papyrus 115, taken from the Oxyrhynchus site, was discovered at the Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum.  It gave the Beast's number as 616.  This is the oldest manuscript fragment of Revelation 13 to date, being about 1,700 years old.  The age of a manuscript is not an indicator of the date of its writing.  It refers to how old the physical material is.  All original biblical manuscripts are non-existent today.  They were held and copied onto new materials and eventually, the originals fell apart, leaving fragments for a period and then only the copies.  The oldest materials might actually be among the newest manuscripts.

Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus was known before the Papyrus 115 fragment finding but it dates to after it.  Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus has 616 written in full.  This has led some scholars to conclude that 616 is the original number of the Beast.  The number 666 has been substituted for 616 either by analogy with 888, the Greek number of Jesus, according to Gustav Adolf Deissmann, or because it is a triangular number: the sum of the first 36 numbers is 666.

Interpreting the identity and the number of the Beast falls into three categories.  The first is using gematria to calculate the number of a world leader’s name, in order to match it with the number of the Beast.  The second is associating the number of the Beast as the duration of the Beast’s reign, in order to compare the length of reign to an entity.  It has frequently been compared to Islam, or the Papacy by evangelical Christians.  It is also used in symbolism for the Anti-Christ and ‘anti-Christian’ authority.  In Greek isopsephy and Hebrew gematria, every letter has a corresponding number.  In Islam, we know this as abjad.  Summing these numbers gives a numeric value to a word or name.

Gematria has also been used with the word ‘Maometis’, referring to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  This is a dubious and obscure Latinisation of a Greek transliteration of an Arabic word.  In Quia Maior, the encyclical calling for the Fifth Crusade, Pope Innocent III identified Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) with the Beast of Revelation.  Later popes have never done this, and they do not accept this.  A leading exponent of the Maometis interpretation was Charles Walmesley, the Roman Catholic bishop of Rama.  He falsely claimed that the name ‘Muhammad’ was spelled ‘Maometis’ or ‘Moametis’ by Euthymius Zygabenus and the Greek historians, Zonaras and Cedrenus.  However, sources indicate that Euthymius Zygabenus and Zonaras wrote the name as ‘Maometh’ and Cedrenus wrote the name, ‘Mouchoumet’, none of which is the ‘Maometis’ in question.

In the ‘The Number And Names of the Apocalyptic Beasts by David Thom in 1923, he rejects ‘Maometis’ as a valid translation, observing that, ‘of the seven different ways in which Muhammad’s name is written in Euthymius and the Byzantine historians, not one is the orthography in question.’  None of the given spellings add up to 666 under Greek gematria.  Arethas of Caesarea, one of the great scholars of the Greek Orthodox; Victorinus of Pettau, the Catholic ecclesiastical writer, Beatus, the famed Andalusian monk and theologian; and many other Christian writers have all commented on this passage, linking the Beast to their favourite enemies, from Roman emperors, to barbarian kings to theological enemies.

In the writings of the Baha’i faith, ‘Abd al-Baha’ stated that the numerical value given to the Beast referred to the year the Umayyad ruler Mu’awiyah I took office as caliph in 661 CE.  He contended that this was related to the concept of mawali, the ‘clients’ who were non-Arab Muslims but not treated the same as the Muslims; they continued to pay the jizyah and were excluded from government and the military, and thus bore a social ‘mark’.  This is unmitigated nonsense, of course.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, a non-mainstream pseudo-Christian group, believe that the Beast for which 666 stands symbolises many unified governments, harmonising with the symbolic depiction of past governments, referred to as ‘kings’, in the Book of Daniel, as the allegorical wild beasts.  The Beast is said to have a ‘human number’ in that the governments that the Beast symbolises are all of a human origin; they are not comprised of demonic entities.  Furthermore, the number 666 itself ‘all point to one unmistakable conclusion — gross shortcoming and failure in the eyes of Jehovah,’ thus imperfection.

In contrast, to the Kabbalah, the number 666 represents the Creation and Perfection of the world.  The world was created in six days, and there are six cardinal directions: north, south, east, west, up, and down.  Six is also the numerical value of one of the letters of God’s Names.

Preterism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets the prophecies of the Bible as events which have already happened.  The prophecies of the Book of Daniel are interpreted as events that happened in the second century before Common Era, while the prophecies of Revelation are interpreted as events that happened in the first century after Common Era.  Preterism contends that ancient Israel finds its ‘continuation or fulfillment’ in the Church at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by Titus’ forces.  The term ‘preterism’ comes from the Latin ‘praeter’, which is a prefix denoting that something is ‘past’ or ‘beyond’, signifying that either all or a majority of Bible prophecy was fulfilled by 70 CE.  Adherents of preterism are known as preterists.

The Classical Greek word ‘charagma’, translated as ‘mark’ in Revelation 13:16 also means ‘stamped money’, ‘coin’ or the ‘impress on the coin’.  A common preterist view of the Mark of the Beast is the stamped image of the emperor’s head on every coin of the Roman Empire: the stamp on the hand or in the mind of all, without which no one could buy or sell.  The Mark was a manifestation of the encompassing economic power of Rome.  The very coinage bore the emperor’s image and conveyed his claims to divinity by including the sun’s rays in the ruler’s portrait, something Christians adopted for the images of Jesus (a.s.).  It had become increasingly difficult for Christians to function in a world in which public life, including the economic life of the trade guilds, required participation in idolatry, according to their view.

Revelation 13:16-17
16 All alike, little and great, rich and poor, free men and slaves, must receive a mark from him on their right hands, or on their foreheads, 17 and none might buy or sell, unless he carried this mark, which was the Beast’s name, or the number that stands for his name.

The refusal of these early Christians to use Roman coinage resulted in the condition where ‘none man might buy or sell.’  People used coins that bore the images of Rome’s gods and emperors.  Each transaction that used such coins was a reminder that people were advancing themselves economically by relying on political powers that did not recognise God.  In 66 CE, when Nero was emperor, about the time some scholars say Revelation was written, the Jews revolted against Rome and coined their own money.

Preterists argue that Revelation was written before the destruction of the Temple, with Nero exiling John to Patmos.  Most scholars argue it was written after Nero committed suicide in 68 CE.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Revelation was written during the latter part of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, probably in 95 or 96 CE.”  Protestant scholars are in agreement.  Because some believe Revelation 13 speaks of a future prophetic events:

Revelation 13:8
8 All the dwellers on earth fell down in adoration of him, except those whose names the Lamb has written down in his Book of Life, the Lamb slain in sacrifice ever since the world was made.

The interpretation of Nero meeting the fulfillment is impossible if Revelation was written around 30 years after the death of Nero.  However, rumours circulated that Nero had not really died and would return to power.  Contrary to Christian propaganda, Nero was actually quite beloved by the Roman citizenry.  It has also been suggested that the numerical reference to Nero was a code to imply but not directly point out emperor Domitian.  Domitian’s style of rule resembled that of Nero.  He also put the people of Lydia, whom the Book of Revelation was primarily addressed to at the time, under heavy taxation.  The Nero Redivivus legend stating that Nero would return to life can also be noted as Tacitus wrote in his Histories, “After Nero's suicide in 68 CE, there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces, that he was not dead and somehow would return.”  Suetonius related how court astrologers had predicted Nero's fall but that he would have power in the east.  Because of this, at least three false claimants did present themselves as Nero Redivivus.  “Redivivus” means “resurrected”.

Idealism, also known as the allegorical or symbolic approach, is an interpretation of the book of Revelation that sees the imagery of the book as non-literal symbols, but metaphorical.  Their perspective on the Number of the Beast rejects gematria.  To them, the numbers are not as a code to be broken, but a symbol to be understood.  Idealists would contend that because there are so many names that can come to 666 and that most systems require converting names to other languages or adding titles when convenient, it has been impossible to come to a consensus. Given that numbers are used figuratively throughout Revelation, idealists interpret this number figuratively as well.  The consensus is that because seven is a number of completeness and is associated with the Divine, that six is incomplete and the three sixes are ‘inherently incomplete’.  The number is therefore suggestive that the Dragon and his Beasts are inadequate.  Another suggestion is that this number represents an individual's incomplete or immature spiritual state.

A futurist view of the Mark of the Beast is that the rise of a supranational currency could be a hallmark of the End Times and that the Mark of the Beast will be a sign on the forehead or on the right hand.  Futurists believe that Revelation addresses primarily the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (a.s.) and similar events.  This has lead to many conspiracy theories and movements, as well as alarmist and eschatological doctrines that have little or no basis in traditional Christianity, such as the Rapture.

Although there are myriad conspiracy theories, most futurist readings of Revelation follow the same narrative.  The Anti-Christ will come in the guise of a world leader, perhaps the Pope himself, perhaps a secret Muslim.  The Anti-Christ will use forced religious syncretism, currently the flavour would be that it is in the name of counter-terrorism and world economic stability, to enable the creation of a supranational currency.  Some interpret the Mark as a requirement for all commerce to mean that the Mark might actually be an object with the function of a credit card, such as RFID microchip implants.  Others believe it might be some sort of barcode tattoo.  Some believe the implantation of chips may be the imprinting of the Mark of the Beast, prophesied to be a requirement for all trade, and a precursor to the events of the Book of Revelation.

Historicists, on the other hand, believe Revelation articulates a full range of the history of the Christian church, from John of Patmos’ time to the Second Coming of Christ.  Evidently, John of Patmos indicates that historicism is the correct application to the study of Revelation in the first chapter, where he alludes to events in the Old Testament, specifically the Book of Daniel.  He used symbols giving a sequence of future events in history, from the Babylonian empire, through the Medo-Persian period, the Hellenistic and Roman eras continuing until the end of current civilisation.  This builds on the Book of Daniel's approach of focusing on major points of Christian history: the crucifixion; the Second Coming and beyond.  This is the conventional Catholic approach.

Some Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the Mark of the Beast alone, not the number 666, refers to a future, universal, legally enforced Sunday-worship.  It is written in the publication of their ministerial general conference in 2005, “Those who reject God’s memorial of creatorship — the Bible Sabbath — choosing to worship and honour Sunday in the full knowledge that it is not God’s appointed day of worship, will receive the ‘Mark of the Beast.’”  The Advent Review from August, 1850 stated: “The Sunday Sabbath is purely a child of the Papacy.  It is the Mark of the Beast.”  Like many fringe Protestant groups, there was a common belief that the Papacy is evil.

Regarding the Beast mentioned in Revelation, it refers to two distinct Beasts.

Revelation 11:7
7 Then, when they have borne me witness to the full, the Beast which comes up out of the abyss will make war on them, and defeat and kill them.

The first Beast comes from ‘out of the abyss,’ or ‘out of the sea’ and is given authority and power by the Dragon.  The Dragon, or, in some translations, the Serpent is Satan, the Adversary.  This incarnation of Satan is depicted as a red seven-headed dragon having ten horns, each housed with a diadem.  The serpent battles Michael the Archangel in a War in Heaven which results in this devil being cast out to the earth.  While on earth, he pursues the Woman of the Apocalypse.  The Woman of the Apocalypse is allegorical, and likely refers to the Body of the church Militant.  Unable to obtain her, the Dragon wages war with the rest of her seed.

Revelation 12:1-18
1 And now, in heaven, a great portent appeared; a woman that wore the sun for her mantle, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars about her head.  2 She had a child in her womb, and was crying out as she travailed, in great pain of her delivery.  3 Then a second portent appeared in heaven; a great dragon was there, fiery-red, with seven heads and ten horns, and on each of the seven heads a royal diadem; 4 his tail dragged down a third part of the stars in heaven, and flung them to earth.  And he stood fronting the woman who was in childbirth, ready to swallow up the child as soon as she bore it.  5 She bore a son, the son who is to herd the nations like sheep with a crook of iron; and this child of hers was caught up to God, right up to His Throne, 6 while the mother fled into the wilderness, where God had Prepared a place of refuge for her, and there, for twelve hundred and sixty days, she is to be kept safe.  7 Fierce war broke out in heaven, where Michael and his angels fought against the Dragon.  The Dragon and his angels fought on their part, 8 but could not win the day, or stand their ground in heaven any longer; 9 the great Dragon, serpent of the primal age, was flung down to earth; he whom we call the Devil, or Satan, the whole world’s seducer, flung down to earth, and his angels with him.  10 Then I heard a voice crying aloud in heaven, “The time has come; now we are Saved and Made strong, our God Reigns, and Power belongs to Christ, His Anointed; the accuser of our brethren is overthrown.”  Day and night he stood accusing them in God’s Presence; 11 but because of the Lamb’s blood and because of the truth to which they bore witness, they triumphed over him, holding their lives cheap until death overtook them.  12 Rejoice over it, heaven, and all you that dwell in heaven; but woe to you, earth and sea, now that the devil has come down upon you, full of malice, because he knows how brief is the time given him.  13 So the Dragon, finding himself cast down to earth, went in pursuit of the woman, the boy’s mother; 14but the woman was given two wings, such as the great eagle has, to speed her flight into the wilderness, to her place of refuge, where for a year, and two years, and half a year she will be kept hidden from the serpent’s view.  15 Thereupon, the serpent sent a flood of water out of his mouth in pursuit of the woman, to carry her away on its tide; 16 but earth came to the woman’s rescue.  The earth gaped wide, and swallowed up this flood which the Dragon had sent out of his mouth. 17 So, in his spite against the woman, the Dragon went elsewhere to make war on the rest of her children, the men who keep God’s Commandments, and hold fast to the truth concerning Jesus.  18 And he stood there waiting on the sea beach.

After the War in heaven, an angel with the key to the abyss and a great chain over his hand, binds the Serpent for a thousand years.  The serpent is then cast into the abyss and sealed within until he is released.

Revelation 20:1-3
1 I saw, too, an angel come down from heaven, with the key of the abyss in his hand, and a great chain.  2 He made prisoner of the Dragon, serpent of the primal age, whom we call the Devil, or Satan, and put him in bonds for a thousand years, 3 thrusting him down to the abyss and locking him in there, and setting a seal over him.  He was not to delude the world any more until the thousand years were over; then, for a short time, he is to be released.

In Christian tradition, the ‘ancient serpent’ is commonly identified with the Genesis’ Serpent and as Satan.  This redefined the Hebrew Bible's concept of Satan as ‘the Adversary’, a member of the Heavenly Court acting on behalf of God to test Job’s faith.  Here, Satan became a part of a Divine Plan stretching from Creation to Christ (a.s.) and the Second Coming.

The second Beast comes from ‘out of the earth’ and directs all peoples of the earth to worship the first Beast.

Revelation 13:11-18
11 Then, from the land itself, I saw another Beast come up; it had two horns like a lamb’s horns, but it roared like a dragon.  12 And it stood in the presence of the former Beast, to carry out all that it was empowered to do, bidding the world and all its inhabitants worship the former Beast, that Beast whose deadly wound was healed.  13 Such wonders could it accomplish, that it brought down fire, before men’s eyes, from heaven to earth; 14 and by these wonders, which it was enabled to do in its master’s presence, it deluded the inhabitants of the world, bidding those who dwell in it set up an image to that Beast which was smitten with the sword, and lived.  15 Further, it was able to put life into that Beast’s image, so that even the Beast’s image uttered speech; and if anyone refused to worship the image of the Beast, it had him put to death.  16 All alike, little and great, rich and poor, free men and slaves, must receive a mark from him on their right hands, or on their foreheads, 17 and none might buy or sell, unless he carried this mark, which was the Beast’s name, or the number that stands for his name.  18 Here is room for discernment; let the reader, if he has the skill, cast up the sum of the figures in the Beast’s name, after our human fashion, and the number will be six hundred and sixty-six.

The second Beast is described in the passage from Revelation above, is also referred to as the false prophet.  The two Beasts are aligned with the Dragon in opposition to God.  They persecute the saints and those who do not worship the image of the Beast of the sea and influence the kings of the earth to gather for the battle of Armageddon.  The two Beasts are defeated by Christ (a.s.) and are thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 19:18-20
18 ...where you shall eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the strong, the flesh of horses and their riders, the flesh of all mankind, free men and slaves, the little and the great.  19 And then I saw the Beast and the kings of the earth muster their armies, to join battle with the rider on the white horse and the army which followed him.  20 The Beast was made prisoner, and with it the false prophet that did miracles in its presence, deluding all those who bore the beast’s mark and worshipped its image; and both were thrown alive into the fiery lake that burns with brimstone.

If the Number of the Beast is 616, and not 666, as popularly thought; then two thousand years of predictions and conspiracies are for naught.  If anything, it proved that the Early Christians were just as pone to crazy theories as anybody, and just as susceptible to cognitive bias, wild leaps of imagination, and self-delusion.  For a long time, it was argued that Revelation itself did not belong to the Bible and not every major Christian theologian considered it canonical.

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