Simply Beastly: The Search for 666

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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No numerological puzzle in history has absorbed so manypeople as the one in Revelation 13:18, describing the Antichrist:"It is the number of a man, and his number is six hundredthreescore and six (King James Version)". At various times thenumber has been applied to the Roman Emperor, the Pope, theEastern Orthodox Patriarch, and any number of kings anddictators. The nearly universal interpretation of the passage isthat 666 is some numerological derivation of a person's name,found by assigning numerical values to letters and taking thesum, often with ingenious spelling variations to make the sumcome out right. Often the result is reminiscent of IgnatiusDonnelly's Shakespearean ciphers.

Modern devotees of this topic have added some new twists.Because the Book of Revelation speaks of a mark without whichnobody can buy or sell (Revelation 13:17-18), many writers havelinked the Antichrist to the popular theme of global economicconspiracies and suggested that the mark will be some sort ofentry in a computer data bank.

Typical of the many books dealing with the number 666, in both content and logical quality, is When Your Money Fails by Mary Stewart Relfe, PhD. The book starts outwith a long list of products and business forms that use thenumber 666. Some of the examples are just a bit strained. Forexample, the credit card "VISA" supposedly represents 666. InRelfe's words, "Vi, Roman numeral, is 6; the 'zz' sound, zeta,the sixth character in the Greek alphabet, is 6; a, English, is6". How does a equal six? Apparently it is part of anumerological system in which b stands for 12 and so on. It wouldbe much harder to reach a sum of 666 if we let a=1, b=2, and soon, and it improves the odds considerably if all the numbers aremultiples of six!

A friend of mine once asked me about a similar system in which a=9, b=18, and so on, and told me about some interesting 666's that turned up. I quickly discovered that, using this system, the letters in "baloney"totaled 666. Rather more damaging to its credibility among fundamentalists, so did the letters in "Jesus."

Some of Relfe's other findings include a number issued byNCR Model 304 Supermarket Computers, 6 60 6 ("Six sixty six"),the fact that some U.S. school systems employ a 6-6-6 System(six subjects, six-week grading periods, six grading periods ayear), the use of 66 (two thirds of 666) on some MasterCardstatements, a VISA payment statement with the number 699(upside-down sixes), and a picture of a U.S. Treasury Departmentbadge with the number 666 on it. Someone, of course, is bound toget badge 666, but unfortunately the illustration in Relfe's booklooks more like 866 instead.

Granted, Relfe finds a great many genuine cases of the useof the number 666. Any randomly-selected three-digit number willcome up 666 one time in a thousand. One one-thousandth of all thenumbers in use in the United States adds up to a lot of 666's. Ina longer string of numbers the chances of getting 666 increases-- to nearly four chances in a thousand for a six-digit number.Of course, the number 666 is often deliberately selected as acode number. If someone must fit a predetermined numericalformat, but can choose the actual digits, it makes sense toselect sequences that are easily remembered. Exact hundreds orthousands are one favorite way of making the number easilyremembered; repeating digits are another. Directory assistance inmost areas now is 555-1212. In my local phone book, the listingfor Parents Anonymous is 432-8444, the general information numberfor the school district is 497-4000, a cannery is 468-5000, amotor freight company 494-7222, a lumber company 498-1333, and acommuter airline 739-9111. The News Hot Line numbers for twolocal TV stations (guess which channels) are 437-2222 and437-5555. A sugar carton advises dissatisfied purchasers to writeto Department 2222. A major office building in New York City hasthe number 666 emblazoned in huge numbers across its roofline --its address is 666 Sixth Avenue (or Avenue of the Americas to usethe official street name). Certain Social Security numbers, suchas those issued to aliens, start with the prefix 999. Given thispreference for repeating numbers, we should not be surprised tosee 666 crop up more often than one time in a thousand. Actually,666 probably crops up less often than other repeating numbersbecause so many people are aware of the theological significanceof 666, or are rapidly made aware if they use the number anyway.Recently the Social Security Administration cancelled plans touse the prefix 666 for certain classes of accounts after protestsfrom the public.

Relfe is also fascinated by the "six-ness" of the Apollo 8flight to the Moon, and repeats a bit of 666 folklore that hasbeen widely circulated in fundamentalist circles. The round tripto the Moon took six days, the rocket had six sections, escapevelocity was six miles per second (a lot closer to seven, forthose who like to quibble), the trip to the Moon took 66 hours,the Moon's gravity is one sixth that of the Earth, and so on. Theastronauts' names, Lovell, Anders, and Borman, each have sixletters. (So do Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, a numerologicalcuriosity that seems somehow never to get into books of thissort. Lest anyone think my Catholicism is showing, this exampleis put in solely to show how easy it can be to "prove" apreconceived notion from numerological coincidences. Actually,Relfe's method is an exact analog of the claim by Pyramidologiststhat there are a great many coincidences involving the numberfive in the Pyramids. It is also curious that no one has proposedthat the number 666 symbolizes "end time" writers like Relfe orHal Lindsey who are so obsessed with the number 666. Surely if666 is the number of any persons today it would be theirs.)

Relfe's book would not be complete without a nominee for therole of Antichrist. Based on Revelation and on prophecies in theBook of Daniel, Relfe claims he must come from the territory ofthe ancient Roman Empire, must be from the Arab world, and mustbe a Moslem. The last point is based on Daniel 11:37, "He willhave no regard for the gods of his fathers, nor for the godbeloved of women." Says Relfe of her nominee: "His ancestorsworshiped many gods, plural! They were polytheistic! Egyptiansonce worshiped many gods, but now are Moslems." Well, actually,Egypt was Christian for several centuries before beingconquered by the Moslems, but who quibbles over details?

Relfe equates "the god beloved of women" with theMesopotamian phallus god Tammuz. How Tammuz relates to Islam isnot exactly clear. In Moslem calendars, the month of July isTammuz, but that fact has no more relevance to most Moslems thanthe fact that Wednesday is "Wodin's Day" or March is "the monthof Mars" have to most Christians.

Finally, based on Daniel 11:21, "He shall enter peacably",the Antichrist must be a peacemaker. Relfe's candidate: AnwarSadat. Sadat had the ill grace to get assassinated before hecould fulfill the rest of Relfe's plans for him, but the failureof this prediction will in no way deter future prophecyinterpreters. In fact, current end-time prophecy interpretations,which run generally along the lines of Relfe's but avoid thefatal flaw of committing themselves to anything testable, havethe curious effect of making any leader who advances the cause ofpeace in the Middle East a prime candidate for the Antichrist.The words of Christ, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shallbe called children of God", have been completely reversed by themodern end-time writers; war is encouraging because it means theSecond Coming is closer, and peace is a sign of the Antichrist.One could not look for a more literal fulfillment of the sloganin Orwell's 1984 -- War is Peace.

6/6/06 and Biblical Illiterates

As June 6, 2006, approached, many pregnant women asked to have their deliveries early, presumably so they wouldn't give birth to the Antichrist. A few years earlier the Federal Highway Administration renumbered U.S. Highway 666 under pressure from Biblical literalists.

One of the frustrating things about many people who style themselves Biblical literalists is that so many of them are Biblical illiterates. Return to the verse from Revelation:

It is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred threescore and six

It is the number of a man. Not a highway, not a Zip Code, not a telephone number or an area code or a license plate or a calendar date. And the number is 666. Not 6/6/06, not three digits from a larger number, not something that juxtaposes three sextets like the Apollo 8 astronaut names. Yet people who insist that "day" in Genesis means a literal 24 hour day will ignore the literal meaning of the Bible when it comes to 666.

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Created 3 February 1998, Last Update 24 May 2020

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