Thursday, September 17, 2015

Revelation 13:18 and the Number of the Beast


          One of the most well-known textual variants in the book of Revelation occurs in 13:18:  “Here is wisdom.  Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.  His number is” – and that’s where the variant-unit occurs.  Almost all Greek manuscripts of Revelation have exakosioi exhkonta ex, that is, six hundred + sixty + six, for a total of 666.  However, in Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C, 04), produced in the 400’s, the number of the beast is, instead, exakosioi deka ex, that is, six hundred + ten + six, for a total of 616.
           To understand Revelation 13:18, it is helpful to know Greek isopsephy, or gematria – the ancient method of writing numerals in the Roman Empire in the first century.  The 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, plus three obsolete letters (for 6, 90, and 900), were arranged in an array of ones, tens, and hundreds, so as to facilitate the representation of any quantity from 1 to 999.  Thus every combination of letters in every word could be said to have a numerical value.  Jesus’ name in Greek, for example, consisted of the letters iota, eta, sigma, omicron, upsilon, and sigma, and thus has a numerical value of 888 (10 + 8 + 200 + 70 + 400 + 200).  The Greek word for “Lord,” Κυριος, has a numerical value of 800 (20 + 400 +100 +10 + 70 + 200).
          Papyrus 115 (a collection of extremely mutilated fragments, produced c. 250) is one of the earliest manuscripts of this portion of the book of Revelation.  Its text of Revelation 13:18 is unique:  it has what appears to be the reading 616 (written in Greek numerals, that is, Greek letters with horizontal lines above them to show that they are intended to be understood as numerals), preceded by the letter h which, standing alone, is the Greek word “or,” which may indicate that in the preceding part of the line, the manuscripts may have combined both readings, so as to read “666 or 616.”
Part of P115:  "or 616."
           Papyrus 47 (produced in the 200’s) is another very early manuscript of Revelation.  Its text of 13:18 contains the usual reading expressed in numerals:  chi (600) + xi (60) + stau (6).  (The obsolete letter stau is also known stigma, or as digamma when written in a different form resembling the capital English letter F.) 
          Although P47 and P115 were probably both produced less than 200 years after the book of Revelation was written, there is earlier evidence for the existence of manuscripts with the reading “666” and for manuscripts with the reading “616.”  Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons) in what is now southeast France, commented on Revelation 13:18 in Against Heresies, Book 5, chapters 29-30.   In chapter 30, as Irenaeus focuses on the meaning of the number of the beast, he mentions that six-hundred-and-sixty-six is the number that is “found in all the most approved and ancient copies,” and he states that “those men who saw John face to face” have testified to its genuineness. 
P47 (Replica):  666 (in the middle of line 4).
          Irenaeus continued with a long note in which he mentioned the alternate-reading 616 and declared it to be a corruption:  “I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one.  [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.]  Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number.” (The bracketed portion is not in the Greek text preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea, and is probably an interpolation.)

          How exactly does one get from ΧΞϜ to ΧΙϜ?  That is, how could a copyist confuse the letters Ξ and Ι?  One can only guess.  A careless mistake by an inattentive or hurried copyist is not impossible.  Perhaps the copyist of a very early copy, writing by dictation, heard his supervisor pronounce the letters individually, and wrote ΧΙ as the name of the first character, misheard the second character as if it were the first one again, and then wrote the stau, or stigma.  
           Another possibility is that a copyist, thinking that he had deciphered the meaning of John’s statement, and that the leader of the beast was Nero, or someone with a Nero-like character, adjusted the number to make that identification a little easier to perceive.  The Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Edward Cook explained this idea at his blog in 2006:  if one utilizes a Hebrew, rather than Greek, form of isopsephy, then the total numerical value of the letters in “Neron Caesar” is 666.  (This Hebrew form of Nero’s name appears in a scroll that was produced during the reign of Nero himself.)  A slight simplification – dropping the final Nun – simultaneously dropped 50 from the numerical value of the name, thus arriving at the alternative total of 616.
            Yet another possibility is that an early interpreter of Revelation identified the Antichrist as one of the Roman emperors, or as the Emperorship in a collective sense.  The letters in the name Gaios Kaisar (that is, Caligula, who was emperor in 37-41) add up to 616, and, as Adolph Deissmann pointed out, so do the letters in the Greek words for “divine Caesar” – Kaisar Theos
           In the period after Nero’s death there was a concern that Nero might not be completely dead, and that he would revive and return to power after gathering an army from the east, particularly Parthia.  This idea was promoted in the second century by one of the unknown authors of the Sibylline Oracles, who wrote (referring to Nero), “The reprobate man shall disappear, and afterwards he shall return, equaling himself with God, but his pretensions God shall refute.”  This idea was shared by the unknown author of the Ascension of Isaiah (in its Christianized edition).  In the 200’s, Commodianus (in Instructions #41) also stated that in the end-times, “Nero shall have been raised from the underworld.”  This idea was also promoted in the late 200’s by Victorinus of Pettau, who wrote a commentary on Revelation.  Referring to Rev. 13:3, Victorinus wrote that John “speaks of Nero.  For it is plain that when the cavalry sent by the senate was pursuing him, he himself cut his throat.  This man, therefore, resuscitated, God will send as a worthy king to those who deserve him.”  
           Augustine (in his book City of God, Book 20, chapter 19) mentioned that some of his contemporaries (in the early 400’s) imagined that Nero was still alive, diabolically endowed with longevity and vigor, waiting for the opportunity to rise to power.  Augustine regarded such a view as an audacious presumption.
           In the early Middle Ages (specifically, in the 700’s) Beatus of Liebana recycled much of Victorinus’ commentary, and likewise affirmed that the seven kings mentioned in 17:11 were seven Roman Emperors (starting with Nero).  Beatus seems to have maintained that Nero was a model, or “pre-figure,” of the Antichrist.   

          Irenaeus seems to have been completely unaware of any proposed connection between Nero and the Antichrist.  Instead, Irenaeus understood the “number of the beast” to be the numerical value of the Greek letters in the name of the Antichrist.  (The numerical value of the name “Neron” is 1,005, or 955 without the final N, which eliminates him from consideration if one limits oneself to Greek isopsephy, which seems reasonable considering that the book of Revelation was written in Greek.)   Although Irenaeus insisted that no one should insist on a specific identification – on the grounds that if God had wanted the name, rather than the number, to be known, it would have been stated plainly – he ventured a few guesses, using the usual Greek isopsephy, mentioning “Lateinos” and “Euanthas” but favoring “Teitan” as his best guess. 
          “Lateinos” may be understood as “the Latins,” i.e., the Romans, whose empire Irenaeus recognized as the fourth kingdom envisioned by Daniel.  “Teitan” is another way to spell “Titan,” which Irenaeus explains as the name of a tyrant (possibly alluding to the emperor Titus), and as an ancient name used by pagans to identify the sun-god.  However, Irenaeus offered no explanation for the name “Euanthas.”   Beatus (whose comments we will revisit shortly) had this word in mind when he stated that one of the seven names of the Antichrist is “Evantas, which is called ‘serpent’ in Latin, for the one who deceived Eve first.” 
           A different theory about the origin of the term “Euanthas” was offered in 1915 by F. H. Colson in a brief article in the Journal of Theological Studies.  Colson proposed that “Euanthas” is the result of an attempt to translate the Latin name of Gessius Florus, the last Roman procurator of Judea (in A.D. 64-66), into a Greek equivalent.  Florus’ tyrannical behavior provoked the First Jewish Revolt; he seized temple-donations and crucified protesters.  If this is the source of the name Euanthas, then it may echo an early understanding of Revelation 13 as a description of past, rather than exclusively future, events.       
           Medieval commentators on the book of Revelation proposed several other names and descriptions of the Antichrist based on the numerical values of the letters in his name.  Primasius, an African bishop who lived in the 500’s, proposed the names “Antemos” and “Arnoume,” which mean “Contrary to honor” and “I deny” – the latter being the words which Christians, when tested by persecutors, were tempted to say in order to deny Christ. 
           Andrew of Caesarea, and/or Oecumenius (it is not entirely clear which writer used the other writer’s work around the year 600) calculated the numerical values of some descriptive names or titles:  Lampetis and Benediktos and Palaibaskanos (“ancient sorcerer”) and O Niketes (“The Conqueror” or “Victorious One”) and Kakos Hodegos (“foul leader”) and Amnos Adikos (“unrighteous lamb”) each adds up to 666.
           Beatus, relying on earlier writers, listed seven names for the Antichrist, in light of the statement in Revelation 13:1 which states that the beast in the vision had seven heads, “and on his heads was a blasphemous name.”  In some manuscripts of Revelation in which the text is accompanied by Beatus’ commentary, there are full-page charts and tables listing the names assigned to the Antichrist, and illustrating the numerical values of their letters.  The names and their meanings are listed are as follows:  

Morgan MS 1079 contains a good example of
Beatus' chart of the names of the Antichrist.
Evantas – (From Irenaeus) Either “serpent,” or a translation of the name Florus, the Roman procurator who incited the First Jewish Revolt.  (5+400+1+50+9+1+200 = 666)
Damnatos – he who causes condemnation.  (4+1+40+50+1+300+70+200 = 666)
Antemos – he who abstains from wine.  (1+50+300+5+40+70+200 = 666) 
Genserikos – This name, from the commentary of Victorinus of Pettau (who was martyred in the Diocletian persecution), described simply as another name for the Antichrist in Gothic.  One might be forgiven for thinking that it is an interpolation, inasmuch as about 150 years after Victorinus, there was a historical figure named Genseric, king of the Vandals, who sacked the city of Rome in 455.  (The name Gensērikos does happen to add up to 666:  3 + 5 + 50 + 200 + 8 + 100 + 10 + 20 + 70 + 200.) 
Antichristos – (self-explanatory) 
Teitan – (from Irenaeus) Titan
Diclux – (from Victorinus) A Latin name (with Latin numerical values:  D+I+C+L+V+X = 666) based on the identification of Teitan as the sun:  “Say ‘light,’” meaning that the Antichrist will imitate the devil who masquerades as an angel of light.

A list of the names of Antichrist,
from B.L. Add. MS 11695
(The Silos Apocalypse)
.
          From the second century onward, Revelation 13:18 has been understood as a reference to the numerical value of the letters in the name of the Antichrist.  Although the number 616 has some early support, Irenaeus’ testimony in favor of 666 has tremendous weight:  not only is he the earliest writer to comment on the verse, but he specifically states that he consulted ancient manuscripts – ancient in the 180’s! – to confirm that they did indeed have the number 666.  Therefore, the reading “666” should confidently be regarded as the original text. 
           The exact identification of the name with the numerical value of 666 remains unknown.  It may be as helpful to know what this number does not represent as it is to know the name on which it is based.  The number has no necessary connection to microchips, its second digit (the Greek letter xi) is not “the symbol of the snake” as alleged recently by Hank Hanegraaff, it has nothing to do with the logo of an energy drink, and if you happen to make a purchase for $6.66 there is no reason to panic.  For the first generation of Christians who read the book of Revelation, the text was a source of encouragement to faithfully refuse to deny Christ, even when the Roman government was demanding that they worship the emperor and thus obtain a libellus, an official certificate stating that its bearer had sacrificed to the image of the emperor (or to his patron deities).  Faithfulness, rather than exhaustive knowledge of future events, was what John desired to instill in his readers. 

A libellus from
the reign of Decius.
          It is commendable for students of the Scriptures to investigate the things therein which appear less than perfectly clear, such as the identity of the person whose name has the value of 666, but it is also commendable, considering the explorations that others have already made into the subject, to acknowledge that it is wiser to avoid being dogmatically and insistently wrong, than to have confidence in a particular solution simply for the sake of appearing confident.  Whatever name is represented by that number, the name that we should bear is the name of Jesus Christ.  In our deeds and in our words and in our study, and in every circumstance, let us faithfully affirm that we belong to Jesus Christ.  As Peter wrote in First Peter 4:16:  “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God because of that name.”       




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