666, the number of the Beast which was originally 616

“Here is wisdom: Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. And his number is 666 » (Revelation 13, 18)

Beyond its religious scope, this verse of the Apocalypse has taken root in the popular imagination as the Number of the Beast, that is, of the Devil, for a song by the heavy metal group Iron Maiden and for the horror movie The prophecy.

The figure is considered a bad omen and is often avoided in numbering, in the case of highways (what should have been US Route 666 became Route 491), telephones (residents of the Honduran city of El Progreso requested that it be changed the prefix 666 that had been assigned), dates (there were pregnant women who asked to advance or delay the delivery because it coincided with June 6, 2006), game (make a trio of sixes in poker), etc.

Poster of the new version of The prophecy/Image: Readbooks

This aversion, which curiously affects both believers and atheists, is known half seriously half jokingly with the term hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia and one of its most famous representatives was former US President Ronald Reagan, who even changed his address from 666 St. Cloud Road, Los Angeles, to 668 on the same street.

The fact is that the three sixes also constitute a good icon, as they adapt very well to being placed in a row or arranged in a circle. Now, what if that wasn’t really the number of the Biblical Beast? And if originally the figure had been another?

The truth is that 666 is only mentioned as the number of evil once in the entire Bible and there are several interpretations that have been made about it and the phrase of which it is a part.

The key word of this one is the verb calculate either countdepending on which translation, because it can also be interpreted as to decide or even vote; after all, all Apocalypse It is a story of continuous symbols and metaphors. And it turns out that some recent editions of the holy book are changing the number to 616. Why? Because there are several documentary sources, especially the oldest ones, in which that seems to be the original figure.

It is the case of papyrus 115which is part of the so-called Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a series of Latin texts from the 1st to 6th centuries, most of which are in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology at the University of Oxford; the papyrus 115 is the oldest known manuscript (mid-3rd century) with a fragment of the Book of Revelations in greek. Another example is the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptusa fifth-century uncial manuscript preserved in the National Library of France.

There is more, like the Latin version of the Commentarium in Revelation written by the Donatist heretic Ticonio Afro and decisive influence for the Beatus of Liébana, or Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, who lived between the 2nd and 3rd centuries and is the author of the work against heresiesinforming of the previous existence of 616, although he uses 666. In short, from the reading and transcription of these texts, chronologically the closest to the writing of the Apocalypse by its author, San Juan, it is deduced that the true number cited in said book was 616, which leads to seek an explanation for its substitution.

Some point to its analogy with 888, considered the number of Jesus because it is what the letters of his name add up in Greek; others believe that it is simply due to the fact that it is a triangular number; and there is no shortage of those who state that 666 is the sum of the first 36 numbers (1 + 2 +3 + 4 etc).

But the most complex theories allude to isopsophy, that is, the practice of adding the numerical values ​​of the letters of a word to form a number. It is the Hellenic version of the Hebrew gematria, which is why it uses the Greek alphabet. The word, in this case, would be the name of the Antichrist… but not exactly the devil.

It must be placed in the historical context: the first steps of Christianity and the persecutions to which its followers were subjected by the Roman emperors. If we translate from Hebrew Caesar of the Romans (Qysr rwmyn), the gematria would yield the number 666; but if we translate Caesar of Rome (Qysr Rwm), the result is 616. In addition, in the Latin numerals 666 is written DCLXVI, considered an acronym for the expression Domitius Caesar Legatos Xti Violent Interfecitthat is, “Caesar Domitius vilely killed the envoys of Christ.”

It is not clear to whom the name Domitius alludes; the most obvious would be Domitian, an emperor who distinguished himself especially in the harassment of Christians, but most exegetes prefer Nero, another who also made an effort and who was called Domitius before being adopted by Claudius. In fact, in gematria, the sum of the Hebrew characters Nero Cáesar gives 666, but in Latin it is common to synthesize the expressions and the name of the emperor was summarized as Nro, which when transferred to Hebrew gives 616.

Nero in Jerusalem (The Christian Dirce), by Henryk Siemiradzki/Image: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

The dating of the writing of the Apocalypsethat a priori It could be a clue to know who he is referring to, it doesn’t clarify much. Some say it is after Nero’s suicide in AD 68 and before the destruction of the Temple, which took place two years later. Others place them in the final part of Domitian’s stage, between 95 and 96 AD. There are those who give a twist to the matter by suggesting an identification between the two Caesars in the minds of the persecuted Christians. And then there is the legend, widespread in the eastern provinces and recorded by Suetonius, that Nero would not actually have died and would return; What’s more, it is known that there were three impostors who presented themselves as Nerus redivivus.

But it is that another word of the quote of the Apocalypsethe “mark of the Beast” in some translations, uses the Greek term charagma, normally applied to coins, documents and the imperial seal with which they were initialed. Since one and the other wore the face of Caesar, it was omnipresent, which must have been doubly ominous for their persecuted because, furthermore, they could not avoid using it either. Only in the year 66, during the first rebellion against Rome, did the Jews mint their own money; Nero ruled and, as we said before, it was approximately the time when Saint John wrote his work.

Golden Domitian/Photo: Classical Numismatic Group on Wikimedia Commons

Muhammad has also been pointed out as the designee of the number because Pope Innocent III called him Antichrist. However, for his letters to add up to 666, it was necessary to translate the name into Greek as Maometis, a version that had never been used and that almost all reject, apart from the fact that this pontiff was the only one who defined the Prophet that way. Of course, for Luther, Calvin and the other Protestants, the Antichrist was the Catholic Church itself or its representative, the Pope.

Ellen Gould White, leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, cemented that thesis in the 19th century with a tricky bobbin lace ad hoc: Emperor Constantine donated the Roman Empire to the Church and its Supreme Pontiff assumed the title of Vicarivs filii deirevealing to us the isopsphy of this expression that the sum of its letters gives 666.

Actually the adopted title was vicarius christi and the values ​​that he gave to the letters were manipulated, but the lady should not be taken very seriously either, since her opponents, who considered her a false prophetess, took exactly the same account from her name.

Therefore, the balance tilts on the Roman side and, whoever the character designated as Antichrist was, there is one more hypothesis that turns the matter around: that the emperor himself promoted his identification with the number in question because the three sixes symbolized the harmony-beauty-charm trinity, although from the other side they would change it into betrayal-bitterness-revenge.

In that sense, and since Judaism considered 7 as the perfect number, 6 was the imperfect one; three times imperfect, then, and also in the Bible 6 is the number used to designate Humanity (and with it its limitations, in the face of the omnipotent power of God). Although if the true figure was 616, we must continue speculating.


The mystery of the numbers (Marc-Alain Ouaknin)/How to interpret the Bible yourself (Richard L. Mayhue)/The white goddess. A historical grammar of poetic myth (Robert Graves)/666. Revelation I-XIII. a prophecy fulfilled (Angel Mirete Pina)/Who is the 666 of the Apocalypse? (Martín Zavala in Catholic Authors)/Wikipedia

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