Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Five Days Late

Today's date has been mentioned in every newspaper and website I've read for the past week. Fox spent months coordinating a special Tuesday opening for its remake of 1976's The Omen. Ann Coulter is releasing a new book titled Godless: The Church of Liberalism, and Christian publisher Tyndale House is releasing a new volume in its apocalyptic Left Behind series. CMH Records is issuing a tribute to Van Halen titled Strummin' With the Devil, and the heavy metal band Slayer is releasing a five-song EP through Hot Topic, a chain of stores that sells vampire clothing to teenagers.

All of this refers to Chapter 13 of Revelation, which tells of a beast that rose out of the earth, with two horns like a lamb and the voice of a dragon. The beast would cause all men and women to be marked with its number, and that number was 666.

Today's date is represented in Gregorian shorthand as 6/6/06. You'll note this is not, actually, 666 — but it's as close as can be achieved with that particular format, so it's lazily been designated the Devil's Day. This reminds me of the insistence that January 1, 2000 was "the birth of a new millennium," except this is stupider. It's like using a pocketknife to force a square peg into a round hole. Everyone's exclaiming, "Look! It matches!!" Well, of course it does. You dropped a number.

And that's fine. It's all in good fun (read: a cheap marketing stunt) anyway, so I don't suppose it's worth a lecture. But for the record, the number itself is probably a mistake.

Most Biblical scholars agree that "the number of the beast" was probably a coded reference to the Roman Emperor Nero, who ruthlessly oppressed Christians. This theory has gathered momentum in recent years as archaeologists have unearthed early Greek translations that use the number 616 in place of 666. According to the ancient practice of gematria, alphabetical symbols were converted to their numerical equivalents and added together, and the sum was used as a crude cipher for the name. The number 666 can be deciphered using Hebrew characters to read "Neron Caesar," which is sufficiently close to suggest we're on the right track — but 616 translates exactly to "Nero Caesar."

With that in mind, here's the exact passage from Revelation 13:18.
This calls for wisdom: Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six.
Any questions?


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