YBD036 The Meaning of Numbers in the Torah, Part 24, Number 666

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In the last 10 articles we looked at the number 6 relating to Man. We looked at some of the corresponding numbers including, 36, 60, 66, 600 and mathematical aspects of 666. We will now continue with 666, a controversial number with lots of emotions attached.

 

The popular interest in 666 commenced after the publication of the last book in the Apostolic Writings, the Book of Revelation. It was written by John (Yochanan) on the Island of Patmos near the end of the 1st century CE. He also wrote the Gospel and the 3 Apostolic Letters bearing his name. Due to the differing writing styles, there is discussion on whether the author of the Gospel and the Book of Revelation were the same person. If the same author, the question is whether they were written at about the same time or not. Personally, from my own study, I believe the author was the same person. The Gospel was written first, perhaps published before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

The verses in question are as follows: “... that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six”. (Rev. 13:15-18).

Six hundred threescore and six is written or represented by 3 Greek letters χξς. It is not a recognised word in Greek and therefore another interpretation needs to be found. In Greek as well as Hebrew each letter has a numerical value. These 3 letters have the following values; 600, 60 and 6, or 666. In a few Greek texts it is written in full or it is written in Greek letters as 600, 10, 6. The reasons are due to later copying for communities that needed regional interpretations of the text for the different pronunciation of Nero Caesar in Latin and Greek (see next article YbD037). This meant they understood this prophesy and so should we. But first let us look at 666 in the Tanakh.

In an earlier articles (YbD014-17) we discussed how the Tanakh emphasises by repeating words or statements twice or in very rare, but extremely meaningful, situations 3 times. The number 6 is mentioned many times, but 66 only twice which is rare in itself when compared with other double digit numbers such as 11, 22, 33, 44, etc. which are more frequent. The number 666 is only mentioned 3 times in the Tanakh.

The central reference to 666 in the Tanakh is in the Book Ezra 2:13 “The children of Adonikam, six hundred sixty and six”. This was a part of a census of Israel which left Babylon to go to the Promised Land. But a later census in Neh 7:18 states “The children of Adonikam, six hundred threescore and seven”. There is a difference of 1. This indicates that there was nothing special about the number as there is no emphasis by repetition. The use of 666 and 667 are factual statements of two censuses taken at different times. Therefore we need not study this 666 further.

Earlier in the Tanakh 666 appears in 1 Ki 10:14,15 and then in its last book under 2 Ch9:13,14. Both references are similar. In the book of Kings we have: “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, beside that he had of the merchantmen, and of the traffic of the spice merchants, and of all the kings of Arabia, and of the governors of the country” In the book of Chronicles we have: “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and threescore and six talents of gold, beside that which chapmen and merchants brought, and all the kings of Arabia and governors of the country brought gold and silver to Solomon”.

The minor differences allow a better understanding of the power of King Solomon and Israel. The surrounding nations were subject to Israel’s king and taxes were collected from international trade. These subjected nations included “Arabia”. For many studying the number 666, Arabia has a significance. They misinterpret this word by looking at today’s Arabia. In interpreting 666 we should consider the character of Arabians at the time of Solomon and at the time of John and not of the people living there today. We know that Arabia of that time was pagan, worshiping Baal. Solomon collected taxes from these people. We can see from the study of the Torah, Tanakh and archeology that these nations had Baal as their national god.

Prophesy could be interpreted and understood at the time of its writing, otherwise there was no sense in giving it then. Our advantage today is that we have a lot more source material for its analysis. Our disadvantage is that we have difficulty putting ourselves in the shoes of the people of that time who were reading and understanding prophesy. An advantage we have in reading the Tanakh is some prophesies have been fulfilled. Hindsight is a great tool if it is used properly. Even the language today is not the same 2,000 years ago. The meaning of words change over time and idioms may not be understood today. Therefore our main error in understanding prophesy tends to be that we use today’s language and geography to interpret the language and geography of the past.

Generally prophesy may contain one or more elements. They predict events and their timing and or describe the event and or its participants. Arabia of today is not the Arabia of yesterday. The people living in Arabia 2,000 years ago are not the same people that live there today. Furthermore their religion is different. Prophesy in John does not give a time but it tells us what will be happening and clues to the character of the beast in the language of his time. John describes future events for which words have not been developed, i.e. in his words and not in our words.

What about Solomon himself. His life started well and ended well. At the beginning of his reign, via the Priests, he offered sacrifices at the ancient alter in Gibeon and asked Adonai for wisdom. He built the Temple at Jerusalem and dedicated himself to the service of Adonai. However at the height of his power he married, for political reasons, into families of the pagan kings of the pagan nations around Israel. His first wife was the daughter of Pharaoh, his neighbour. He thought that his wisdom and fame would be sufficient to convert his subsequent 100’s of wives and concubines to believe in the One G-d. His mistaken premise allowed Baal worship to enter into Israel and he built for his wives buildings, groves and alters to pagan gods on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount. He himself was for some time involved in the worship of Baal. To sustain his “court” of thousands and build palaces, taxes were increased several times and he became a tyrant to retain control over a dissatisfied nation.

Solomon fell so low that he separated himself from Adonai and gave consent for an alter to be set up for the sacrifice of children. This was in contrast to his earlier wisdom of giving a child to its real mother. He became a depot and a tyrant. His example led Israelites to lose contact with G-d, they started to intermarry and lost their abhorrence to idol worship.

Six hundred sixty six talents of gold is approximately twenty-two tones. A great wealth. The annual income was greater as he also taxed pagan merchants and the pagan nations as stated in the verses before and after the above quotations. An example are the 200 gold ceremonial shields made from 600 measures of gold each (or 15 pounds each or over 1.3 tons in total). The use of 6 symbolises man rather than G-d that he was to be serving. Therefore the actions of Solomon at the height of his power and wealth could be a clue as to the meaning of 666. Solomon at the height of his power was a tyrant and heavily taxed the people without mercy. He became a despot breaking many of G-d’s commandments. He worshipped Baal on Sunday.

All of this is a contrast to his early years as a king keeping Shabbat, where he built the Temple from the materials gathered by David. Also his wisdom from G-d made his justice well known to the surrounding nations. There was a happy end to Solomon’s life as he returned to G-d in his later years. But there was a horrible consequence in that the kingdom was to be torn in his son’s reign. After many messages of reproof, a prophet gave this awesome message which awoke Solomon, as if, out of a dream. He turned away from his evil ways, confessed his wrongs and was repentant. Solomon’s later writings or letters are full of wisdom to help all those that do not wish to go the way he did.

Someone made an analysis of names in the Tanakh, Solomon’s came in as the 666th. How correct the analysis was, I do not know. Perhaps this is an additional fact that was probably not calculated 2,000 years ago. It existed, but it was highly unlikely that someone would have gone through the Tanakh making a list of names in the order that they appeared. We need computers to eliminate duplications etc.

The meaning of 666 in the life of Solomon relates to his bad period and not his good period when he was walking with Adonai. It shows that evil disguises itself as “good” in order to gain acceptance. Initially 666 represents mixing truth with error and then adding tyranny and despotism to enforce error. One error is the road from Shabbat to Sunday. Idol worship took place on Sunday. The first step was to keep Shabbat and also attend idol worship. As he went deeper into idol worship, it became incompatible to Shabbat. The step across was then easy.

We have similar situations today, a gradual process of placing one foot in another camp. Then a decision needs to be made, which foot to move. This decision often comes with external persuasive power. There may come a time when persuasion may be economic, physical or worse still life threatening.

In the next Article we shall look at the Gematria of 666 and how the Jews of John’s day may have understood the symbolic meaning of this number 666.

יוסף בן דרגן     Yosef ben Dragan

 

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