Monday, June 05, 2006

That Number ...

It does not mean what you think it means:

... "Nero conducted the first systematic persecution of both Jews and Christians and is clearly identified with the real beast of Revelation." ...

... The Hebrew consonants that spelled out "Nero Caesar," in the Greek form of the name, add up to 666. (Transliterated into the Latin form of Nero Caesar, the numbers add up to 616.) ...

... People who embrace a perceived symbolism of 666 as satanic "are making a statement of cultural rebellion," said Raschke. "They are saying 'I stand for something in total opposition to the historical morality of the west.'"

1 Comments:

Blogger The Doctor said...

6.6.6: Tuesday is June 6, 2006.
By Tim Townsend
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
06/03/2006

Somewhere, Revelation's author is having a big laugh.

Sure, his book of the Bible is filled with dragons, locusts, plagues, oceans of blood and rivers of fire. Oh, yeah, and the beast. The beast that branded the godless with the number 666 - a sign of their devotion to him.

But he was really just warning churches about the evils of emperor worship. Or was he?

In the nearly 2,000 years since, the number has meant many things to many people. And on Tuesday - 6/6/06 - a lot of them will be using the number to their advantage. Some will be cashing in.



An online gambling site has posted 10-1 odds that the world will end Tuesday, the same day a remake of "The Omen," the 1976 flick with Damien, the cute little antichrist, will open.

"The Rapture," the next installment in the apocalyptic Left Behind series of books, is scheduled for release, and conservative author Ann Coulter's new book "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," will hit stores.

Many biblical scholars say recent interpretations of the number are way off base.

It doesn't add up

For centuries, 666, the number of the beast, has absorbed meanings its author never intended.

Most modern scholars attribute the writing of the book of Revelation to John of Patmos. He is said to have received visions on a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, most likely around 90 A.D., that make up the book's contents.

At the heart of John's vision, Satan, in the form of a dragon, has lost a war in heaven and has been cast down to earth where he continues to battle God's followers. As the dragon stands "on the sand of the seashore," two beasts rise, at his command, from below the earth's surface.

The first beast comes out of the sea and the second from the land. It is this second beast which has gained such long-standing fame over the centuries. Even within the scholarly community, opinion is divided as to what Revelation's land beast represents.

The Roman emperor Nero, who ruled from 54 to his suicide in 68 A.D., persecuted Christians in horrific ways that were likely to be remembered only a couple of generations later when John may have been writing Revelation. It was under Nero that both St. Peter and St. Paul are traditionally thought to have been martyred in Rome.

Domitian, the emperor from 81-96 A.D., during John's time in Patmos, "was the first one to take emperor worship seriously," said the Rev. Dan Doriani, pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton and former chair of the New Testament department at Covenant Seminary. "Since Christians were not worshipping him, they were liable for persecution."

"Said Frank Flinn, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University, "Nero conducted the first systematic persecution of both Jews and Christians and is clearly identified with the real beast of Revelation."

Others say John's problem with Domitian had more to do with false idols, not persecution.

In his "Introduction to the New Testament," the late Rev. Raymond E. Brown wrote that the beast from the land, in John's vision "is emperor worship ... The wound of the beast ... may be Nero's suicide; the survival, Domitian's reign."

David E. Aune, a professor of New Testament at Notre Dame, has written that the beast represents the antichrist, "a tyrannical ruler who opposes Christ and Christians," and who "comes up from the bottomless pit - the abode of the dead and the place where demons and Satan are imprisoned."

John writes that the beast places a mark on the right hand or forehead of all but the servants of God. It is that mark - 666 - that has so intrigued people through the centuries. Most scholars now agree that what John was up to was gematria, or Hebrew numerology.

"Back then there were no separate symbols for numerical values," said the Rev. Louis A. Brighton, a professor of New Testament interpretation at Concordia Seminary. So letters did double-duty as numbers. The Hebrew consonants that spelled out "Nero Caesar," in the Greek form of the name, add up to 666. (Transliterated into the Latin form of Nero Caesar, the numbers add up to 616.)

In recent years, popular entertainment has burned the number onto western society's conscience. Whether via movies such as "Rosemary's Baby," "The Exorcist," and "The Omen," or music like heavy metal band Iron Maiden's 1982 album "The Number of the Beast," Satan and 666 have become symbols of anarchy, said Carl Raschke, a professor of religious studies at the University of Denver.

People who embrace a perceived symbolism of 666 as satanic "are making a statement of cultural rebellion," said Raschke. "They are saying 'I stand for something in total opposition to the historical morality of the west.'"

Apocalypse now

John was a Christian prophet of Jewish origin who was possibly living in self-imposed exile in a cave in Patmos. He wrote his vision in letters to a group of seven Christian churches in western Asia Minor, now Turkey - communities he clearly knew well.

In the first verse, John introduces his book as an apokalypsis, or revelation, a term that has come to define the literary genre - a narrative, told in the first person, that includes visions of the future. The book of Revelation is sometimes called "The Revelation to John" or "The Apocalypse of John."

Brown said apocalypses are most often addressed to people living in times of suffering and persecution - times so desperate they are seen as the embodiment of supreme evil.

He said the modern misuse of Revelation "is based on the misunderstanding that the message is primarily addressed to Christians of our time if they can decode the author's symbols. Rather, the meaning of the symbolism must be judged from the viewpoint of the 1st-century (churches)" which received John's letters.

But balanced scholarly advice aside, the temptation to imagine conspiracy theories based on ancient religious documents is too strong for some. According to John, the mark of the beast ensures "that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name." This has led to theories that the bar codes that appear on most everything we buy in stores are the new version of the mark of the beast.

Others are convinced the new mark of the beast is a microchip implanted surreptitiously under a person's skin that transmits low-frequency radio signals to identify the individual.

Revelation is so full of symbolism that nearly anything can be read from it. At one time or another, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Rasputin, Torquemada and Osama bin Laden have all been considered the antichrist.

But here, Tuesday is likely to be just another day - especially since the Gregorian calendar was not adopted by most of Christendom until 1500 years after Revelation was written.

Despite British reports of pregnant women planning on being induced Monday so they don't give birth on 6/6/06, a handful of local hospitals and obstetricians said they haven't had any requests. At Barnes-Jewish Hospital's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology moms-to-be are taking 6/6/06 in stride.

"We have several scheduled for induction on Tuesday," said Kathy Holleman, a Barnes-Jewish Hospital spokeswoman. "And as far as we know, no one's naming them Rosemary or Damien."

7:37 PM  

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