666: the Number of the Beast

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/ch/ch-x-sfin.html

666: the Number of the Beast

— a slightly less hysterical look at the enduring mystery of 666 —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The curious term χξς (ch-x-s) means 666 and occurs in Revelation 13:18 only, where it closes a sequence of scenes whose imagery many find "obscure and extravagant" but which to connoisseurs make as much sense as John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Its consistent difficulty is its very fabric, and should certainly appear like noise to the inexperienced.

Giant Steps

The author of these highly complex and compact sequences connects understanding our mystery term χξς (ch-x-s) to σοφια (sophia), wisdom, and invites a person with νους (nous), reason, to ψηφιζω (psephizo), calculate, the number. Certain commentators, apparently eager to be deemed wise, have taken to a watered down version of gematria, and concluded that the numerical value of the term נרון קסר (neron qaisar), or Caesar Nero, indeed yields 666. The obvious objection to this is that a vast host of words, terms and titles can be transliterated into numbers (using whatever language and whichever alphabet) and added up to produce 666, and so the specific term "Caesar Nero" isn't all that special. Moreover, Nero can be described with a wide variety of names and titles, and נרון קסר (neron qaisar) is one of many possible Hebrew transliterations of a rather arbitrary Greek term. A Latinized version of this Greek term results in the Hebrew נרו קסר (nero qaisar), which adds up to 616, which in turn resulted in many early copies of Revelation giving the number 616 instead of 666.

But all of this is Chopsticks compared to Giant Steps. The fifth Roman Emperor named Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was for 14 years perhaps the face but never the architect of the Roman Empire, certainly not the sole embodiment of evil, and certainly no longer so in the world of John the Revelator, who wrote possibly as late as two or three decades after the death of Nero in 68 AD and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and thus probably during the reign of emperor Domitian, the brother of Titus, the general and future emperor who actually leveled Jerusalem.

Romantic notions aside, the Roman Empire was what would have happened if Hitler hadn't been defeated, and the only difference between Hitler and Augustus (who created the empire out of the ashes of the imploded republic) is that Augustus won his world war. But it wasn't Caesar Augustus — and certainly not Caesar Nero — who destroyed the world, just like it wasn't Führer Hitler who destroyed Europe, but popular fascism rising from romanticism, countering pseudo-informed intellectualism that rejected established structures of ancient wisdom in favor of the new and shiny: masses of first-generation readers who plunged into the latest best-sellers without the discipline to steer clear of long established cognitive pitfalls.

What John appears to say is that as long as the reader has to guess or resort to number tricks and arbitrary transliterations, the reader will inevitably try the glass slipper to the wrong hoof. The sequence in which our number occurs is highly synthetic, and makes use of the Scriptural equivalent of the Coltrane Changes. It's a key, not to lock or unlock, but to leap and bind. There's no way to guess it right and as long as the reader has to guess, the reader will guess wrong. Hunter S. Thompson famously said about Revelation: "I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music." Or as the man said: "Giant Steps, Ellie."


The Book of Revelation — the noun αποκαλυψις (apokalupsis), actually means discovery, the opposite of μυστηριον (musterion), a mystery, a covering — was written by someone, or perhaps a collective, who identified with the name John (Revelation 1:1, 1:4, 1:9, 22:8). That doesn't necessarily mean that the author was indeed known as John by his friends and family (or was the same as any of the twenty-four other characters named John, Johanan or Jehohanan in the Bible), but rather that he wrote in the Johannine style or school. That school is marked by its relatively late date, which means that it wrote to an audience that was wholly aware of the story of Jesus Christ.

Unlike Paul, who had to pioneer most of the details, the Johannine school had the luxury of a fully versed audience, and was therefore able to jazz all over the place: whether going Bmaj7 - D7 - Gmaj7 or 2-5-1 or 17-18-19 or 14-88-741 or 600-60-6; the audience knew what was going on. The Johannine school relates to the Pauline school the way The Wiz (1978) related to The Wizard of Oz (1939): the audience knew the story and knew the gloriously happy ending of it. That is why, compared to the synoptic gospels, the Johannine gospel is positively hilarious and contains high-impact one-liners (John 3:10: "are you sure you are a teacher?"), subtly implied rebuttals (John 7:52: "wrong, clowns, Jonah was Galilean; LOL!"), entire slapstick routines (John 9:1-41: "I don't know why you don't know that I know that you don't") and the textual equivalent of visual gags (John 19:39: Nicodemus brings 100 liters of myrrh, while everybody knows that Jews didn't embalm their dead; see our article on מור, mor, myrrh).

John the Revelator says: Here is wisdom (Revelation 13:18). King Solomon says: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

The Holy One is, well, One (Deuteronomy 6:4). God is One, which means that creation is too, because "since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (Romans 1:20). This is why we have preservation laws: preservation of energy, angular momentum, baryon number, and so on. Whatever has been, is now, and will forever be. It might get rearranged a bit, but nothing is added or removed.

The Logos, or Word of God, explains God (John 1:18) and represents God's nature (Hebrews 1:3). The Word exists prior to creation, and is thus not part of creation, but is that from which the whole of creation comes, and which continues to keep the whole thing together (Colossians 1:16-17). That means that from our earthly perspective, the Word of God is the same as natural law, which most scientists insist is indeed One — although the Oneness of natural law is better known as the Grand Unified Theory (in this crude term lies the common mistake of assuming that the One can be formally symbolized; it can't, but we'll get into that further below).

That means that the Word is also One, and that every element of the Word must be explained by all other elements of it: just like every cell of a complex organism must be explained by all the other ones. This is how we know what is part of the Word and what isn't: it works like a textual immune system that rejects all things that don't perfectly resonate with what's already been canonized. And that not by a small band of self-proclaimed experts but by the market at large.

Seed of seeds

The absolute core and perfect summary of the entire Bible is "Treat others the way you want to be treated" (Matthew 7:12). This seemingly simple statement contains the seeds of love and desire, of self-awareness and theory of mind, of action and reaction, of supply and demand, and even explains creation because when there are no others, this command demands the creation of them. This so-called Golden Rule expands via the legal equivalent of an initial mitosis to the slightly more detailed: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbor as yourself", which also sums up the Law and Prophets (Luke 10:27). That expands into the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17 and 20:24-26), which are yet again the entire Law. And those expand into the entire rest of the Bible.

The Bible may look like a book but it came to be like a living thing that grew out of a single seed, wholly organic.

Intuition dictates that things that are One can by definition not consist of elements, but that's like saying that particles cannot both be discrete and waves. Yes, they can. And this is why we have quantum mechanics, which describes the behavior of things that are both particle and wave and thus neither. Likewise, the Oneness of God also applies to the created many, which is why we have theology, which is the study of the oneness of all things — and no, theology is not the study of God, because God cannot be observed (Exodus 33:20, John 1:18, 1 John 4:12). Theology is a word like psychology, which is not the study of the psyche because the psyche cannot be observed, and is instead the study of human behavior. Theology is the study of God's behavior, if you will (Psalm 8:6, 92:4, Hebrews 1:10), and thus not merely the study of everything, but the study of the oneness of everything.

A fractal is a structure that repeats itself within itself, at various levels of complexity. A fractal consists of little projected versions of itself, which consist of little projected versions of themselves, which consist of little projected versions of themselves. And neither the whole nor the little projections at any level can be removed or altered without undoing the whole thing. And the whole thing consists of (1) the formula, or Word, that explains or lays out the whole thing, (2) the single basic shape that gets repeated again and again, and (3) the relation(s) between and relativity of the countless iterations of the single basic shape. A fractal is a One that consists of Many — like a house in which are many houses, like a universe strewn with black holes (John 17:21-23).

The eternal week

The creation week is not the story of the first 144 hours of created existence but rather the most fundamental pattern via which everything that naturally evolves, must evolve. Society, matter and life all evolve according to the same basic pattern. Or in the words of John: "There are three that witness — μαρτυρεω (martureo) — the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three are one" (1 John 5:7).

This basic pattern in which everything that evolves must evolve is a fractal, and as we explain in our articles on the noun αστηρ (aster), star, and the name Stephen: the whole Bible is a huge fractal. This is significant to our present story because our mystery number 666 occurs at the final end of a sequence that obviously follows the days of the creation week:

  • Day 1: the woman clothed in the sun, of Revelation 12:1, parallels Genesis 1:2: "and the רוח (ruah) of God hovered over the waters" (God emanating the light like the sun, and the woman the still watery creation).
  • Day 2: the war that divided the heavenly forces, of Revelation 12:7 parallels Genesis 1:6: "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters".
  • Day 3: the continued war on earth, of Revelation 12:9 parallels Genesis 1:9: "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear".
  • Day 4: the continued war on "the rest of her offspring", of Revelation 12:17 parallels Genesis 1:14: "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night"; see Genesis 15:5, Daniel 12:3 and hence texts like Philippians 2:15, "children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world".
  • Day 5: the beast out of the sea, of Revelation 13:1 parallels Genesis 1:20: "Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures".
  • Day 6: the beast out of the earth, of Revelation 13:11 parallels Genesis 1:24: "Let the earth bring forth living creatures".

The word that is commonly, and somewhat sinisterly, translated with "beast" is θηριον (therion), which simply denotes a non-domesticated living being. Since domestication began with man, and man was created last on the sixth day, all living things prior and outside modern man's civilized societal realm are θηρια (theria). It doesn't mean they're monsters.

Harmonic progressions

Matter "evolves" from the pure energy of the Big Bang to polarized particles, to atoms and finally complex organic molecules. Life begins within the completeness of matter, and "evolves", within the completeness of matter, until it too is complete, and life has brought forth reason. Society begins within the completeness of life, and "evolves", within the completeness of life, until it too is complete, and ready to bring forth whatever it is that follows societies.

The numbers between 601 and 700 occur in the seventh set of a hundred, just like the years from 601 to 700 occur in the 7th century. That means that our mystery number 666 occurs in the seventh set of hundreds, or on the Sabbath of the week, if you will. Likewise, 66 occurs in the seventh set of tens. And the 6 marks the evening of the sixth day and the start of the Sabbath.

Our mystery number 666 marks the apex of the apex of the apex, after which follows either a massive phase transition into a whole new kind of transfigured reality, or else a reversion back into simplicity, like a clock that ticks on after it marked precisely noon with all three of its hands. The clearest instance of figurative high noon in the Bible occurs at the height of Solomon's reign, which is also where the only other occurrence of our number 666 appears: "the weight of gold which came in to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold" (1 Kings 10:14). Hebrew for 666 is שש מאות ששים ושש, which is a term based on the word שש (shesh), which means both six and white; hence the name Susan, which means both White One and Sixie, and denotes the six-leafed lily. This suggests that Solomon's 666 talents of gold may not actually be about 666 talents of gold (but see our article on the noun χρυσος, chrusos, gold, for more on that).

Solomon's empire gradually waxed to glory and then took a spectacular nose dive into ruin. This appears to be the narrative opposite of what happened to Israel in Egypt, where Israel's initial glory gradually waned, and then took a restorative leap out of bondage and into governed freedom (see our article on ελευθερια, eleutheria, freedom-by-law). When Israel moved into Egypt, the family consisted of ששים ושש (meaning 66) souls (Genesis 46:26; also see Leviticus 12:5 and see Ezekiel 16:6). When Israel came out of Egypt, there were שש מאות אלף (meaning 600,000) on foot (Numbers 11:21), and note that the word for thousand comes from the verb אלף (alpeh), to learn, which also yielded the name of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet: the אלף (aleph).

All this is part of the same much wider symbolic structure, but to people who see the fractal, all this is one, and very simple. To people who don't, all this is many, and very complicated (2 Corinthians 11:3).

All things together

Whatever is not One is not God, and whatever is not One With God (John 1:1-2, 17:21-23) is not with God. "The one who does not love — αγαπαω (agapao) — does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). And although the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18).

Some of the oldest copies of Revelations give our mystery number in words: εξακοσιοι εξηκοντα εξ (hexakosioi hexakonta hex) — which is obviously based on the words εξ (hex), meaning six, and εκατον (hekaton), hundred, and δεκα (deka), ten — and some in numerical shorthand χξς (ch-x-s). The same goes for the number 144 (Revelation 21:17) which is either spelled in words based on τετρα (tetra), four, or in the numerical shorthand: ρμδ (r-m-d). The number 144,000 (Revelation 7:4, 14:1, 14:3) comes with the additional word χιλιαδες (chiliades), thousands.

Until the introduction of Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9), people used words to note numbers, or said more precisely: numbers were names (proper nouns, see ονομα, onoma) for things that were reckoned by the number of their constituents. Most other things were named after their behavior, or perhaps their outer parameters, and people were often named commemoratively after qualities of the deity or general virtues and such. The introduction of numerical shorthand was as much a revolution as the introduction of the alphabet, and it allowed transactions to be conducted much faster and much more precise.

Prior to dedicated numerical notation (using Arabic numerals), this numerical shorthand still used letters for numbers. The Roman number system is probably the most famous example of this (the elements I, V, X, L, C, D and M are all regular letters) but the Roman "spelling" and syntax of numbers made it obvious that a number was meant, rather than a regular word. The Greeks, however, used a letter based shorthand that made numbers look like regular words — or that turned every three-letter word into a number. Their system was based on cycles of ten, with the highest number of one set of ten (say, α to ι for 1 to 10) also being the lowest number of the next set (ι to ρ for 10 to 100, and ρ to ω for 100 to 800, a symbol called sampi for 900 and the apostrophe to mark thousands: 'α means 1000).

There were tricks to go beyond that, but regular merchants rarely needed such large numbers, and the numbers from 1 to 999 were pretty much what the entire economy ran on. That means that 333 or τλγ (t-l-g) also meant "about a third", and 666 or χξς (ch-x-s) meant "about two thirds". That's not without significance because the Revelator saw that "a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up" (Revelation 8:7), and that "a third of the sea became blood" (8:8), that "a third of the sea-creatures died, and a third of the ships were destroyed" (8:9), "a third of the waters turned bitter" (8:11), "a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark; a third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night" (8:12, 12:4). A third of mankind would be killed (9:15, 9:18). And that means that two-thirds, or 666, would signify that what remained.

While the nations around them were still worshipping idols, the Hebrews had recognized that the universe runs on data, and its Creator is worshipped in information technology (i.e. acquiring understanding about reality and storing and sharing information about reality: speech first, then symbolic notation, then hieroglyphic script, then alphabetical script). This is why their deity was named after the three vowels that gave life and breath to the alphabet: YHW(H), and why the Son of God was called the Word (which, by the way, is a much more elegant solution than the crypto-polytheistic Trinitarian dogma: the Biblical Father, Son and Spirit relate like letters, words and syntax).

Number notation the way we moderns have it is of course spectacularly handy for precise calculations, but people like Pythagoras imagined that numbers were superior to letters in representing reality, meaning that the name YHW(H) was outdone by a name that would conveniently represent all numbers (the way YHW represented the entire alphabet). It could have been 123, or 555, or 369, but we got 666 — possibly to do with our number's many spectacular mathematical properties: it's a double triangle, a Smith number, the sum of the squares of the first seven primes, and in Roman number notation, DCLXVI, it uses all digits under 1000 in descending order of magnitude. The point is made, though: numbers are better than words, and precision is better than approximation.

Well, no.

A love supreme

As we discuss in our article on the noun πτερνα (pterna), meaning heel (the aft-base on one's foot), in evolutionary terms, flat-foot walking was once the standard and toe-walking "evolved" when both predators and prey thought that faster would be better. As king David painfully learned in 2 Samuel 24, precision in notation may seem like a great leap forward, but it's really a dead end. The three brothers Jubal, Jabal, and Tubal-cain were the fathers of tent-living, music making, animal husbandry and metallurgy, and because these activities still very much make up the backbone of our human world (compare Revelation 13:16 with Genesis 4:15), the flood of Noah marks an asymptotic limit to their evolutionary range. These traits could not evolve beyond this flood, whereas the line of Seth punched straight through it and continued evolving until today. The line of Seth are those who call upon the name YHWH (Genesis 4:26), whereas the three pre-Noahic brothers call upon numerical precision. Mankind's houses, husbandry and metallurgy haven't essentially changed much over the millennia (see our article on χαλκος, chalkos, copper, for a closer look at this), and the great difference between mankind 10,000 years ago and mankind now comes with advances in information technology.

In reality, variety makes all the difference. All life is based on variety, and all variety comes from quantum uncertainty, which in turn is based on freedom. That means that freedom, not determinism, is the most fundamental principle of created reality, and a system that requires infinite detail will quickly become nonsense. Say, we invent a number so big that it represents the radius of the entire universe: RU = the radius of the universe. If we were then to express the number pi (that's the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of any circle) in units of RU, so that 3.1415 represents a distance more than three times as large as the radius as the universe — bigger than we have space for; bigger than can exist — the digits of pi would begin to describe details the size of an atomic nucleus before the string hits the end of the screen. Very quickly after that, it would disappear in the quicksand of the Planck-length, which is the length at which quantum uncertainty takes over all reality and the qualities of space simply stop to exist. Any decimal after that is beyond nonsense: not even wrong, but complete and utter irrelevance.

Our number pi is defined as the ratio between circumference and radius of any circle, but in 1761, Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is not rational (not a ratio). Since Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem (1930), we know that any formal system (a system based on numbers and definitions, like all mathematics, all philosophies, all religions and all statements of faith), must always remain incomplete and incapable of proving itself correct. That means that the most fundamental principle of the universe, namely freedom, is the only thing in created reality that is self-confirming. And if you are wondering what the purpose of the gospel might be, also because all statements of faith are essentially self-congratulatory boasts with no substance of inherent consistency at all, Paul penned it down in Galatians 5:1: "It's for Freedom that Christ has set you Free."

The word Christ means Anointed, which is the mark of the sovereign — the Hebrews didn't crown their kings, priests and prophets but anointed them, which means that a Christ is someone who has no earthly superior and is thus utterly unbound. The word anti-christ, rather obviously, thus denotes any state of bondage or submission. The Revelator is clear about it: all of us will receive a mark (χαραγμα, charagma) or seal (σφραγις, sphragis) on our foreheads (μετωπον, metopon, literally "between the eyes"), and it will either be the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17, 14:9-11, 16:2, 19:20, 20:4) or the seal of God (Revelation 7:3).

The Body of Christ is a perfect republic of equals, a decentralized city in which all citizens are wholly autonomous and sovereign, and everybody is wise and mature enough to govern this city into utter greatness, and guarantee its own freedom, and the freedom of its citizens, into perpetuity. The opposite of this is the centralized empire, in which one emperor rules and subdues everybody else and in which freedom simply does not exist. And this helps to explain why the Chopsticks crowd came to equate 666 with Caesar Nero. The self-proclaimed "great artist" comes with the highest honors and most elaborate degrees, but ultimately can barely carry a tune. Someone who is One, cares little about honors but is able to produce complex improvisations, by ear, and alongside half a dozen fellow musicians, equally gifted.

The mark of the beast is any kind of number, emblem, symbol, label, title or term that denies the uniqueness of the recipient, and groups them like an εικον (eikon), a mass-produced "icon", in a general κατηγορια (kategoria), category. Our modern world is marred by such categories, and rarely if ever gets a person the custom-made attention that is so essential to the proper functioning of our kind. Contrary to modern myth, Paul was certainly not speaking about spiritual hierarchies and vague demonic powers but about the stifling Roman administrative apparatus in which a person never gets to meet with the policy-maker who rules one's world and always has to deal with enforcing bullies and secretaries who lack any compassion or the authority to make a decision: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

The Seal of God is One, and in created reality, any One is entirely free. Freedom is the most fundamental quality of the universe, and it is reserved for everybody who refuses the lures of any kind of bondage and any kind of fixation even any kind of certainty (Exodus 20:4). Only that is certain.

Also see our article on the "name" satan.