I’ve been asked to repost this piece. I worry about the motives of the person who made the request… but the topic amuses me, so why not.
Okeydoke. When the book of Revelation refers to the number of the Beast (which Christians popularly call the Antichrist), it’s referring to the Hebrew practice of gematria. This is where you calculate the numerical value of a letter or word. Before Arabic numerals were invented (by the Hindus, of course), if you wanted to indicate numbers you had to make do with your alphabet. Hence Roman numerals, with all its Is and Xs. Or in the case of Hebrew-speakers, they just gave each letter in the alphabet a value. Alef is one, bet is two, gimel is three, up till ten. Then kaf is 20, lamed is 30, and so on till 100. Then resh is 200, and so on till we’re out of letters.
Why did the Hebrews practice gematria? They thought it was cool. It was like your lucky number. There were some Jews who took it a few steps further: In the practice of Kabbalah, if any word has the same number as any other word, you can swap ’em. Hence Kabbalists can discover all kinds of “secret” messages and interpretations in the bible, because they can change words. Or they can treat the text of the bible as a giant Word Find game and go hunting for bible codes. These are of course illegitimate uses of gematria. There aren’t many legitimate uses. Some would argue Antichrist-hunting isn’t legitimate either.
But let’s do it anyway. ’Cause every year, you get one fool or another who claims this candidate or that is probably the Antichrist. Based on what? Based entirely on their own personal politics. They don’t like that politician, and can’t understand why so many others do, so they claim the candidate is liked or beloved because they’re taking advantage of some supernatural distortion field that tricks people into liking them. It’s because of devilish charisma. It’s because they’re the Antichrist.
Well, John provided us a basic test that proves or disproves it. Whoever the Beast is, the name of that individual is gonna add up to 666. (Or, in some ancient copies of Revelation, 616. Unless 616 is the correct number and 666 is the typo. I doubt it though.)
Pick a candidate, like Mitt Romney. I prefer using full names, since dropping the middle names (or in Romney’s case, his first name, Willard) usually produce too low of a number. Next, convert it to Hebrew. (How? Find out how the Israeli press spells it. Or plug it into Google Translate, which tends to base its translations on how it commonly appears on the Internet.) Then add up the numerical value of the letters. You can use a gematria calculator, ’cause they have those on the Internet, or you could do it yourself. Either way, here’s what you get.
|letter(s)||Hebrew letter||value||running total|
…Well, that’s interesting.
Still, 616 is a textual variant. We hope.
Years ago I had a student who was scared to death that she was the Antichrist. I have no idea where she got the idea. Probably she had been a little anti-Christian at some point, and someone accused her of anti-Christlike behavior, and she had reinterpreted this into Antichrist. Or someone, fed up with her rambunctiousness, had called her a little devil or a little Antichrist, and it stuck in her psyche. People gotta be careful with impressionable kids. Still, this idea was wedged in her head pretty good, and it bugged her. As it would anyone, if you believed you were on the losing end of the End Times and were headed to hell.
Lucky for her I knew about gematria. So I explained it to her: The reason John had referred to the Beast’s number is so if we ever encounter someone who’d make a really good Antichrist candidate, we have a checksum.
Now it may be that the checksum is meant to be done with the Greek alphabet. It’s entirely possible; the Greeks did the same as the Hebrews in converting their letters into numbers. And of course Revelation was written in Greek to Greek-speakers. However, deducing the number of a person’s name is, in ancient literature, purely a Hebrew thing. The Greeks didn’t care.
To alleviate the fears of this student, I wrote out her full name in Hebrew, then put the number-values to the letters, then added ’em up. Lo and behold and no surprise, it wasn’t even close. “You are definitely not the Antichrist,” I told her.
“But what if I get married and change my last name?” she fretted.
“Won’t make any difference,” I pointed out. “Between your first and middle names, you’re over 700. Change your last name to whatever you want.”
Huge relief on her part. She wasn’t going to hell! …Well, provided she displays the appropriate fruit of the Spirit that indicates God has saved her, but at least we don’t have to worry about her leading the armies of Armageddon, or anything like that. Not, between y’all and me, that she really had the aptitude for leadership at that particular time. But who knows? Things change. Someday, with effort, if she applies herself, she could lead the armies of the damned. But I doubt it.
Anyway, for all those folks who are paranoid that they’re the Antichrist, or that someone they know is the Antichrist, I usually shut up all the Antichrist-talk by telling them to add up the name. And if you want to be paranoid, go ahead and add up nicknames, maiden names, last names only, or any combination, just to be on the safe side. Certain final forms of letters also play with the number-count: The last K, M, N, F/P, and TS/CH in a word use a slightly different letter, and therefore have a different number value. So I let ’em try it twice with the regular form and the final form. But however they juggle the numbers, they never get 666. So it usually quiets them. And then we can get to the real issues of a campaign. (Well, closer to them anyway.)
What if you find some politician whose name does total 666? Simple: Start telling people. The Associated Press will likely pick up the story and spread it around: Skeptics will bring it up out of amusement, and the fearful will bring it up out of panic. It’ll likely wreck that politician’s career. Which isn’t fair to any politician whose number is 666 and honestly isn’t the Beast, but sometimes life sucks like that.
In any case do not start up any of that Left Behind or Omen crap where you conspire to kill the Antichrist. I know the Dispensationlists claim to have the End Times all figured out, but they don’t. For them the Antichrist’s assassination and resurrection is part of most of their End Times timeline, so if you do kill the Antichrist, and they’re actually right, he’ll just rise again, and you’ve fulfilled the End Times, and are screwed. But what’s more likely is you’ve just murdered a politician out of religious paranoia, which has no relation to Christianity whatsoever, and you’re not winning any prize from Jesus for that. The checksum isn’t so you know who to kill: It’s so you know who to look out for. Don’t vote for him. But don’t shoot him.
If your totals 666, relax. Statistically, it’s not impossible. Just remember that you have free will. You don’t have to be an antichrist if you don’t want to. Confess Jesus as Lord, make that relationship nice and obvious, and you can spend the rest of your life having a chuckle about your unfortunate number. (And be on the lookout lest some religiously paranoid person tries to shoot you.) But try to hide it, and it’ll come out. Try to take any positions of authority, and people are always gonna wonder about you.
No, I’m not kidding about Romney’s name adding up to 616. I did joke around some months ago with friends about what Newt Gingrich’s name adds up to, but in his case (adding up the full Newton Leroy Gingrich) we get 2,213. And in case you were wondering, Barack Hussein Obama is 1,150, Richard John Santorum is 2,145, and Ronald Ernest Paul is 627. Yes, Paul’s number is closer, but it’s not the number of the Beast. It’s only the neighbor of the beast.
But when, out of curiosity, I added up Romney’s name, this is what I got. Which shocked them. As it may you. But remember: Textual variant.
…Ah well. It’s only a matter of time before one of the other campaigns gets ahold of this and plays merry hell with it.