Chapter 1 - Isopsephy of the Beast
Revelation 13:18 - "Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six Hundred threescore and six. "
Pseudo-Callisthenes (I,33) - " Take two hundred and one, then a hundred and one, four times twenty, and ten. Then place the first of these numbers in the last place, and you will know which god I am. "(A code for the Egyptian god Sarapis written in Greek for Alexander. The worship of this particular god was started by Ptolemy I)
* Source - The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the invention of the computerby Georges Ifrah , pg.256." At Pompeii an inscription was found which can be read as "I love her whose number is 545"" (Georges Ifrah,256)Continues on the same page and paragraph: " and where a certain Amerimnus praises the mistress of his thoughts whose "honourable name is 45."" (Georges Ifrah,256)
John, the writer of the Book of Revelation, used the number “666” to attract uninstructed believers in the knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures by using a popular method of identification during this particular era. According to John it was a recognition through the isopsephy of the beast(s) - '666 ' which attracted them to the belief of a spiritual war between true belief and falsehood. In other words, the cultural danger of Hellenistic culture was the prime target for John the diviner. As been noted, the usage of “666” derives from a number scheme using letters from the Hebrew alphabet. This type of number scheme was popular among the Roman, Greek and Jewish populace within the domain of the Roman Empire. It is called isopsephy and it was used in poems, songs, and phrases in everyday life. For example, the “666” number identification scheme, within the Book of Revelation, describes Nero. Therefore, it would have forced the reader to investigate further the message within the Book of Revelation. Furthermore, it would have immediately identified Nero as the villain. The number scheme would have fit ideally with the general populace like entertainment concerning drama plays and the love of theatre. It was known that Nero was unpopular among some Romans therefore John's message would have been receptive to this segment of the population. Therefore, even non-believers of the Christian faith would have identified Nero in Revelation chapter thirteen.
Earlier, Arthur Weigall expressed this popularity among the Greeks concerning Nero :
" ...,and his Greek subjects generally spoke of him as 'Neron Kaisar'..." then in Caesar and Christ Will Durant says - " Nero left in 66 (AD) to compete in the Olypmic games and make a concert tour of Greece. "The Greeks," he remarked,"are the only ones who have an ear for music." "At Olympia he drove a quadriga in the races; he was thrown from the car and was nearly crushed to death; restored to his chariot he continued the contest for a while, but gave up before the end of the course. The judges, however, knew an emperor from an athlete and awarded him the crown of victory. Overcome with happiness when the crowd applauded him, he announced that thereafter not only Athens and Sparta but all Greece should be free i.e., exempt from any tribute to Rome. The Greek cities accomadated him by running the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games in one year; he responded by taking part in all of them as singer, harpist, actor, or athlete. He obeyed the rules of the various competitions carefully, was all courtesy to his opponents, and gave them Roman citizenship as consolation for his invariable victories. Amid his tour he received news that Judea was in revolt and that all the West was hot with rebellion. He sighed and continued his itinerary. When he sang in a theater, says Suetonius, no one was allowed to leave, even for the most urgent reasons. And so it was that some women gave birth there, while some feigned death to be carried out." At Corinth he ordered work started on a canal to cut the Isthmus as Caesar had planned; the task was begun, but was laid aside during the turmoil of the following year. Alarmed by further reports of uprisings and plots, Nero returned to Italy (67 AD),entered Rome in a formal triumph, and showed, as trophies, the 1808 prizes he had won in Greece." (Caesar and Christ, pgs.282-83, Will Durant)
The usage of isopsephy; using the number – “666”, by John, was to highlight the abuse of Roman power and the encroachment of Hellenistic culture as will be shown through the encryption within the Book of Revelation. It was a strategic move because the isopsephy of Nero's name addressed the political corruption during his time. For instance, the mention of "mountains" and "island" in Revelation 6:14 is about small national powers(island) and large national powers(mountains). The frame of thought derives from Solomon's supposed writings in Ecclesiastes 3:18, 3:21, 4:1, 5:8, and 10:4-12 which is another example of borrowing by the writer. Much earlier, Prophet Isaiah has written about the various "beasts" ruling islands and other lands through Isaiah 34:14. So, the meaning of "beast" is now understood to be the misuse of political power. However, the usage of the number "666" is an isopsephy of a Roman emperor by the name of Nero because of the limit and range of the message within the Book of Revelation. Paul was also brought before the Roman emperor Nero twice based on 2nd Timothy 4:17 explained through its commentary. Nero is described as the "Lion". In the book of Jude 1:10 - "Brute beasts" is stated and describes the behaviors of some individuals and is connected with the previous Ecclesiastes source.
The evidence above is proof that John's use of Nero's numerical identification was a way to oppose the Roman political system. John used the most popular tool of his day to attract all types of readers and more importantly non-Christians or Gentiles to his message. The reason it would attract non-Christians or Gentiles is because of the use of the number "666" would have invited the reader to investigate and to read the Book of Revelation. The goal of the early Christian movement has always been to develop and increase Gentile Christian membership. However, the previous was initiated by Paul himself to revise or refute Matthew 10:5-15. Therefore, initially the early Christian movement concentrated its message to only Jews but it expanded through Paul’s revision (Colossians 1:25-27). The people of that time and era were very attracted to solving riddles and hidden messages as this was noted by the pseudo-Callisthenes source above which shows an intriguing “mystery” which describes the Egyptian god named Sarapis. In the Book of Daniel it has a similar riddle against the Babylonian empire (Daniel 5:25-29). The supporting evidence for the previous observation within the Book of Revelation is Revelation 17:5 – where the term: “mystery” is used to describe the Roman Empire through an earlier desecrator of the Jewish Temple. The next question would be how did the name "Caesar" evolve into a title?
"By the second century after Christ the transformation was complete. Public opinion had recognized the prince as the actual ruler of the whole Roman territory; the title imperator, like the names Caesar and Augustus, had come to mean "emperor"(Source: Medieval History:Europe from the Second to the Sixteenth Century, 4th ed. pg.7, Carl Stephenson). St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the celebrated champion of Christian philosophy, had stated in his teatise in A.D. 413 says: "Sallust also praises two great men of renown in his own era, Marcus Cato and Gaius Caesar(Cato of Utica and Julius Caesar)" (Source: City of God, pg. 197, Book 5 - Chapter 12).
John the Diviner usage of the isopsephy of the Beast - "666" - would become an internal matter within the Christian community to designate all emperors after Nero as "Nero" through the use of "666". It was used to describe the Roman emperor and a negative description for future emperors. For example, during the time of writing down the Book of Revelation, the roman emperor Vespasian was ruling the empire. During his rule he destroyed the second temple and therefore, accordingly, the isopsephy of the “Beast” (666) would have been applied to him. The "666" would be specifically for Nero but the designation of "Nero" would be for all future Roman emperors afterwards. John the diviner was trying to create another trend and disseminate this information primarily among the nascent Christian community and to the non-Christian Roman citizens. In Other words, John used this number system or isopsephy of "666" to brand the Roman emperors as some type of “spiritually” harmful entities (Ecclesiastes 3:18,3:21 and 4:1).
John’s treatise or book was used to encourage all Christian believers whether Gentile Christians or Jewish-Christians to be vigilant against the Roman system. For instance, the Roman system would be a 'Fool's fire' compared to the "true fire" of the faith for Jesus (Acts 2:1-5). Again, even some Romans did not favor Nero's government and this was expressed through the conspiracy of the Pisonian group. This event, years before the Book of Revelation was written, shows the level of mismanagement and incompetence of Nero:
" Tragedy was rapidly catching up with his comedy. In March, 68 (AD), the Gallic governor of Lyons, Julius Vindex, announced the independence of Gaul; and when Nero offered 2,500,000 sesterces for his head, Vindex retorted, "He who brings me Nero's head may have mine in return." Preparing to take the field against this virile antagonist, Nero's first care was to choose wagons to carry along with him his musical instruments and theatrical effects. But in April word came that Galba,commander of the Roman army in Spain, had joined fortunes with Vindex and was marching toward Romes. Hearing that the Praetorian Guard was ready to abandon Nero for proper remuneration,the Senate proclaimed Galba as emperor. Nero put some poison into a small box and,so armed,fled from his Golden House to the Servilian Gardens on the road to Ostia. He asked such officers of the Guards as were in the palace to accompany him;all refused, and one qouted to him a line of Virgil: "Is it, then,so hard to die?"" (Caesar and Christ, pg. 283, Will Durant).
The meaning of Isopsephy stated by Georges Ifrah in his book - The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the invention of the computer :
"The Greeks also used similar procedures. Certain Greek poets, such as Leonidas of Alexandria (who lived at the time of the Emperor Nero), used them to create distichs and epigrams with the special characteristic of being isopsephs. A distich (consisting of two lines or two verses) is an isopseph if the numerical value of the first (calculated from the sum of the values of its letters) is equal to that of the second. An epigram (a short poem which might, for example, express an amorous idea) is an isopseph if all of its distichs are isopsephs, with the same value for each. More generally, isopsephy consists of determining the numerical value of a word or a group of letters, and relating it to another word by means of this value." (pg.256)
The previous author further elaborates and identifies Nero as “666” in the Book of Revelation 13:18 – “Taking 666 to be “the number of a man”, some have searched amongst the names of historical figures whose names give the number 666. Thus Nero, the first Roman emperor to persecute the Christians, has been identified as the Beast of the Apocalypse since the number of his name, accompanied by the title “Caesar”, makes 666 in the Hebraic system:
QSAR NERO = 50 + 6 + 200 + 50 + 200 + 60 + 100 = 666.” (pg.260)