The number 666 is arguably the most feared digit in all of history, which the New Testament infamously refers to as “the mark of the beast.” Debate wages among Christians about who the beast actually was, is or will be. According to the folks at Numberphile, however, 666 actually translates to the Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar, which the Biblical writers used to refer to the contested Roman Emperor.
From a mathematical viewpoint, the number 666 isn’t very interesting. It’s ominous undertones are a product of culture, as there is nothing intrinsically evil about the number. The number is deployed in the Book of Revelation by the author during an apocalyptic vision. But 666 had a historical context attached to it at the time, which can help shed light on this widely detested digit.
Basically, 666 is a code used by people who were alive and literate during the time of the New Testament, but the message isn’t exactly easy to decipher – and for good reason.
The Devil is in the details
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and ancient Greek, which both use letters to represent numbers. The Greeks used symbols like alpha, beta and gamma to represent small numbers like 1, 2 and 3. For larger numbers like 100, 1,000 and 1,000,000, a different assembly of letters are deployed. In other (literal) words, every letter in the alphabet has a number anchored to it, explained Science Alert.
In Chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation, it states, “Let the one with understanding reckon the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”
What name does 666 translate to in ancient Greek you ask? As the video below explains, the English word “reckon” means “calculate” or “solve” in ancient Greek. Whenever the passage is reviewed, 666 is actually written in Hebrew instead of Greek, which places more emphasis on the terms intended meaning. In short, the author was trying to communicate the name of a person through code.
Nero was no hero
Whenever 666 is translated into Hebrew, it translates to Neron Kesar, otherwise known as Nero Caesar in English. Caesar and the Roman Empire were detested by early Christians. For the Romans, the feeling was mutual. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Biblical authors used this number to represent their sworn enemy.
Although the spelling of the number of the beast can be altered, it still can be translated into Nero Caesar. In many early Biblical texts, the number is actually written as 616.
“It adds to the kind of complexity of it kind of being a riddle, a secret,” Pete explains in the video. “No one wants to write a book under imperial persecutions saying, ‘The root of all evil is Nero Caesar.’ You’re not going to spell that out.”
The lesson learned? The Devil’s isn’t in the details – Ceasar is.