Today is June 6, 2006?or 666 to numerologists. In the Bible, Revelation 13:18 describes the number “666” as “the number of the beast.” No one seems to know exactly what this means, but many people think it refers to something evil. About a year ago, we told you that 666 is NOT the “number of the beast” anyway?that’s actually 616.

Theologian Greg Snyder says that the Biblical reference to “666” is a numeric code for a feared Roman Emperor, and not an indication of apocalypse. Revelation 13:18 ascribes the number “666” to the beast that rises from the sea and says it is also “the number of a man.” Since the second century, the number and identity of the malevolent, apocalyptic figure it supposedly identifies have been the focus of endless speculation.

However, the best explanation comes from the ancient practice of “gematria,” or number mysticism. Gematria assigns numerical significance to letters of the alphabet, e.g., a=1, b=2, c=3 and so on. This can be carried out in any phonetic language, and from the ancient world, we have examples in Greek, Latin, and in Hebrew. Transliterate the phrase “Nero Caesar” into Hebrew characters and assign numerical values those characters based on the rules of gematria, and the sum turns out to be 666?or in this case, actually 616.

So in the Book of Revelation, the number probably refers to the nasty ruler responsible for a vicious but short-lived persecution of Christians in the city of Rome, in the years A.D. 64-65. Thus “666” refers to something in the PAST, not in the future.

Anthropologist Phillips Stevens agrees that it refers to Roman emperor Nero. He says, “?Like many superstitions, the one regarding 666 is based on incorrect data: the ‘beast’ referred to in the chapter is not Satan but, in fact, several other entities. Biblical scholars have pointed out that there are several ‘beasts,’ in Chapter 13 and elsewhere, and they all refer variously to Rome, Roman emperors and Roman cults of god- and emperor-worship.

“The author of Revelation is believed to be John of Patmos, who was writing to other persecuted Christians in code. According to Stevens, “Many of the strange elements in ‘Revelation’ signify events, people or institutions familiar to first-century Christians. The mark of the beast, 666, signifies those in thrall to the emperor and thus opposed to Christianity, and is most probably the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters for Nero.

“The First and Second Letters of John use the term ?Antichrist? to denote lapsed Christians. Over subsequent centuries, the legend developed that the ‘end times’ would be foreshadowed by the arrival of the Antichrist, an evil figure commissioned by Satan to prepare the world for his coming,” Stevens says. “Many perceived enemies of Christianity have been labeled the antichrist, and Nero was one of the first.”

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