Friday, December 17, 2010

Wiki Bible Commentary

James McGrath has noted that in his recent class on Revelation he required his students to contribute to the Wikibooks commentary on Revelation. This sounds like an interesting project and I will need to talk further with the good Doctor to learn how he went about it. In the mean time you can read the results here.

Below is an example of what you will find there. I chose Revelation 13:18 to see what they had to say about the mark of the beast. Good stuff!

18Here 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 and sixty-six.

Commentary: Of all the verses in Revelation, Rev. 13:18 has easily received the most attention. There have been many interpretations regarding the number 666. It may simply signify incompleteness and chaos by virtue of the fact it falls short of the perfect 777.

However, gematria, the ancient practice of assigning letters numerical value, was common in John’s day. Going the other way (numbers to letters) involves a little more guess work after 2000 years. Having said this, the Greek to Hebrew to number translation of Nero can produce 666. Also, the word Beast itself also produces 666. It seems John is showing as explicitly as he is able that 666 is the Beast is Nero is 666, etc. Nero is also a likely candidate due to his rampant persecution of christians. Furthermore, he would have been extremely well known to John's audience, so that even after concealing his identity in the number, the beast would have clearly stood as a symbol of Nero.

Additionally significant is the fact that 666 is the eighth sequential doubly triangular number; that is, it is the eighth number which is the sum of successive numbers beginning with 1 whose last number in the series (in this case 36) is also triangular. Some have argued that this could be the meaning of the symbolism of the beast having seven head, with Nero being the eighth and the beast himself. This may be pushing the symbolism too far.

There is actually some contention that the number is not, in fact, 666, but is instead 616. This can be found in some early manuscripts of the book. These are certainly in the minority, although they are not totally without merit. This comes from using the Latin form of Nero's name, translating it to hebrew, and then assigning a number value to the letters. This is the same process discussed above which translates the letters of Nero's name to 666.

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