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616: The Number of the Beast





By:  David Deschesne

Editor/Publisher, Fort Fairfield Journal

November 20, 2019


  For nearly 1,500 years, Christians have been riveted to the Biblical Book of Revelation and its ominous “666” beast number.  But a recent discovery shows the number in very early manuscripts was actually 616.

   The number, 666 appears in the modern version of Revelation in Chapter 13, verse 18 which states;


   “Here is wisdom.  Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.” (KJV)


  The modern Greek version used in today’s translations spells out the number as: six hundred     [and] sixty-six1


   Church tradition alone has John, a disciple of Jesus, writing the book of Revelation.  However, there is no objective evidence for that in the Bible.  Comparing the writing style and command of the Greek language between the John of Revelation and the John of the Gospels (which was written anonymously and had the name, John arbitrarily attributed to it by the Catholic Church around 150 years after it was written), shows that the two books were likely not penned by the same writer.

   For nearly 500 years after Christ, the early Christians were divided on Revelation’s authenticity as a divinely inspired word of God.  Among the earliest church leaders who supported Revelation was Irenaeus of Gaul, while those church leaders who rejected it were Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch; Gaius of Rome (who thought it was a Gnostic forgery) and Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.  Athanasius of Alexandria (circa 298-373 AD) was the first to apply the term “canonical” to those books accepted as being the inspired word of God, but initially Revelation was not one of them.  Revelation was accepted at the Council of Hippo in 383, making it into the Catholic’s Latin Vulgate. After much debate, most of the churches of western Europe eventually approved the Book of Revelation as canonical by 419 AD.

   In the 1890’s, fragments of text from the Book of Revelation dating from 250 AD (over 100 years before being accepted and canonized in any version of the Bible) were found in an ancient garbage dump in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.  They were very dirty and difficult to read, but were stored at Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum.  In 2005, Professor David Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, was able to use modern digital imaging techniques to bring out the text and analyze it.  What he found was the oft-cited number, “666” was actually written as 616 in this version of the text dating to before the time of its adoption into Biblical Canon.

   If you would allow me to digress here, for a moment, I’ll share a little Biblical chronology.  Some Christians believe the King James Bible is the inerrant, infallible “word of God” so much so that they would hastily admit that it was handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai, even though the original New Testament texts wouldn’t have been written for another 1,600 years after Moses’ generally accepted date of birth.

   The King James Bible was first written in 1611 and subsequently rewritten a few years later with thousands of corrections.  Before the King James, there were a whole litany of Bibles:  Tyndale (circa 1535); Coverdale (1535); Matthew’s Bible (1537); The Great Bible (1539); The Geneva Bible (1560); the Bishop’s Bible (1563); and the Rhemes and Douai Bible (1582-1610).2  All of these Bibles actually draw from the original Catholic in terms of which books to reproduce, finding their roots all the way back to Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, commissioned by the Pope in 383 AD.  As an aside, while Protestants claim to be “protesting” Catholic doctrine, it’s certainly intriguing that they’re still using a Bible that has its origins and structure formulated and authorized by the early Catholic Church.  

   The above Bible versions drew from later manuscripts that listed the beast’s number as 666.  However, in addition to the aforementioned Papyrus 115 in the Oxford museum, another ancient biblical text, post-dating Papyrus 115 was also found and translated earlier which also enumerated 616 as the number of the beast.  That version is the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus which spelled out the number of the beast as;


ἑξακόσιοι δέκα ἕξ

six hundred          sixteen3


   The coded number appears to be a reference to a person’s name using the ancient cryptic art of gematria where the letters of a person’s name are transposed to their numerical value and totaled.  Using this method, arguments have been made for the beast number referencing either Nero or Caligula - both pretty horrible Roman dictators of the time period Revelation was written.

   Interestingly, Nero’s name and title in Hebrew (nrwn ksr) total 666 when using the Hebrew alpha-numerical system but when transliterated into Latin by dropping the Hebrew’s ’n’ suffix on Nero it gets rendered as nrw ksr and totals 616.  These could be specious arguments, though, since Revelation was written in Greek and the gematria code would have had to be transliterated into another language and its respective number system in order to work. 

   In addition to Caligula and Nero, societies throughout history have attributed a whole host of people to the number of the beast, such as: Muhammad, Saladin, Napoleon, the Pope (as denounced by Martin Luther), Martin Luther (as denounced by the Pope); and more recently, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Moshe Dayan and Anwar el-Sadat.  Henry Kissinger and the Ayatollah Khomeini were also suggested by some to be the 666 “beast” of Revelation.4 

   Even though 666 appears in later Greek copies of Revelation, one argument has been put forth to suggest its authenticity.   A thesis presented at takes a look at it from the pagan Babylonian perspective by stating, “Babylon worshiped gods that were associated with the sun, moon, planets and stars involved with astrology. Babylonians were the principle developers of astrology and the pagan priests wore amulets called “Sigilla Solis” or “Sun Seal” which symbolized 36 constellations. In this system of worship, they had 36 supreme gods plus the god associated with the sun, which they believed to be the father of all the other gods and so was supreme over all. They believed that numbers had power over the gods they worshiped so they assigned numbers to their gods so that they could have power over them. They did this by counting their gods and assigning a consecutive number to each of the 36 lesser supreme gods, and then added up these numbers (from 1 to 36) and assigned the sum to the sun god. The sum of the numbers from 1 to 36 totals 666, which they assigned to the god associated with the sun...


1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 + 12 + 13 + 14 + 15 + 16 + 17 + 18 + 19 + 20 + 21 + 22 + 23 + 24 + 25 + 26 + 27 + 28 + 29 + 30 + 31 + 32 + 33 + 34 + 35 + 36 = 666 5


   The author of that writing then goes on to say the 616 number is a copyist error without admitting that the later 666 could also be a copy error, or the Babylonian connection a spurious interpolation by a later copyist.

   A rebuttal on argues, “It is very unlikely to have been a simple scribal or copying error. The numbers 666 and 616 don’t look very much alike in Greek, whether written as words or numerals. There’s a consensus among New Testament scholars that the use of two different numbers was intentional. What reason could anyone have had for the change? Consider this: In the first century, both in the Hebrew and Greek speaking world in the Roman empire, it was common practice to, either as a game, a joke, or a literary device, to make use of the numerical value of letters. Consider that in Hebrew, Nero Caesar (the Roman Emperor who persecuted the church in the first century) is Neron Kesar, and that the numerical value of the name based on the value of the Hebrew letters, as would have been well known by John, the author of the book of Revelation, is 666...As the book of Revelation began to be circulated beyond its first, largely Jewish audience (as illustrated in its obviously Jewish style and plethora of Old Testament references) and moved into a more Latin or Greek setting, this numerical device had to be updated so that it might be understood by the new readers. What all of this can be taken to suggest is that the copyists were so sure that the “Beast” was in fact a reference to Nero Caesar, they were quite comfortable simply inserting another number [616] that, like 666, represented Nero’s name.”6

    The number 666 has also been attributed further back in history to the ancient Egyptian god of evil named Seth.

  In his book, Egyptian Origin of the Book of Revelation, author, John Pippy explains how the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that were used to compose Seth’s name individually resembled something like our modern number 6 and collectively when three of those same hieroglyphs were used to form his name, the number 666 could have been extrapolated from that imagery.7 

   According to Mr. Pippy’s thesis, the entire Book of Revelation appears to be interpolated and adapted from much earlier ancient Egyptian religious texts and motifs and by itself is not a novel work, much less a prophecy about a future “end of the world.”  He makes compelling arguments for this position in his book and shows how Revelation 13, where the beast number resides, appears to be an adaptation/interpolation of the 4th Division of the Amduat - an ancient Egyptian religious text predating the book of Revelation by over a thousand years and perhaps still extant and in use in some parts of Egypt at the time of the writing of Revelation.

   Ever since the book of Revelation was written, the world has stubbornly refused to “end on time.”  Each successive generation to come onto history’s timeline reads another interpretation into that book’s “prophecy,” thus kicking the can further down the road.  All other past dates for the end of the world have come and gone with the world still being here.  However, the latest interpretation I recently saw online was Jesus coming back in 2026 and the world ending in 2030.  Perhaps that is where the climate change gurus got their “world is going to end in twelve years” idea.  But, there I go digressing, again.

   Johnathan Kirsch describes a process where the end times prophecy of Revelation continually recycles itself;  “Each new generation of readers is convinced that God planted a secret meaning in the text that was meant only and especially for them.  And, remarkably, the failure of each previous generation to crack the Revelation code only encourages the next generation to try harder.”  “As we move forward in history, we will see that Revelation has been reread and reinterpreted in startling and even shocking ways over the centuries and never more so than in our own times.  If the author of Revelation had been granted an accurate vision of the distant future, surely he would have been appalled not only by the plain fact that the end of the world was not near but also by what would become of his ‘little book’ in the hands of popes and kings, grand inquisitors and church reformers, messianic pretenders and self-appointed prophets - or, for that matter, best selling novelists like the authors of the Left Behind series, televangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell, or a president like Ronald Reagan.”8

   The reality of Revelation is that it is in all likelihood not a prophecy of future events, but rather a polemic written about the politics of the time of the writer nearly 2,000 years ago as a form of political satire and rhetoric, deploying imagery that is overtly Gnostic in style and presentation.  That it seems to be corroborated by world events could be the work of nefarious actors on the world stage arranging world events to make it appear its prophecies have been fulfilled, where they were simply “stage managed” in order to keep the religious masses’ attention preoccupied with waiting for over 2,000 years for the world to end.  But this could be conjecture at this point and should be a topic for future research.

    Revelation appears to be a thinly disguised political tract, with the names of those being criticized changed to numbers to protect the authors and early Christians from reprisals. “It’s a very political document,” said Dr. Ellen Aitken, a professor of early Christian history at McGill University, “It’s a critique of the politics and society of the Roman empire, but it’s written in coded language and riddles.”9

   “So 666 becoming 616 is significant to the interpretation of the Book of Revelation, lending more credibility to the idea that it’s not a prediction of an actual apocalypse yet to occur, but a political criticism of the Roman Empire, hidden in symbols and numbers to avoid an imperial response.”10



1.  The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, ©Zondervan Corp., p. 753.

2.  Encyclopedia Britannica, 1958 ed. Vol. 3, pp. 531-533.


4. A History of the End of the World, ©2006 Jonathan Kirsch, p. 12.



7.  Egyptian Origin of the Book of Revelation, ©2009 John H.C. Pippy, p. 98

8.  A History of the End of the World, ©2006 Jonathan Kirsch, p. 13, 55.


10. 08/12/the-devils-number-is-not-666/


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