My friend V came up with a fantastic piece of tittle-tattle recently: Tim Berners-Lee is Satan.
His reasoning was this: 666 is the number of the beast. The number 6, in Hebrew, is sometimes transliterated as W. Therefore the number of the beast is www – the World-Wide Web – Tim Berners-Lee’s invention and propagator of goat porn, erroneous Wikipedia entries and other associated evils.
An entertaining theory, V, but sadly a load of old toss. For one, the earliest sources of the Book of Revelation were written in Ancient Greek, not Hebrew. Second, Hebrew numbers are a bit like Roman numerals, in the sense that the Roman number III is three, not one-hundred and eleven. So Vav-vav-vav is not six hundred and sixty-six, but six plus six plus six, or 18.
A sturdier theory is that the number of the beast is in fact 616, based on the earliest known record of the Book of Revelation, a scrap of papyrus known as P115. There are other ancient texts that corroborate this, although there are also many that plump for the more traditional 666, so the matter is, literally, academic. More interestingly, according to Wikipedia, there is a theory that 666 and/or 616 refers to the Roman emperor Nero.
The argument goes that scribes, afraid to use the emperor’s name for fear of arrest and lions, used a code to hint at the beast’s identity. Scholars say that “Nero Caesar”, translated into Hebrew and then transliterated using a numerological system known as gematria, is 666. You can also fiddle it so that an alternative spelling for the name comes out as 616.
This appears compelling when you consider the wording of Revalations 13:18: “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.”
But then it’s important to remember that numerology is responsible for some of the worst theories ever concocted. Indeed, you need not stray from the Wikipedia page to see that academics have crowbarred all manner of phrases into the numerological system to generate 666 or 616. Caligula equates to 616 if you use his first name and title, and Domitian generates 666 provided you call him Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus, translate it into ancient Greek, and abbreviate it.
I half-suspect Robert Graves, the poet, was taking the piss when he suggested that 666 was a version of “The Emperor Domitian violently killed the envoys of Christ”.
But the worst case of numerological abuse of 666 I have ever come across was a theory devised by one Harry Hinde, author of a book entitled 666 The Divine Harmony. I engaged in a brief e-mail exchange with him two years ago after he invited me to help publicise his theory. “The whole world is stamped with the mark of 666, and was deliberately set out and designed this way,” he wrote. “Just look at the evidence below which categorically proves that the principal sites within London have been laid out and established to a unique pattern of 666.”
He then listed 26 sites 666 metres apart, such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England (both built prior to the metre being defined, but never mind), or Marble Arch and the Roosevelt Memorial. His measurements are largely accurate, but only if you allow them to begin and end at any point in each of the buildings. The Bank of England and Liverpool Street Station, for example, are between 600 and 800 metres apart depending on which bit of the buildings you choose. If you take buildings that have a margin of about 50 metres at each end, it makes it very easy to find pairs of them roughly 700 metres apart in a city as densely packed as London. The problem for Mr Hinde is that 666 is an annoyingly accurate number. For his theory to hold water the buildings should be precisely that distance apart, whether from edge to edge or between their geographical centres. This didn’t appear to be true for any of them, at least using a ruler and an A to Z.
But then, maybe the compilers of the A to Z are in league with Satan.