Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Apocalypse Now?

Wink at Parablemania points out that an oddsmaker has put the odds in favor of the world surviving today (6/6/06) at 100,000 to 1. How do I get in on that action? Wink points to this story, which includes this line:
It all started with Revelation 13:18 in the Bible: "This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six." The beast is also known as the Antichrist, according to some apocalyptic theories.
I didn't realize that apolcalyptic theorists were the relevant experts on semantics. If I'd been researching this article, I would have consulted linguists or dictionaries to verify the claim that the beast is also known as the Antichrist. The "some apocalypic theories" bit seems a little misleading, too -- are there apocalyptic theories that deny that the beast is also known as the Antichrist? Such theories, if there are any, seem to be empirically inadequate; they make false linguistic predictions. But I guess these are empirical questions. I shouldn't try to settle them from the armchair. I guess I'll go back to my paper on the epistemology of conditionals.


  1. I'm having trouble seeing what you're getting at. The line you seem to be questioning is referring to one common strain of biblical interpretation, the view that the beast of Revelation is the antichrist of I John. How is that a question of linguistics?

    There are some interpretive schemas that take the beast to be an image of a kind of figure rather than an individual at the end of time. They don't take that to be a figure called the Antichrist. Maybe that's what it's referring to.

  2. Oh! That's somewhat embarrassing -- I think I'm just being confused. I guess I forgot that the antichrist is introduced independently in I John; I thought the two names were just used independently to discuss the Revelations entity. Thanks for helping clear things up.

  3. I think a better point to hammer is the line "it is a human number." As opposed to an inhuman one? I didn't realize numbers can in human or nonhuman flavors. Is that like real vs. imaginary numbers? Because if the Beast has a number, I think it's i; since he's, well, IMAGINARY.

  4. Imlac, that expression can be translated that way, but it literal reads "it is the number of a human" or it is the number of humanity". Older translations read "it is the number of man" or "it is the number of a man", but the goal of more inclusive translation produced "it is a human number", which isn't quite right given that it's a noun in the genitive case and not an adjective.

    It's cryptic no matter how you slice it, but 1st century apocalyptic literature often assigns numerical values for concepts, individual people, and such. Some people think it's a code for a name of a Roman emperor (Nero and Domitian have been suggested), but no scheme for working that out is exact. Others think it's just that the imperfection of humanity is represented by 6, since 7 is a Hebrew number of perfection. That's what I think is going on.

  5. The only witness in scriptures to "the number of a man" is the age of a man. (Eccl 5:18 in the literal Hebrew, and Dan 9:2)

    Daniel Lang