Where does the number 666 come from? Many have read of it in the bible or even heard of it from various sources, but very few know where it actually comes from or why it is spoken about with negative connotations in the book of Revelation. Here we will attempt to give a brief overview of the history of this number, where it comes from, and why the book of Revelation speaks so negatively of this number.
The number itself comes directly out of the worship practices of the city of Babylon about the time of the bible prophet Daniel. The priests of Babylon promoted the worship of gods that were associated with the sun, moon, visible planets of our solar system, and certain of the stars involved with the practice of astrology (the Babylonians were the principle developers of astrology as we know it today). In their worship system, they had 37 supreme gods, and one of these, the god associated with the sun, was supreme over all the other gods. These people believed that numbers in some way had power over the gods they worshiped. But, first they had to create numbers that could be assigned to the gods so that they could have power over them. To do this, they counted their gods and assigned a count number to each of the 36 lesser supreme gods, and then added up all of these numbers (from 1 to 36) and assigned the sum to the sun god. The first god they counted got the number 1 assigned to it, and the 2nd god they counted got the number 2 assigned to it, and so on up to all 36 lesser supreme gods. Now, if you have not guessed it by now, the sum of the numbers from 1 to 36 totals 666, which was assigned to the god associated with the sun. The calculation was done like this:
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
But, they went further. They feared these gods and worried that one of them might strike them down sometime, so they made amulets with a 6 x 6 matrix of the numbers 1 through 36 on them (which today are called magic squares). Amulets are designed to achieve a magic purpose, and they evidently believed that wearing a particular god's number would protect one from being struck down by that god through the power of magic. Now, the amulets had to be as powerful as possible, so in order to increase its power, they arranged these numbers in such a way that the sum of any given row or column was 111, and therefore the sum of all 6 rows or all 6 columns was 666. This was supposed to provide extra protection, including from the god associated with the sun, since this god's sum was present on the amulet.
Below is an example of one such arrangement of numbers in a 6x6 matrix of numbers. Note that any given column or row adds to 111. The diagonals also total to 111. The ancient Babylonians wrote these numbers out on a small clay tablet, and after drying and baking it so as to make the writing permanent, they would hang it on a support and wear it around their neck. As long as they carried it with them, they thought they were protected. 6 32 3 34 35 1 7 11 27 28 8 30 19 14 16 15 23 24 18 20 22 21 17 13 25 29 10 9 26 12 36 5 33 4 2 31 To Site Map
The practice of creating amulets with this arrangement of numbers as part of astrology appears to have continued well past the time of Jesus. Amulets with Latin Inscriptions have been found, so it is known that the Romans were indulging in this practice.
So, the 666 number came about because of the pagan worship practices of the Babylonians and their practice of astrology.
If you want more information about this, see some of the links at the bottom of the page. You may also look for a copy of the book by Roy Allan Anderson called Unfolding the Revelation, in which this is explained in more detail. That book is (or at least has been) published by Pacific Press Publishing Association of Nampa, Idaho. You likely could find a copy through one of the major online bookstores such as Amazon.com. Another book of good information about this is called the Trail of the Serpent, by Murl Vance and published by Oriental Watchman Publishing House of Pune, India. You can order that book through LLT Productions 666 web page, a web site which has a great deal of information about the number 666. If nothing else, you might want to look in particular at LLT Productions Handout #2.
But, you may ask, why does the bible speak about this number in such serious tones? This is where things get really interesting and it also explains why the bible speaks against Babylon in Revelation. Before explaining the answer to this question, the writer wishes to digress from the subject for a moment to explain something of importance related to the number 666.
What About the Variations From Some Ancient Manuscripts of Revelation Showing Numbers Such as 606 or 616?
There are several ancient manuscripts of Revelation that show numbers such as 616 or 606 instead of 666. This very likely was due to a scribal error of some sort that was propagated down through additional copies as they were made. This is especially likely given that the original meaning of the number 666 was concerned with the magical properties it had. The numbers 616 or 606 had no magical meaning of any significance, so that by itself should inform the reader that these were due to copy errors. Remember that things were copied by hand prior to the invention of the printing press. They didn't have copy machines in those days. If you wanted a copy of something and had the money and could read, you either hired somebody to copy it for you, or you did it yourself. Those were the only choices available. Of course, if you didn't have the money, there was only one choice then - you didn't get a copy of your own and had to wait until somebody was willing to read it to you! If they didn't read it to you, then you were simply out of luck.
Now, back to the question.
Why Are Babylon and the Number 666 Spoken Against in Revelation?
When the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon (539 BC), they came with their own religious practices and gods, so had no need of the priests of the Babylonian religious system. Although the Persians were somewhat sympathetic towards the Babylonian god Marduk and did accommodate the priests of this god for a while, it appears from history that eventually they simply fired the whole crew of priests and installed their own! Sounds like things that happen in Washington when a new political party comes into power. What is known is that eventually the Babylonian priests left Babylon for a new location, probably because they were out of a job, thought the exact reason they left has not yet been found by the author.
So, these guys, being out of a livelihood (or whatever the real reason was), began to look for more fertile ground to work. They found it in the city of Pergamum, which was a city in what is now Western Turkey, with no port or major industry at that time except education. It was a city of the universities of its day, in that medicine and law were already taught there, and the Babylonian priests added their religious schooling there after leaving Babylon. There was also a major library there, with some 200,000 volumes.
Click here for a map of Asia Minor during the time of the Greeks and Romans. This is a large map and may take a minute or two to load. You should be able to find Pergamum on the northwest end of Asia Minor in an area known as Mysia just a little to the south across the strait from a region known as Thrace. If you look carefully, you should also be able to see the locations of some of the other cities mentioned as part of the 7 churches in Revelation, such as Ephesus, Thyatira, and Laodicea.
Some of the Babylonian priests went instead to Egypt, where they taught the Egyptians their practices. The Egyptians picked this up rather readily and even extended and developed some of the ideas that are still used in astrology. They also picked up the idea of 37 supreme gods from the Babylonians. One source the author has run into claimed that the Egyptians saw the numbers 3, 6, and 7 as having magical properties, and that was one reason they liked the idea of 37 supreme gods (it had both 3 and 7 in it). By adding up the numbers 1 to 36, they could reach the magical total of 666. Also, they could multiply 37 by 3 or any multiple of it, and reach magical numbers such as 111, 222, 333, 444, 555, 666 (the product of 3 x 6 x 37), 777, 888, and so on.
Of course, we use the base ten numbering system, so 3 and 7 do occur in the number 37. Whether they used the same numbering system is something the author is not familiar with. However, it seems very unlikely that they used the base 10 numbering system, so they likely would have seen 37 for its apparent magical properties in being able to generate numbers such as 111, 222, 666, etc., and not for containing the digits 3 and 7. So, they may have extended this idea. Historically it is known that the Egyptians developed several ideas that are a part of modern day astrology. Now, back to what happened at Pergamum.
The teaching of the Babylonian religious practices by the Babylonian priests and their direct descendants went on in the city of Pergamum for centuries afterwards. They taught astrology and making the amulets with the numbers 1 to 36 on them in the special arrangements they commonly used. They built a large complex as part of their worship system. Click here to see a model of this worship complex at Pergamum. This continued until about the year 133 BC, at which time the last king of the Attalid Empire, who had his capital at Pergamum, died, and in his will he gave his kingdom to the Romans. After putting down a small rebellion, the Romans easily took over the Attalid Empire by 129 BC. Then, or sometimes relatively soon after this, the priests who were still teaching the Babylonian religious practices saw their opportunity and went to Rome. The Romans were known for adopting the practices of other cultures, something that went a long way towards helping their empire survive as long as it did. The Babylonian priests rightly calculated that the Romans would be very willing to learn and follow their teachings.
So, they moved to Rome and set up shop there. After a while Rome was filled with their religious teachings and practices. It eventually became so pervasive that Rome became known as the new Babylon. It is for this reason that many teach that references to Babylon in Revelation is in fact a code word for Rome. Of course, there are some who dispute that, but for more information about this, see is Babylon a symbol for Rome?
Eventually, when the Christian Church came along, the practices and beliefs of the Babylonian religion was brought right into the church. Historians have noted that at one point it seemed almost the entire city of Rome converted virtually overnight to Christianity, but what actually happened is the Babylonian religion was simply brought into the church and the three supreme gods of the Babylonian religion were simply renamed as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Other lesser gods were named as saints of the church. The pagan Babylonian religious practices came into the church right along with it. This made it easy for the followers of the Babylonian religion to "convert" to Christianity, but it certainly was not a genuine conversion. Because of the movement of pagan religious practices into the Christian church, Babylon is condemned in Revelation. And, since the practice of writing out the sum of the numbers 1 through 36 on amulets continued and was brought into the church, this is used to help identify who the beast is - the church which imported the pagan religion into the church against God's wishes. God condemns pagan religious practices, but in spite of that, they brought these practices into the church anyway.
But, there is more from history that supports this. The pagan Babylonian priests had a chief priest who held the title Pontifex Maximus (translated to Latin and essentially meant that he was head pagan priest). You have no doubt heard of the word "Pontiff" applied to the pope. History explains where that term comes from. Originally this title was held by the king of the Attalid Empire and he passed it on to the Babylonian Priests before he died and they went to Rome. This title was given to Julius Caesar in 63 BC, thereby making him the supreme priest of the Babylonian Religion and it's gods (and also showing that the Babylonian priests had to have arrived in Rome before the time of Julius Caesar or this event could not have happened). This meant that the Babylonian religion literally moved into Rome and took it over, becoming head of the Roman government. This title was passed from emperor to emperor, all of whom served as chief priest of the Babylonian Religion from then on, until, in 376 AD, the Roman Emperor Gratian became the first since Julius Caesar to refuse the title Pontifex Maximus. Two years later, in 378 AD, the title was passed on to the bishop of Rome, Damasus I from Catholic Encyclopedia Article (366-383 AD as Pope), thus making him head of the Babylonian religion. So here you have the man that Rome claims as one of their early popes and who was the head of the Christian Church in Rome, becoming also the head of the pagan Babylanian Religion and its collection of pagan gods. So, did the Babylonian Religion move into the Christian Church? History says most definitely YES.
Some might dispute that pagan religious practices were brought into the Christian Church of that time, but even Catholic historians admit to it. Cardinal Newman, in his Development of Christian Doctrine, pages 272, 273, says that many pagan religious practices were brought into the church. He claims that the church sanctified them and that made it safe to bring these practices into the church. Click here for more about what historians have to say about the influx of Babylonian religious practices into the Catholic Church - Go about 1/4 of the way down the page and look for the section titled "Ecclesiastical characteristics" While some of these practices may have been relatively innocuous, what do you believe God thinks of the less innocuous ones? Consider that many Catholic Pilgrims every year kiss the feet of the Roman god Saturn, thinking they are kissing the image of Peter (see Links below on Historical Pictures of Christianity). Do you think God approves of this? These people are kissing the feet of a pagan god idol. God condemns idolatry, the making of images that are worshipped, and even bowing down before images as part of an act of worship. Yet images are found in Catholic Churches and people are taught to bow down before them (they may be praying to someone else while doing this, but the act of bowing down before the image, regardless of what or who one is actually worshipping at the time, is condemned by God).
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