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Bewildering Stories


by Don Webb

As the old saying goes, “Greek has a word for it,” even if the word is so lengthy it’s a joke. The one in the title means “fear of 666,” which, according to Revelation 13, is the “number of the Beast.”

Who or what is or was the “Beast”? The most plausible guess is that it’s the emperor Nero, who was, by all accounts, quite beastly. But the name would have to be spelled in Hebrew letters, which doubled as numbers, and Revelation was written in Greek.

Greek letters — many of which became obsolete long ago — were also used as numbers, but none of them make 666 spell anything. And an early variant gives the number as “616.” If the variant is correct, people have gotten the wrong number and been afraid of the wrong Beast for a very long time.

The number 666 can mean just about anything you want. The ancients capitalized on the fact and proceeded to exploit that number and many sets of other numbers for all they were worth. Pick your numerology and place your bets.

Likewise, the number 666, like any number of that size, can be made to spell out any name you can think of. Over the centuries, people have proceeded to do exactly that: make it apply to their favorite Beast. I’m sure that people who have too much time on their hands are even now devising formulas to make “666” spell out the names of politicians or others they don’t happen to like.

It’s okay if you don’t get off at the 13th floor in an elevator or if you don’t walk under ladders. And you might think twice about playing roulette, but not because the numbers on the wheel add up to... you know what. Just don’t get carried away. Remember our motto: “Something that can mean anything means nothing.”

Early readers of Revelation must have understood the cipher, but the key to it was lost soon afterwards. If we could call up some of those early readers and tell them what we’ve made of the number, we might find out how the ancient Greeks would say, “You gotta be kidding!” in various and colorful ways. I’m sure they had a word for it.

Copyright © 2016 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories

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