Number of the Beast, Plus or Minus Fifty

A couple of readers prodded me to comment on the thrilling — ahem — revelation that the notorious “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:18 might actually not be 666 (thus putting a crimp in the Omen movie franchise), but 616. This makes the news because a few years ago, one of Oxford’s Oxyrhynchus Papyri turned up with the number 616, and it’s taken a long time for this bit of text-critical esoterica to catch the attention of mainstream media (go figure!) — which seem to have noticed only when MTV figured out that this news had implications for heavy metal bands.

The textual variant here isn’t news; we already knew that Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (codex “C”) reads “616,” and Irenaeus shows knowledge of that variation in Against Heresies (Stephen Carlson cites the passage here). If you own a critical edition of the Greek New Testament, you should find a mark in the apparatus that cites this variant. Indeed, this particular papyrus was published in 1999. The fragment in question merits attention because it makes the earliest direct attestation for this variant; the Oxyrhynchus people seem to be dating P.Oxy. LXVI 4499 as later third/early fourth century. That’s after Irenaeus, who died around 202, but well before fifth-century Ephraemi.

It’s hard to displace the fairly strong evidence for 666, but this bit of papyrus strengthens the case that St. John may have ascribed the number 616 to the beast — whatever that number turns out to mean.

11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. “The textual variant here isn‚Äôt news…”

    Though I’m not the scholar you are, I already knew this– before I got to seminary, even! It’s also a footnote in my NRSV Bible, copyright 1989.

  2. What strange timing! On the way back from the Sox game last night my friends and I were discussing this very thing. Someone saw the number 666 somewhere and made some sort of joke. I, in turn, said to them, “Well, there’s debate about that…some think its 616…” And so on…good timing on the post!

    -R

  3. Really messes this up too:

    666 – The number of the beast
    667 – neighbor of the beast
    660 – Approximate number of the Beast
    DCLXVI – Roman numeral of the Beast
    666.0000 – Number of the High Precision Beast
    0.666 – Number of the Millibeast
    / 666 – Beast Common Denominator
    666^(-1) – Imaginary number of the Beast
    1010011010 – Binary of the Beast
    6, uh… what was that number again? – Number of the Blonde Beast
    1-666 – Area code of the Beast
    0666 – English area code of the Beast
    00666 – Zip code of the Beast
    $6.66/minute. Over 18 only please.
    $665.95 – Retail price of the Beast
    $699.25 – Price of the Beast plus 5% state sales tax
    $769.95 – Price of the Beast with all accessories and replacement soul
    $656.66 – Wal-Mart price of the Beast
    $646.66 – Next week’s Wal-Mart price of the Beast
    Phillips 666 – Gasoline of the Beast
    Route 666 – Way of the Beast
    666 F – Oven temperature for roast Beast
    666k – Retirement plan of the Beast
    666 mg – Recommended Minimum Daily Requirement of Beast
    6.66 % – 5 year CD interest rate at First Beast of Hell National Bank,
    $666 – minimum deposit.
    666% – Interest rate charged by Tony the Beast, local loan shark.
    666iv – Local statute number regarding Beast parking.
    Lotus 6-6-6 – Spreadsheet of the Beast
    Word 6.66 – Word Processor of the Beast
    i66686 – CPU of the Beast
    (sic) (sic) (sic) – three Beastly errors in spelling or grammar in the original.
    666i – BMW of the Beast

  4. If we had already had in place the stricter driver’s license laws that congress recently passed, this sort of error could have been avoided.

  5. AFAIK the number 666 comes from the roman numeral DCLXVI, a guarded code abbreviation for
    “Domitianus Caesar Legatos Xti Violenter Interfecit”, or “The Emperor Domitian violently killed the envoys of Christ”.
    The variant 616 represents the alternative Hebrew spelling ?†?®?ï ?ß?°?®, Nrw Qsr (based on the Latin form “Nero Caesar”).

    Stu (23) Savory

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