GETTING MORE TALE #666: 666
“Here is Wisdom, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”
Ye metal fans! You have all heard of the number of the Beast, but do you actually know what it is? Iron Maiden mined the Bible for lyrical ideas in the early days. The Book of Revelation was a favourite of theirs. Of the Beast, it tells us that we can identify him by his number. This is not Satan himself, but the first Beast of the apocalypse, the end of the world. The Beast, it says, comes from the sea. There are many interpretations of the Revelations. Three main schools of thought are that these are prophecies of events that already occurred, will occur in the future, or are happening now in the present day.
The Beast will “rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. (Revelation 13:1)” Scholars say the seven heads represent seven kings. The 10 crowns are 10 more kings that have yet to be crowned. With an appearance like that, why do we need a number to identify the Beast?
Relevation is a symbolic book of the Bible and no one really claims to understand it all. The apocalyptic writings say that the Beast and the false prophet will muster the armies of the world against the man on the “white horse”. When they lose, they are tossed into a “lake of fire”. Some theologians believe the number 666 symbolizes the nations of the Earth that are in conflict with God. In the 1980s, some thought that 666 represented President Reagan, whose full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, is three names of six letters each – 666. Indeed, Reagan changed his Bel-Air address from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668.
With the imagery and mystery inside, the Book of Revelation is great source material for heavy metal lyrics. The Bible has always been a source for popular music. Pete Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” around the Book of Ecclesiastes, but Revelations is great for darker themes. Iron Maiden (and even Anvil) made the number of the Beast famous to the secular community. Every metal head knows the number of the Beast. Or do they?
It turns out, the number may have been wrong all along. Older and older fragments of the Bible are constantly being unearthed. The oldest manuscript of Revelation chapter 13 (Papyrus 115) found to date is 1700 years old. This ancient fragment gives the number of the Beast as 616.
Scholars today are split. Many think 616 is the original number of the Beast, later changed to the more interesting 666 for aesthetic reasons. Try this trick with a calculator or spreadsheet: The sum of the numbers 1 through 36 is 666.
If this is true, Iron Maiden has a lot to revise, and metal fans may have some tattoos to fix!