6-6-06: Day of the Beast or Just Another Day? Tuesday will be a memorable day in many respects -- it's the 62nd anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and many states will hold primary elections. But it's also 6/6/06, and that makes a lot of people nervous because one interpretation of the Book of Revelation says 666 is the "number of the beast."

6-6-06: Day of the Beast or Just Another Day?

6-6-06: Day of the Beast or Just Another Day?

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Tuesday will be a memorable day in many respects — it's the 62nd anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and many states will hold primary elections. But it's also 6/6/06, and that makes a lot of people nervous because one interpretation of the Book of Revelation says 666 is the "number of the beast."


This is DAY TO DAY. Tomorrow, we note, is June 6th. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

The sixth is D-Day when the allies returned to northern Europe. But this particular June 6th is D-Day for another reason: D as in demonic. Tomorrow is 6-6-06, a long dreaded date for people who associate 666 with Satan.

BRAND: Mike Pesca joins us in a moment with a story of the fears these digits inspire. There are women trying to avoid giving birth tomorrow. First though, the biblical origins of 666.

Here is DAY TO DAY's devilish Nihar Patel.

NIHAR PATEL reporting:

New Testament scholar L. Michael White tends to sigh when clearing up misconceptions he feels people have about 666.

Professor L. MICHAEL WHITE (Department of Classics, University of Texas): Okay. In Chapter 13, the 666 is used to refer to…

PATEL: Now before White completes that thought, consider what the University of Texas at Austin professor has to compete with.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Omen”)

Unidentified Man #1: (In film clip) He bears a birthmark, a sequence of sixes.

PATEL: A new remake of the classic horror movie The Omen, featuring Damien, a special little boy.

(Soundbite of scary sound effects)

PATEL: Who is the spawn of Satan! But if popular culture is right, could one number really embody all that evil?

Prof. WHITE: We just don't know. All we know is we've got the final numbers.

PATEL: That hasn't stopped Professor White and other biblical scholars from coming up with theories about what this number really means. Here's what we do know: 666 appears in the Book of Revelation, the cataclysmic, apocalyptic, end of times final book in the Christian Bible. Traditional Christian views held that 666 referred to the anti-Christ. But maybe not, says White.

Prof. WHITE: There is no word anti-Christ in Revelation. That's as simple as that. Everybody knows that. It's part of the misinterpretation.

PATEL: Harvard divinity Professor Françoise Bovon believes the writer of the Book of Revelation, known as John, may have been trying to unite the early followers of Jesus, more than scare the bejesus out of them. These early Christians were already living under the often cruel and authoritarian Roman Empire.

Professor FRANÇOISE BOVON (Harvard Divinity School): It was a subversive movement. And the Book of Revelation is very much engaged in the resistance against the Roman ideology and Roman power, in one sense.

PATEL: And so it makes sense, then, that when the Book of Revelation says 666 is the Mark Of The Beast, some scholars think this beast refers to a reviled Roman emperor. At the time the book was written, the emperor was Domitian, or as Professor White says in Greek…

Prof. WHITE: Domitia Kais, which would be Domitian Caesar.

PATEL: White says Domitia Kais could be code. It's all because of an Old World practice called numerology.

Prof. WHITE: Domitia Kais, if written in Greek, would come out to 666.

PATEL: Ancient Greek, the language in which the Book of Revelation was written, had no written numeral system. So individual letters often had number equivalents: A equals one, B equals two, and so on.

Harvard divinity Professor Françoise Bovon.

Prof. BOVON: They had to be a little cautious in the way they were speaking. So they were using riddle and enigma and symbolic numbers.

PATEL: So taking the number value of each letter in Domitian's name, Professor White added them up and got 666. It also works for another infamous emperor, Nero. Some early sources say he burned down Rome and blamed it on Christians. Nero is spelled Neron in Greek, and that, too, can up to 666.

This numerology stuff may sound like notes for a new Dan Brown novel, but it is taken seriously by scholars. And they say it matters not which Roman emperor 666 refers to. The writer, John, probably meant it to be any Roman emperor with a pit of hungry lions.

Of course, there are those who believe that 666 refers to the impending arrival of a satanic beast, who will wreak unimaginable horror all over the planet. But to that, L. Michael White would probably sigh and say the end is not near. The Beast is already dead.

Nihar Patel, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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666: A Brief History of a Number

It all began with one line in the Book of Revelation 13:18: "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.

The Book of Revelation is also called the Apocalypse of John, and recounts two visions John the Evangelist (aka John the Apostle or John of Patmos) received on the island of Patmos. In the early days of the church, some bishops argued against including it in the canon of the New Testament because it is difficult to interpret and could be abused.

666 Trivia:

• Ancient Hebrew, like Greek and other languages, did not have a separate set of characters to indicate numbers. Instead, the letters of the alphabet were used, and it was common practice to calculate the numerical equivalent of names -- an ancient practice called gematria, also called numerology.

• Many scholars say the "beast" is really a coded reference for the Roman emperor Nero, who savagely persecuted early converts to the Christian church. Other say it refers to Domitian, an emperor who proclaimed himself the general enforcer of morality during his reign and was devoted to the Roman religion.

• Some Christians associate 666 with the Antichrist -- but the word "Antichrist" does not appear in Revelation.

• Scholars believe the John the Evangelist, the writer of Revelation, was trying to unite his fellow believers against a tyrannical Roman Empire by promising a fiery judgment for enemies of the nascent church.

• According to some interpretations of Revelation, the Antichrist's arrival will occur during a time when political leaders are pushing for a one-world government, a single economic system and single religion.

• Believers in the number's power have used various letter-numeric codes to convert the names of many political leaders -- including many Roman Catholic popes -- to come out 666, marking them as that generation's Antichrist. Some of those names include former U.S. presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

• When the Reagans moved out of the White House in 1989 to the exclusive neighborhood of Bel-Air in Beverly Hills, they changed their address from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668.

• The number 666 is part of every UPC (Universal Product Code) barcode, used to identify almost all retail items on store shelves -- a coincidence, according to the code's inventor. Technically, from a computer's perspective there is no such number, but a selective visual reading of a barcode does show a pattern due to the digital nature of the barcode itself. Some believe the UPC itself is the "mark of the beast."

• Using one code in numerology, 666 also is the number for the WWW of the World Wide Web.

• 666 is the sum of all the numbers on a typical roulette wheel.

• The online sports betting site BetUS.com gives Earth a better-than-sporting chance of surviving past June 6, 2006. At 100,000-to-1 odds, a maximum $500 bet that the world will survive will win half a penny if Wednesday comes around. A winning $100 bet that the apocalypse happens on Tuesday could earn a cool $10 million -- if you can collect it.

Sources: Associated Press, Catholic-Resources.org, Reuters