Debunked: 666 & www = Bad Numerology

If you type “www means” into a Google search bar, the first suggestion will be “www means 666.” It must be a popular belief, but it is easily and quickly debunked.

The short answer is that the www-means-666 theory requires the number six hundred sixty-six to be broken down into three sixes, but none of the numbering systems which John the revelator might have used permits this.

The premise: how 666 = www

We’re all familiar with ciphers that equate numbers with letters, for example, A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, etc. In the Hebrew alphabet, the sixth letter is “ו” (vau). With very little imagination, we can put three sixes together to get “ווו” or “vvv.” There is no [w] phoneme in Hebrew, so our “w” is written with the Hebrew vau. Ergo, 666 equals www.

For ease of reference later, will call this postulate the “letters-of-the-beast argument.” On to debunking, then…

Using Arabic numerals in the Roman Empire

The number recorded in Rev 13:18 is six hundred and sixty-six. If we render this number using Arabic numerals, we get 666, which is easy to visualize as a series of three sixes, but in a different numbering system (we’ll look at Aegean, Herodianic, Roman, & Hebrew), it makes no sense at all to equate 666 with {6, 6, 6}.

The possibility that John used Arabic numerals in his book is miniscule. Our Arabic numerals were disseminated into the Middle East from India thanks primarily to the works of Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Kindi, mathematicians who both date in the 9th century A.D.

What number system did John use then? Well, Judaea fell to Greece about 300 years before Christ. If John had written in the Greek tradition, he might have used Herodianic (Attic) numerals or Aegean numerals, neither of which is convenient to render here, but the essential aspects can be described: With Aegean numerals, 666 can be rendered with three digits. However, these three digits cannot be split into 6, 6, and 6, as with Arabic numerals; rather, the written number must be split into 600, 60, and 6. The Herodianic number would have looked something like this ?Η?ΔΠΙ (with composites of pi in place of the question marks). Again, no series of sixes can be derived.

Judea then fell to Rome about 40 years before Christ. If John had used Roman numerals, he’d have written DCLXVI. It may not be significant, but this representation consists of every Roman numeral under 1000 appearing exactly once, in descending order. (The same may be said in the case of Herodianic numerals, but it is less remarkable in the latter case since two of the numerals in the Herodianic representation are composite characters.)

If John had used the ancient Hebrew number system, he would have written תרסו. Phonetically, these characters don’t equate to www or even vvv but rather “trsv.”

Using Hebrew letters in a Greek book

Although the original manuscript no longer exists, we rely that John wrote the book of Revelation in Greek. Oddly, the letters-of-the-beast argument requires that we match the three sixes against Hebrew letters, not Greek. Greek would have made more sense.

The sixth letter in the Greek alphabet is Ζ (zeta), whose (Classical) phoneme is disputed, but is either [dz] or [zd], not [v].

What did John actually mean?

The prevailing supposition among scholars is that the numerical value of the beast’s name is 666. Long-standing numerological traditions for calculating numerical values of words, names, and phrases are known for Greek, Hebrew, and other languages.

For discussion of the Greek numerology (isopsephy) and the Hebrew numerology (gematria), see the post on Greek and Hebrew numerologies (probably to be posted later this month).

Further errors in the letters-of-the-beast postulate

The following logical holes in the letters-of-the-beast argument are unnecessary, but if you have the patience to continue entertaining the idea that www can equate to an Arabic “666,” you might enjoy the following items.

Splitting along digits limits alphabet to nine letters

The decision to treat 666 as 3 one-digit numbers instead of as a single whole number means that we can never signify a letter beyond the ninth letter of the alphabet (because in a base-10 system we cannot express a number larger than 9). Thus, we end up excluding 13 of the 22 characters (over half) of the ancient Hebrew alphabet.

Splitting numbers by digit is arbitrary

When we imagine that the number 666 signifies www, we take an implicit step in changing the single number 666 into three independent numbers: {6, 6, 6}. This operation is second nature to us who use a base-10 counting system, but with any other system, splitting 666 into {6, 6, 6} is ludicrous. For example, in octal (base 8), six hundred sixty-six is represented by 1233. Should we therefore interpret it as {1, 2, 3, 3}?

It’s supposed to be a number, not letters

The number of the beast is a number. I.e. the numerals are not significant, the numerical value is. John makes this explicit, and if anything in the (mostly inscrutable) book of Revelation is clear, it is this:

“Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” (italics mine)

Number ciphers are not transitive

The letters-of-the-beast postulate presumes that the numerals themselves have meaning (if not, it would be meaningless to split 666 into {6, 6, 6}) and that the numerals are a cipher for letters (e.g. 6 → V).

In algebra we learn that if a = b and b = c, then a = c; and the letters-of-the-beast applies this rule to number ciphers: if 6 → v and w → v, then 6 → w.

It doesn’t work that way. Ciphers simply aren’t equivalences. We might as well assert that because a reaction between gasoline and oxygen has the same products as a reaction between sucrose and oxygen that gasoline is edible.

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2 Responses to Debunked: 666 & www = Bad Numerology

  1. Matt Crook says:

    Most Greek manuscripts have ΧΞϚ, where Χ=600, Ξ=60, and Ϛ=6 (as calculated by isopsephy). However, the oldest manuscript (as well as a few others; see here) has ΧΙϚ where Χ=600, Ι=10, and Ϛ=6, thus putting the number of the beast at 616. And if that’s the case, then www is definitely out since it isn’t waw.

    • Markham says:

      Thank you for this. I had encountered the idea that some people “interpreted” the number of the beast as 616, but I had seen no explanation until now.

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