The (not really) new number of the beast: 616

For those of us who are amused that Sts. Peter and Paul Church in the North Beach district of San Francisco is at 666 Filbert, the joke is over. No, it’s not because the church is moving. According to a story in the National Post, “A fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, dating to the Third century, gives the more mundane 616 as the mark of the Antichrist.” So we’ll also have to find another way to villify Ronald Wilson Reagan — each of his names has six letters, hence 666.

Dr. [Ellen] Aitken, [a professor of early Christian history at McGill University] said, however, that scholars now believe the number in question has very little to do the devil. It was actually a complicated numerical riddle in Greek, meant to represent someone’s name, she said.

“It’s a number puzzle — the majority opinion seems to be that it refers to [the Roman emperor] Nero.”

Revelation was actually a thinly disguised political tract, with the names of those being criticized changed to numbers to protect the authors and early Christians from reprisals. “It’s a very political document,” Dr. Aitken said. “It’s a critique of the politics and society of the Roman empire, but it’s written in coded language and riddles.”

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