While expectant mothers, religious fanatics and the marketers of scary movies are latching on to the notion that the calendar date June 6, 2006 (6-06-06) is somehow tainted by association with biblical references to 666 as the “mark of the beast,” there’s really nothing to fear, suggests Frank Flinn, an expert on cults and religious symbols at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The symbolic number 666 in the Book of Revelations refers to an historical person, not a future date,” says Flinn. “The historical person was almost certainly the Roman Emperor Nero.”
“In the first century of our era letters of the alphabet had numerical value,” he explains. “Thus in Hebrew and Aramaic the letter N stood for the number 50. Both languages did not indicate most vowels in their writing systems. In the letter number system Nero’s name and title would have been written NRON CSR (= “Neron Caesar”), and when you add up the letters you get precisely 666.
“Nero conducted the first systematic persecution of both Jews and Christians and is clearly identified with the real “Beast” of Revelations. That Revelations used such symbolic references can be readily understood given the persecution of the times.”
Flinn, an adjunct professor of religious studies, is an expert on religious history, legal rights of religious groups, public display of religious symbols, federal funding of faith-based organizations and religious splinter groups. He teaches a course on Cults in America at Washington University and often serves as an expert witness in court cases involving the legal definition of religion, cults, conversions and brainwashing.
In our history, he notes, many have seized on the symbolic number 666 to label their enemies and to promote a culture of fear.
“Over time the Great Beast has been identified with the pope, Soviet Russia, the Rothchilds, socialism, the Trilateral Commission, Saddam Hussein, and, now, Osama bin Laden,” he says. “Fortunately God is much more merciful than many who invoke the divine name.”