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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 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,, Reuters

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