What’s In a Number?
Two years ago, when I got my current cell phone, the cell phone company randomly assigned my new number. I looked at the sticker on the box that indicated my new telephonic i.d., chuckled, and showed it to my wife. She laughed and said, “Well, that’s appropriate; [the cell phone company] gave you the ‘Mark of the Beast.’”
Indeed, along with my local area code (919), the number assigned me was/is xxx-x666. Those of you familiar with the New Testament may recall that the “triple six” designation is considered cursed and evil by various segments of the Christian church. Those of you familiar with what some of us call the “Protestant South” know that there are many in my native region who avoid, at all costs, the number “666.” They treat it like plague. Indeed, bubonic plague is mild compared to some of the theological images associated with the number.
This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
Revelation 13: 18 [English Standard Version]
If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
Revelation 14: 9b-10 [English Standard Version]
Worker Refused to Wear “666” on a Safety Sticker
A colleague of mine, who is familiar with my academic background in employment law (J.D. 1976, Wake Forest U. Law School) and keen interest in theology (M.Div. 1989, Duke University Divinity School; ordained 1989) sent me a copy of a complaint filed last November in a Georgia federal court (Hyatt v. Berry Plastics Corp, Civil Action File No. 4:11-cv-278-HLM-WEJ, Northern District of Georgia). In the action, brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, the plaintiff claims he was fired after he refused to wear the number 666 on a safety sticker.
Successful Safety Program
Plaintiff’s employer had an active work safety program, displaying a sign above the employer’s time clock that showed the number of consecutive days the firm had operated without an accident. After clocking in, the workers were required to write the number of “safe” days on a sticker and wear that sticker for the work day. The employer’s representatives apparently felt that the tangible emphasis on the number of consecutive safe working days was itself self-fulfilling. The emphasis must have worked; the consecutive days without an accident began to accumulate.
According to the complaint, as the number of safe days passed 600, Plaintiff spoke with his supervisors, indicating to them that it would violate his religious beliefs to wear the number 666 and that if and when the company reached that point, he would not do so. He alleged a supervisor told him that on the day of the triple-sixes, the company would probably leave the “665” up for an additional day, then move to 667 thereafter.
Plaintiff continued that when he arrived on the 666th safe day, however, the offensive number was displayed and he told his supervisor that he would not wear it. According to his allegations, he was told that the consecutive day designated would remain as is, that his religious beliefs were “ridiculous,” and that he could either wear the number on the safety sticker or receive a three-day suspension. He chose the latter. He contended that upon his return to work, however, he was fired for failing to work on the 666th safe day.
Plaintiff alleged that his employer could easily have reasonably accommodated him by excusing him from wearing a safety sticker without any detrimental effect on its operations, that as a result of the employer’s retaliatory conduct, plaintiff suffered lost wages and benefits, significantly diminished employment opportunities, and emotional distress.
Differing Opinions Regarding the Significance of “666”
For almost two thousand years, scholars have debated the significance of the triple-sixes found in Revelation 13. One difficulty in interpreting the original meaning rests in the genre of the religious literature itself–Revelation is an apocalyptic work. It employs vivid poetic and symbolic images that include dragons and beasts.
Another difficulty is that Revelation wasn’t written in English, of course. It was written in the original Greek of the time and first century Greeks didn’t use the Arabic numbering system. Instead, they used a system that incorporated their Greek alphabet, assigning a value to various letters and then summing those values. The “number” within the original Greek text wasn’t “666,” therefore, but a series of Greek characters that added together equaled 666.
Yet another difficulty is the fact that at least one of the earliest and best original Greek Revelation manuscripts uses characters that when added together equal “616.” If that designation is correct, Plaintiff wore the Mark of the Beast 50 days earlier without knowing it.
Finally, again since we’re talking Greek letters and not Arabic numbers, both the Greek isopsephy for “666” and “616” spell a version of name “Nero.” Some scholars point to the fact that at the time Revelation was likely written, either Nero–the first important persecutor of the church–was emperor, or else his successor, Domitian–an equally cruel and dangerous leader. These scholars point out that just like today, where a writer might refer to someone as “Hitler” in an attempt to show his evil nature, so then, one would have called a hated leader, “Nero.”
All this, of course, should soon be sorted out in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Oh, did I tell you the Georgia city wherein the federal district court sits? You got it: Rome. “Go figure” [pun intended].