number 666

number 666
   Among the prophecies in the Book of Revelations (Apocalypse) is one about a 'Great Beast' who will rule the earth and mark his followers on the brow or hand with the 'number of his name', which is 666. Commentators soon dubbed this figure 'the Antichrist', and tried to identify him. Clearly, the original allusion was to the pagan Roman empire, its statues, and its coinage; with some forcing, 666 can be matched to the numerical value of 'Nero Caesar' written in Hebrew letters. Over the centuries new interpretations arose - to English Protestants, 'Antichrist' was usually the Pope, but Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler have also been given the title. In the 17th century, some feared Doomsday would come in 1666. This was the theme of Francis Potter's An Interpretation of the Number 666 (1642), which Pepys read during the fateful year: 'His close is most excellent, and whether it be right or wrong, is mighty ingenious' (Pepys, Diary, 16 Feb. 1665/6 and 10 Nov. 1666).
   In current popular imagination, 666 is regarded as Satanic. There have been many press reports of 'unlucky' cars with 666 as the licence number, and no such licences have been issued since 1991. Similarly, in 1993 Croydon Council renumbered a grave-plot in its cemetery from 666 to 665a (FLS News 19 (1994), 10). Phone numbers with 666 in them may be rejected, or regarded as a joke. Some marginal Christian sects have further fears: that bar-codes on retail goods secretly include 666 as Satan's device to enslave the world, and that hospitals brand this number invisibly on the hands of newborn babies (FLS News 20 (1994), 4).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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