In A Nutshell
“666,” the oft-quoted number of Satan, or perhaps his area code, is not the Mark of the Beast as most people believe. Though it’s less memorable and certainly not as cool-looking, the real number is 616, according to an ancient fragment of, you guessed it, the Bible. The fragment predates every other copy of Revelation, where John, the mysterious author, mentions the Mark of the Beast as the tattoo you’ll have to get if you want to conduct business in the new apocalyptic world.
The Whole Bushel
If you’re not familiar with the Book of Revelation, it’s the last book of the New Testament, in which the world essentially comes to an end, and good finally overcomes evil. But not before a whole bunch of terrifying things unfold. The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse (Conquest, War, Famine, and Death) are released to wreak havoc on the world. Following this is some kind of huge event that also devastates the globe. Before anything else is done to ruin Earth, the faithful are rewarded with exemption from the next round of horrors. Fire falls from the sky, some kind of creatures described as a locusts (but not what you’re thinking) sting anyone without the previously mentioned immunity, and one-third of whatever remains of humanity is wiped out by a demonic cavalry.
Eventually, two “beasts” make an appearance, with one convincing humans to worship the other beast. It’s at this point in the Apocalypse that mankind is talked into getting the Mark of the Beast, either on their foreheads or on their right hands. John writes that people willingly allow themselves to be marked because they can’t “buy or sell” without it. The mark itself can be any one of three things: a symbol, the beast’s name, or his number. And it’s here that the traditional number of “Six hundred threescore and six,” or 666, comes from.
However, back in 2005, the number was revised, or should have been, to 616 because of a discovery made in an ancient Egyptian dump just outside of Oxyrhynchus. A large collection of really old papers, most of them unreadable, were discovered. Among them was a piece of a third-century manuscript that just happened to be from the Book of Revelation. In this piece, as well, was the new number, 616, given as the number of the Beast.
This isn’t just some random number either. According to Professor David Parker, numbers were often used in ancient days to disguise the name of an enemy. In this case, 616 probably refers to Emperor Caligula of the Roman Empire, the non-Christian ruling power in the world at the time.
So 666 becoming 616 is significant to the interpretation of the Book of Revelation, lending more credibility to the idea that it’s not a prediction of an actual apocalypse yet to occur, but a political criticism of the Roman Empire, hidden in symbols and numbers to avoid an imperial response.