Day 666: How Many Number-Fearing Superstitious Nutjobs Does It Take…

originally published October 27, 2013

All month long I have been receiving emails, letters, semaphore flags and be-noted thrown bricks, asking if I’ll be devoting Day 666 to Apollyon, the Father of Lies, the King of Babylon, the Ruler of Demons, the Roaring Lion, the Serpent of Old, the Wicked One… you know, that dude who hooked up with Robert Johnson at the crossroads and taught him how to invent the low-down dirty blues.

Well, no. What has Satan done for me lately? Do you think I sold my soul to be a government print shop drone? No, Satan can find some other schmuck to pen a missive to his madness. My curiosities lean more toward the more esoteric, the seldom-explored quirks and quarks of the world. Everyone knows the story of Satan.

But what about the story of 666 itself? It’s the Number of the Beast, sure. But it’s just a number. Today happens to mark 666 days since January 1 of last year. So what? Why should we burden ourselves with something as silly as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia?

An astute observer will notice the three hexes in that word and the ‘phobia’ at the end and rightly deduce that it means a fear of the number 666. This delves from the source of most of our humanly fears that don’t involve being eaten by something or stepping on a strewn piece of recently discarded gum: religion. Revelations 13:18 features this little number only once, and even then its actual meaning is open to a bit of interpretation.

The Greek reading of the text seems to come out with this number quite clearly as the triple-six. But if one was to poke around the Papyrus 115 or the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, two other manuscripts of the Book of Revelation, the number shows up as 616. These multiple readings have led to some confusion over the years, however most biblical translators who pieced together the mosaic of Christian lore throughout the most recent millennium have settled on 666. And as well they should – it’s a far more impressive number, and not only because it’ll beat a high two-pair.

Those who know their way around the bones of the mathematical rib-yard know that 666 is a number that deserves a little special attention, demonic or otherwise. For example, if you add up the first 36 whole numbers (that’s 1+2+3+4 and so on until you hit 36), you get 666. This makes it a triangular number. Why triangular? Well, if you translate numbers to little dots, you can form a pretty equilateral triangle with 666 dots. See?

And that’s not the only connection between 666 and its little nephew 36.

A quick refresher for those of us who have been out of high school for long enough that we’ve forgotten all of those math concepts that we didn’t care about (so… all of them). A prime number is a number that is divisible only by itself and 1. Well, there are 121 prime numbers between 1 and 666. 121 is the square of 11. There are 11 prime numbers between 1 and 36. Spooky? No, it’s math.

The Roman Numeral for 666 is DCLXVI, which is notable because it contains exactly one occurrence of every roman numeral whose value is less than M (or 1000). Sure, 664 (DCLXIV) does the same thing, but that’s still at least a little bit impressive.

Remember how I said that if you add up all the numbers between 1 and 36 you get 666? Well, that also means that if you add up all the numbers on a roulette wheel you get 666. So if you’re looking for a reason you lost all that money last weekend, and you’re hoping to shift the blame completely away from the fact that you sat on your ass for an hour trying to beat some of the worst odds in the casino, maybe you can blame the devil. It’s a stretch, but many a desperate gambler has stretched further.

As one strike in favor of this much-maligned little digit, the most common carbon isotope that forms the basis of all life on earth is Carbon-12, consisting of six protons, six neutrons and six electrons. So we’ve all got a little 666 in us.

Of course it would be unfair to lay all the world’s woes on the number 666 – not to mention somewhat insane. There are other numbers that pluck a string or two on the great religious autoharp. Like 144,000.

Once again we’re dipping into the Book of Revelation, which freaks me out a little because the most doom-oriented and overall pessimistic stuff seems to ooze from this biblical tome. According to Revelation 7:3-8, God is going to be ‘sealing’ (which I assume means locking in their reservations for the great beyond) 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, adding up to 144,000. Some claim those numbers to be symbolic. Others – of course – take the count completely literally.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that 144,000 homeboys and homegirls will be scooting up to hang with God as his spirit being companions. Not to worry though – if you send in your faith to the J.W. cause you’ll still make the cut of living in a restored-paradise earth, even if you aren’t one of the folks who gets to fetch a beer for the Almighty.

(And don’t tell me God doesn’t drink beer. Beer is clearly the beverage closest to the holiest of holies.)

Personally, I refuse to get caught up in a numbers-fearing vortex of paranoia. As I pointed out a month ago, some folks in Afghanistan are so petrified of the number 39 that they’ll go to illegal lengths to ensure it doesn’t end up on their license plates, lest they endure the ravages of shame and disgrace. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were bubbling with enough fear of the number 666, they actually had the address of the Bel-Air home they bought in 1980 (which was 666 St. Cloud Road) changed to 668. That’s just stooping to some weird-ass superstition right there.

So I fear no number. I do, however, hold great esteem for the holy 42, which was posited by author Douglas Adams as the Great Answer to the Great Question of life, the universe and everything. Only we humans never get to learn what that Great Question may be. I’m good with that. We can’t have all the questions and all the answers in life, and I feel a little more comfortable with a big answer. I’ve got enough big questions.

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