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Number Symbolism in Matthew

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  • Mike Grondin
    Mt.1:17 comments on what is already apparent from the preceding structured list of generations of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham : Therefore all
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 3 11:47 AM
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      Mt.1:17 comments on what is already apparent from the preceding structured
      list of generations of "Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham":
       
      "Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations;
      and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations; and from
      the deportation to Babylon to Christ fourteen generations."
       
      Larry Hurtado remarks (The Earliest Christian Artifacts, p.114) that "... it is
      widely accepted by scholars that the number fourteen emphasized in Matthew's
      genealogy of Jesus ... alludes to the numerical value of the name 'David' in
      Hebrew characters ..."
       
      The Hebrew number system, like the Greek, was a three-tiered system using
      the letters of the alphabet to represent the numbers 1-9 (tier 1), 10-90 (tier 2),
      and 100-900 (tier 3). There were ways of representing higher numbers, but
      the basic system required 27 characters. Since the Greek alphabet had 24
      letters and the Hebrew 22, additional characters had to be used. In Greek,
      it was the special characters episemon, koppa, and sanpi. In Hebrew, it was
      the "final" form of five letters (similar to "final sigma" in Greek, i.e., the form
      of a letter when it was the final letter of a word.)
       
      This is not esoteric information; these number systems weren't some secret
      code; they were in common everyday use, and any scholar or would-be
      scholar in this field who isn't aware of them had better turn in their credentials.
      More than that, however, it follows that every word in Greek and Hebrew had
      a numeric value. That is not to say, of course, that every word was a number.
      Far from it. What it is to say is that one could add up the letters of a word
      and come up with a numeric value for that word. There would be many words,
      of course, with the same numeric value - which led some to speculate about
      possible connections between such words (gematria). Now we know that it
      would be almost entirely random for two different words to have the same
      numeric value, but for many an educated but mystical-minded ancient, both
      Christian and not, words were thought to have been given to humans by God, 
      hence that their numeric values (especially those of words or names associated
      with divinity, such as Yahweh, David, Jesus, et al.) could reveal the mind of God.
       
      Well, anyway, back to 'David'. It was represented in Hebrew as the letters
      DVD. The Hebrew letter daleth, like the Greek letter delta, was used for the
      number 4. The 'V' is the Hebrew letter vau, which was used for the number
      6 (episemon in Greek). So we have 4+6+4 = 14. The significance of that
      number probably lies in the fact that it is twice seven, a number widely
      regarded in antiquity as signifying completion or fulfillment (hence the sabbath,
      when all is/was complete.) So for Matthew, Jesus was not only the completion
      of an age, but also the completion of all (42=6x7) ages under the Law.
      (Note the connection with Coptic Thomas: saying 42 - the shortest saying
      of them all - contains the 42nd occurrence of 'Jesus' in the ms.)
       
      What's the point of today's homily? That the use of number symbolism
      doesn't just occur in weird non-canonical writings. It also occurs in weird
      canonical writings (e.g., the Apocalypse of John (AKA Revelation)) and
      even in (gasp!) the 4 gospels themselves.
       
      Mike Grondin
    • E Bruce Brooks
      To: GThos On: Number Symbolism From: Bruce MIKE: So for Matthew, Jesus was not only the completion of an age, but also the completion of all (42=6x7) ages
      Message 2 of 3 , Feb 3 12:21 PM
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        To: GThos

        On: Number Symbolism

        From: Bruce

         

        MIKE: So for Matthew, Jesus was not only the completion of an age, but also the completion of all (42=6x7) ages under the Law.

         

        BRUCE: Probably Matthew could have squeezed any empirically given number into a multiple of 7, so the “6” in this formula might not mean much. Or it might; there seems to be a certain preference in ancient cultures for numbers of the form (n)(n-1), such as 3x4 =12, and 8x9 = 72.

         

        (n)(n-1) has a certain power in number theory. I haven’t seen an exposition of its use in what I would call literary symbolism, and perhaps it is chiefly confined to multiples of 12, which are easy to explain otherwise than by that formula. But Matthew’s number does raise the question. Can anyone comment?

        Bruce

         

        E Bruce Brooks
        University of Massachusetts at Amherst

         

      • Mike Grondin
        ... Unless the god of randomness was smiling on Matthew, there was probably a fudge-factor involved in counting the generations from Abraham on. Most likely,
        Message 3 of 3 , Feb 4 9:01 AM
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          BRUCE:
          > Probably Matthew could have squeezed any empirically given number
          into
          > a multiple of 7, so the “6” in this formula might not mean
          much.
           
          Unless the god of randomness was smiling on Matthew, there was probably
          a fudge-factor involved in counting the generations from Abraham on. Most
          likely, it came close enough to 42 generations that Matt was able to use that
          number by adding or dropping a few. The '6' would surely have suggested to
          him and his readers the first six days of creation, as well as fitting nicely to divide
          up the 42 generations into three sharply-defined segments. In the Harper's Bible
          Dictionary (1985) entry for numbers, under Symbolism and Significance, it's first
          noted that "Seven probably represented completeness and perfection ... ", then later:
           
          "Three also indicated completeness. The created order has three parts: heaven,
          earth, and underworld. ... Three major feasts appear in the [Jewish] religious
          calendar (Exod. 23:14-19). Also prayer was urged three times daily (Dan. 6:10;
          Ps. 55:17). The sanctuary was divided into three parts: vestibule, nave, and
          inner sanctuary (1 Kings 6:2-22). ... Jesus said that the Son of man would be
          in the grave for three days and nights (Matt. 12:40)."
           
           Bruce:
          > ... there seems to be a certain preference in ancient cultures
          for numbers of
          > the form (n)(n-1), such as 3x4 =12, and 8x9 = 72.
          > (n)(n-1) has a certain power in number theory. I haven’t seen an
          exposition
          > of its use in what I would call literary symbolism, and perhaps
          it is chiefly
          > confined to multiples of 12, which are easy to explain otherwise
          than by that formula.
           
          Well, it isn't chiefly confined to multiples of 12. The series does contain 12 and 72,
          yes, but most of its numbers aren't divisible by 12, and it's missing a lot that are.
          What you may be thinking of is the following, also from the above HBD article:
           
          "Not all number usage in the Bible was symbolic. The pattern x, x+1 appears
          frequently as a device of emphasis in parallelism. A good example may be seen
          in Prov. 30:18-19 with three and four:
              Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand ..."
           
          Mike
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