[revelation -list] Re: Mark of the Beast?
- I think the backgrounding given by David and Jon is essential to locate our
interpretations within the most appropriate context -- a 'hedge' around our
hermeneutics that rules out the most wayward interpretations. But I also
think that oral cultures (where the vast majority can't read the text)
prefer a 'stubborn particularity' when interpreting symbolic language -- a
concrete solution (Ong) that embodies the reference in the text (without, of
course, exhausting its meaning for later interpretations, though providing a
further limitation on them).
There are a number of specific solutions that are partly attractive --
Bruins' suggestion of the abacus of the market overseer with its Roman
numerals at the top of each column (D plus C plus L plus X plus V plus I
equals, you guessed it!); the usual interpretations that Caesar Nero(n),
transliterated into Hebrew (a not uncommon thing for even Caesars to do, by
the way, as Hebrew was an attractively mysterious alphabet to play around
with), equals 666 (and the major variant 616 without the final 'n' -- both
transliterations are attested archaeologically); or the Greek word THERION
in Hebrew equalling 666.
But I think the best suggestion that meets the criteria of Rev 13:16-18 and
the allusions to Deut (Jon's point) and the 'colonial culture' of the day
(David's descriptions) understands CHARAGMA to refer to the image/imprint
and inscriptions on Imperial coinage (Balz, EDNT, protests too strongly
against this possibility, and Acts 17:29 demonstrates that 'mark/brand' is
not the only way to understand this term -- if anything, 'imprint' would be
the more normal usage, and STIGMA used for mark/brand/scar). So:
1. The coins bear the idolatrous graven image of the Caesar, always a
problem for good 'Jewish Christians' like John -- and they are the prime
means for Imperial propaganda in the Roman Empire.
2. Coinage is carried and exchanged in the market place in the right hand
(not the left 'toilet' hand), and also on the forehead by women (I think --
isn't the practice of the chain of coins/dowry? around a woman's head an
Eastern Mediterranean one? Doesn't this provide another 'demonic parallel'
in John's symbolic world to the phylacteries of Deut?). Thus, no-one can buy
or sell (Rev 13:17) unless they bear the imprint/image of the Caesar.
3. There are coin inscriptions which total 666 (apart from the Caesar Neron
possibilities) -- a calculation not beyond the capabilities of illiterate
people in oral cultures (even in another alphabet!). This is because the
alphabets (Greek, Hebrew and Latin, partly) are also the only number
systems, and numeracy is a more common skill than literacy. W. G. Baines
cites Vespasian's victory coins of 72CE with the inscription CAES VESP AUG P
M COS III, which again, transliterated into Hebrew and read as numbers
These calculations seem improbable and bizarre to some -- but my hobby of
collecting such interpretations throughout history convinces me that they
are precisely the sort of thing that ordinary (and especially non-word-
reading) people do and have always done.
Sorry for the lengthy post -- but I could give you a lot more!! (Including
references, if anyone wants them). My favourite interpretation comes from
England at the time of the first smallpox inoculations (which were derived
from cowpox). Cowpox transliterated into Greek (KOUPOKS) adds to 666 -- so
watch out for all those who bear a mark on their upper right arm . . .
Prof. NT, Whitley College