666 : Hadrian as Nero Redivivus

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by Neil Godfrey

There was one little detail I forgot to add in my earlier post: Hadrian as Nero Redivivus. I set out the ways Hadrian emulated the popular Nero but a commenter has brought to my attention that I have not yet explained the 666 link between Hadrian and Nero that the author of Revelation called on readers to identify and reflect upon.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666. — Revelation 13:18

Now everyone knows the name of “the man” Nero equals 666. Some manuscripts make his number equal 616. (See the linked article for details.)

But Revelation 13 speaks of a revival of the beast, a healed head-wound — a “second Nero” — if you will. Recall from our earlier post Corssen’s words:

So the apocalypticist says: the number of the name of the beast is the number of a human name. Does he mean to say: the name of the beast is the name of a human being, it is not an animal at all, but a human being, of whom I have so far only spoken allegorically as of an animal? That is the opinion of many commentators. But number and name are not necessarily identical, the same sum can consist of completely different summands and so the same number can give rise to different names.

When the apocalypticist says: “He who has understanding, calculate the number of the beast,” this is an impossible demand. For this calculation cannot be carried out without knowledge of the name. But in the demand lies the prerequisite that the animal as such has a name. If then the apocalypticist gives the number himself, which even the most intelligent could not have found in this way, it follows that the cleverness demanded does not consist in finding the tacitly presupposed name of the beast, but in deriving from its numerical value the name of a man of the same numerical value. In other words : the animal has a name x = 666, but 666 is equal to the name of a man, both names are, as it was called, ίςόψηφα [=isopsephy]. Thus the γάρ in άριθμός γάρ ανθρώπου ἐστίν [=it is the number of a man] comes to its meaning: one should calculate the number of the beast to find the equivalent name of the man.

(Noch einmal die Zahl des Tieres in der Apokalypse, p. 240, own translation and bolding. Cited by Witulski, p. 183)

With that in mind, notice that Hadrian’s name amounts to the same number as Nero’s:

The interpretation of the number 666 (Rev 13:18) on Hadrian was already considered by D. Voelter, [In his book published in 1885: Die Entstehung der Apokalypse] who adds the letters of the written Hebrew and on coins documented  name Trajanus Hadrianus as 666: “Hadrian officially carries as emperor on coins and inscriptions the name Trajanus Hadrianus. If now these names are written in Hebrew and the individual letters are converted into the corresponding numerical value, then exactly the number 666 comes out:

Now another Hebrew name form for Trajan is

If one puts this name form together with the name אדרינום and sums up the numerical values 285 + 331, then one receives that other number 616 handed down by Irenaeus. 

So that would explain the comment by Irenaeus that some manuscripts claimed the number 616 instead of 666.

Thus, both the Hebrew-spelled name of the reigning emperor Hadrian and the Hebrew-spelled name of the figure of Nero redivus, קסר נתרן, can be calculated from the number 666, consistent with the isopsephic approach evidently underlying Rev 13:18. Thus, the apocalypticist implicitly identifies the currently reigning princeps Hadrian in Rev 13:18 with the figure of Nero redivivus and can at the same time prove to his addressees that in the figure of this emperor the expected Nero redivivus has truly appeared. (Die Johannesoffenbarung, p. 52 – translated)

Witulski, Thomas. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007.

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19 thoughts on “666 : Hadrian as Nero Redivivus”

  1. I’m glad that you made this excursion to explain the numbers, but I’m afraid that I’m even more confused now! The 666/616 = Nero works using Greek letters. What is the justification for using a Hebrew representation of the Latin name to explain Hadrianus Trajanus? I cannot read Hebrew, but I am aware that vowels are an optional extra in written Hebrew. How was it determined that is was appropriate to use the extended written form rather than just the consonants? Has Witulski made the case for the use of Hebrew in the Apocalypse?

    1. I’m pretty sure that the 666 for Nero works if you take the Greek rendition of his name, transliterate it into Hebrew letters, and then use gematria on that result. IIRC 616 comes from using the Latin rendition of his name into Hebrew letters. Either way you have to render it in Hebrew letters to get the numbers because that’s how gematria works.

      Wikipedia is of course not always correct, but it does back up my impression of how the number of the beast is calculated: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_the_beast#Identification_by_gematria

      1. Jer —

        I at first read your comment out of synch here and misinterpreted it, not seeing it was a response to Geoff Sankey. I have deleted my initial responses now that I see I had misunderstood it entirely, I’m sorry (reading it outside the context of this discussion. Such are the problems of having comments directed at me as the blog owner and being fed comments via another avenue.)

    2. Addressing Geoff:

      Good questions. W. on page 179 via machine translation:

      The majority of current research assumes that behind the number 666, deciphered on the basis of the Hebrew alphabet and the numerical values linked to the respective letters within it, lies the name of the emperor Nero, Νερών Καΐσαρ, hidden in the Hebrew transcription קסר נרון.

      Footnote here:

      For example, U.B. Müller, Apk, 257: “The interpretation that has probably been most popular so far traces the number 666 back to Nero, building on the numerical values of the Hebrew alphabet”.

      I don’t have Muller’s commentary but I will see what I find in others that I do have and add anything relevant here.

      As for the vowels, yes, the dots etc that were added to words were additions from late antiquity if I recall, but letters like aleph and waw were part of the normal Hebrew alphabet and were indeed written as one sees in many ancient inscriptions.

      The form of the name that W stresses in another part of his argument is the official form of the name that was only announced at the inauguration of the new emperor.

    3. Here is Prigent’s discussion of 666:

      By calculating on the basis of the Greek alphabet, we have a choice between two propositions, the first from antiquity (Irenaeus: Euanthas, Lateinos, Teitan) or from modern times (Clemen: the Latin or Italian kingdom).

      The solutions based on Hebrew have had much more success. We should mention first of all the most widely adopted one: Qesar Neron46, that is, the emperor Nero. This identification has the merit of explaining at the same time a variant attested by several manuscripts and by Irenaeus, according to which the number was in fact 61 648. If we write “Nero”, in Roman fashion, in place of “Neron” (which is the Greek pronunciation), the numeric value of the name diminishes by 50 and the value of QesarNero = 616 …49. This explanation is both attractive and plausible: we know the position occupied by Nero in the apocalyptic spheres and in the book of Revelation itself (cf. our commentary on Rev 17:9-11).

      46 This Hebrew transcription of the Greek name and title of the emperor is attested at Murabba’at in an Aramaic document (DJD 2, p. 100-104), which lends further credit to the explanation. . . .

      That is, Qesar Neron is a transliteration of the Hebrew קסר נרון.

      Prigent, Pierre. Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John. Translated by Wendy Pradels. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001. p. 426

    4. And once more, this time from Aune’s commentary:

      This gematria riddle was probably formulated with the name of a specific individual in mind, and many commentators have thought that this person must be Nero. The Aramaic transliteration of “Nero Caesar” from Greek is קסרא נרון qsr’ nrwn, the final aleph producing the numerical total 667, and therefore an invalid solution (unless the final quiescent aleph is not counted, in which case the total would be 666; see Driver, “The Number of the Beast,” 79). However, the normal Hebrew transliteration of “Nero Caesar” is קיסר נרון qysr nrwn, but the numerical value of these letters is 676 (since the yod following the qoph has a numerical value of ten). If the name of “Nero Caesar” is transliterated into Hebrew from the Greek to form קסר נרון, the numerical value is 666: נרון nrwn = 306 plus קסר qsr = 360, making 666

      This possibility appears to have been confirmed by the discovery of an Aramaic document at Wadi Murabba’at that transliterates the name and title of Nero as קסר נרון, qsr nrwn, “Neron Caesar,” from the Greek form of the name, with the combined numerical value of 666 (Benoit et al., Les grottes, 100-104; Hillers, BASOR 170 [1963] 65), and most scholars agree that this is the most likely solution.

      Aune, David E. Revelation 6-16. World Biblical Commentary, Volume 52B. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2017.

  2. Thanks Neil and “Jer” for giving me much to think about.
    Both the Aune and the Prigent extracts above depend on an inscription shown in “Discoveries in the Judaean Desert II: Les Grottes De Murabba’at” edited by P. Benoit, J.T. Milik and R. De Vaux. This apparently supports what Bodner and Strawn (“Solomon and 666”) describe as the defective transliteration of Nero Caesar as נרון קסר instead of the expected נרון קיסר . This in turn underlines my point about the fragility of the Hebrew transliterations, especially vowels. However, the merits of gematria are not the focus of the current post.
    The other implication of my question concerns the legitimacy of using Hebrew transliterations to interpret a Greek text. Does Witulski support his case for this methodology by explaining who would have had the skills (ή σοφία) to unscramble this code? Had the riddle originally been set in Hebrew and then lost its meaning in translation to Greek?

    1. Hi Geoff. It is not easy for me to navigate Witulski’s several separate studies on Revelation since I rely mainly upon machine translations of them. But though I cannot point to a particular part of the current book being discussed that answers the question you raise, I can note that in some of the commentaries I have read I do find discussions of the text of Revelation with an evident knowledge and reliance upon the Hebrew “Old Testament” over the Greek LXX. There are other stylistic features that are said to suggest a Hebrew author. Example, Aune writes

      “His Palestinian Jewish origin is assured by an intimate familiarity with the Hebrew text of the OT as well as the linguistic inference of both Hebrew and Aramaic on his distinctive Greek style. He may indeed have been one of the many Jews and Jewish Christians who were forced to flee in the wake of the second Jewish revolt”
      — Excerpt From: Dr. David Aune. “Revelation 1-5, Volume 52A.” Apple Books.

      Right now I happen to be reading Birger Pearson’s Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity and the following took my attention since I had your question in mind: (He is discussing the Greek text of the Gospel of the Egyptians)

      Here it is evident that the author is writing in Greek but with Hebrew in mind and it would follow that the author expected at least some of his readers to recognize the Hebrew allusions.

      Further, I understand that ever since Irenaeus exegetes have faced the problem that the Greek in Revelation does not solve the “mystery” of 666 but that it is solved by Hebrew. Given the above — even though it’s very brief — it is probably reasonable to accept that the first readers were aware that the “mystery” of the number is to be found in the Hebrew transliterations of the names.

  3. Classic CLT: “If asked for just “one proof” that the Sad-dhar-ma-pun-da-rî-ka-sû-tram was known to the authors of the New Testament, I may refer Revelations 13:18, which is, as explained below, a direct ‘translation’ of the title of the most important Buddhist source apart from MSV.”

    http://vho.org/tr/2004/1/Lindtner12-24.html#ftnref7 Quite the kook manifesto!

    https://youtu.be/OddOLX81dY0 Who knew Jesus was a geometrician and the Christian Bible is an overt reworking of Buddhist myths and a covert vehicle for Pythagorean theory.

    1. There’s a typo in the table embedded within this article. The last (leftmost) letter of “טרינןס אדרינןס” should be Samech, not Tav. Its numerical value is correctly shown as 60.

  4. “Austin Ferrar, a theologian who did not use Gematria, describes the first six chapters of the Gospel of Mark as the ‘little gospel’ in that they foreshadow the entire Gospel. The verse count of the first six chapters is 248. Now 247 (in Gemetria one is allowed ±1) is the value of θηριον (therion=beast, as per Revelation 13:11), while 666, the full gospel, is the value of το μεγα θηριον (to mega therion = the great beast).”

    Came across this here: https://markandmore.wordpress.com/2007/08/19/more-666-stuff/

    1. Just to be clear, what we read in Revelation about 666 is isopsephy — that is, not merely a reference to a numerical value of letters, but a statement of the equivalence between two different words on the basis of their equal numerical values.

      As for the passage you cite “from somewhere on the internet” ;-/ . . . .

      Austin Farrer (not Ferrer) did indeed describe the first six chapters of the Gospel of Mark as a “little gospel” but said nothing at all about the number of verses, let alone their value through gematria. That statement reminds me of the clever case for the last twelve verses of Mark 16 being inspired by the Holy Spirit given the “astonishing” numerical patterns Ivan Panin found there — see http://archive.org/details/thelasttwelvever00paniuoft

      On the other hand, gematria and number patterns and symbolism were “real things” in ancient literature. They are not only found in biblical books. Livy and Virgil also carefully crafted passages, names and explicit numerals to relate to symbolic numerical values — a sure indicator that they did not expect their works to be merely shared by reading aloud to audiences. They were also to be “studied” and discussed by the more highly educated.

      What is the evidence that in ancient gematria an error of plus or minus 1 was allowed? Is that true or just made up by A.N. Onymous?

      1. Two of the Dutch went down the word counting rabbit hole: 1) Joost Smit Sibinga’s lecture published in the Journées Bibliques, of Louvain, in 1970 which discusses “a [numerical] literary technique in the Gospel of Matthew”; and 2) M.J.J. Menken, Numerical Literary Techniques in John, Brill, 1985

    1. No one attributes any seriousness to the practice of gematria and its subtypes today (apart from the palm readers and astrologers and co.) but it is important to understand the fact that it was taken seriously by ancient authors, a fact for which we have explicit evidence. The message of Rev 13:18 could not have been written otherwise.

      1. What about alignment of structures with certain stars? An outspoken ex-muslim atheist in India I’ve corresponded with for two or three years now was wondering if the southern wall of the Temple Mount [where Al Aqsa’s mihrab is] was oriented with the rising of the star Canopus.

        Looking into it just now turned up this: https://www.academia.edu/19550301/The_Rising_of_Canopus_the_Septuagint_and_the_Encounter_Between_Shimon_the_Just_and_Antiochus_the_Great Not exactly what I wanted but still interesting.

        Conversation had to do with how in the 600’s the place of pilgrimage and direction of prayer was Jerusalem: https://www.academia.edu/45027659/The_Original_Islamic_Hajj_To_Jerusalem

        Sapha/Safa a ‘prospect’; apparently Mt. Scopus where Hebrew University is today is referenced in both articles.

      2. Measuring the temple: https://brill.com/downloadpdf/journals/aioo/77/1-2/article-p66_3.pdf?pdfJsInlineViewToken=2087594316&inlineView=true Page 21 of 31 is interesting:

        Canopus rises in Jerusalem today at 168 degrees 47’, but it rose at 169 degrees 24’ in 20–19 BCE, when Herod built the platform of the Temple where the ḥaram al-šarīf rises today, and the western wall of the ḥaram is 169o 39’ 11’’, only a few minutes more than the azimuth of Canopus
        at the time of Herod. Moreover, the southern wall of the ḥaram almost draws a right angle with the western wall, at 79o 73’. Since the ḥaram is trapezoidal in shape but was considered to be a rectangle,36 it is safe to conclude that its orientation was given by the southern and the western walls, oriented towards the rising of Canopus and its perpendicular, roughly oriented towards the summer sunrise and the winter sunset, like the Ka‘ba. Moreover, the axes of al-Aqṣà are determined by the rising of Canopus and its perpendicular.

        Astronomical data and calculations were supplied to the author by a Professor Costantino Sigismondi of the International Center of Relativistic Astrophysics in Rome.

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