What is that I hear out there in the Blogosphere? Murmurings of dismay and fear: “Why didn’t Jennifer skip post #666 and go from #665 to #667, the way some building elevators go from floor #12 to floor #14? No one would have noticed.”
Here’s my word associations about 666: the Number of the Beast; the Sign of the Beast; the anti-Christ; the Apocalypse; Revelations. It’s also the subject of “The Devil’s Highway,” a song by The Snake Brothers, a local Pine Barrens-based New Jersey folk/country/bluegrass/ roots band.
Hi there, I am Rabbi Ilene Schneider. Here’s what I know after Googling 666: all of the above. Plus there are as many interpretations as interpreters. Plus, the number is possibly gematria, a method of hermeneutics that assigns a numerical value to letters of the Hebrew alphabet. [Gematria is the reason the number 18 is lucky in Judaism – It’s the numerical value of the Hebrew word “chai” (pronounced like “hi,” but with a guttural “h,” not a soft “ch” as in “China”); as in the toast “l’chaim;” as popularized in the song “To Life, To Life, L’chaim,” in “Fiddler on the Roof.”]
I also learned that the number may be a mistranslation and it should be 616, coincidentally the route number for Church Road, a south Jersey street that’s not very apocalyptic, except where it intersects with a traffic circle in Cherry Hill. Had New Jersey traffic circles been around in the 14th Century, Dante would have modeled his Circles of Hell on them.
The explanation I favor for the confusion between 666 and 616 is that the Greek name for Nero (as in the Emperor, not the protagonist of “The Matrix”) when transliterated into Hebrew is equal to 666, while the Hebrew transliteration for the emperor’s Latin name is equivalent to 616. It does make sense that the writer of Revelations would have considered Nero the anti-Christ.
And, yes, there is an Atlantic County Route 666 in New Jersey, just as The Snake Brothers sing. I know. I looked it up. The road passes by Estelle Manor, site of the long-abandoned Estellville Glassworks. The town has been suggested as the birth place of the Jersey Devil, the only state demon in the U.S. “Devil’s Highway” is more likely to refer to our native boogie man (or part kangaroo, part goat, part horse, part dog, part bat, complete with wings and horns) than to Satan. (I think it’s far more likely that Mother Leed’s 13th child was born near Leed’s Point, although the monster has been sighted throughout southern New Jersey.)
So am I afraid that I am now cursed because I wrote blog post 666? No more than I worry about Friday the 13th, a number that is actually good luck in Judaism (the age of legal maturity; Maimonides’ list of the attributes of God, to name two reasons). There are too many real dangers out there to worry about whether numbers have a cosmic significance. But they are fun to research.
Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She recently retired from her day job to devote herself to writing. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries, Chanukah Guilt and the award-winning Unleavened Dead; the 3rd, a work-in-progress, is titled Yom Killer. She also wrote the nonfiction Talk Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek.