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I'm hoping to see facsimiles of the earliest manuscripts of Rev 13:18, where the number 600, 60 and 6 is mentioned.

There's a myriad of translations, but I'm interested in how the number was written in the earliest manuscripts, because of this statement:

Mr. Walid Shoebat, a purported former PLO terrorist now Christian evangelist, says that when he saw the Greek symbols for 666 in the original manuscripts, he immediately recognized these as the Arabic character “bismillah,” which means “in the name of Allah.”

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According to a video found here, Shoebat claims he saw this in the Codex Vaticanus, which dates to the 4th century and is one of the two oldest complete New Testament manuscripts still surviving. There are a couple of problems with this claim.

First, like all other known manuscripts from the 8th century and prior, Codex Vaticanus was written in all uppercase Greek letters. Shoebat's claim relies on lowercase letters, reversed and rotated. Second, Vaticanus does not include the book of Revelation, which at the time was still not universally accepted as Scripture.

However, the Codex Sinaiticus, the other surviving 4th century New Testament, does include Revelation. Codex Sinaiticus can be found online here. Here is the page with Revelation 13:18. You can locate the verse in the box on the right, highlight the word, and the manuscript will zoom in on that word. Not only does Codex Sinaiticus use all caps, it spells out the words six hundred sixty six: εξακοϲιαι εξηκοτα εξ.

There is one older manuscript--papyrus 47 (𝔓47), dating to the 3rd century--which includes some chapters in Revelation. 𝔓47 can be found online here. Revelation 13:18 can be found on this page. The number 666 is in the 9th row down, near the left side, the three letters with a bar over the top to indicate a numeral. Again, they are all uppercase.

I don't know what manuscripts Mr. Shoebat was looking at, but they certainly weren't the originals, they were not the oldest manuscripts available, and they likely were not even ancient.

  • The claim you linked seems to be primarily that John would have interpreted Arabic lettering (that he saw in a prophetic vision) as lowercase Greek, rather than that lowercase Greek was deliberately used to symbolize an Arabic concept. The manuscript with the lowercase Greek lettering was simply what caused Shoebat to notice this. So the real question was whether the modern lowercase Greek script, or letterforms sufficiently resembling it, existed at all contemporary to the writing of Revelation. – Random832 Feb 6 '15 at 13:56
  • @Random832: I can't find a definitive source, but Wikipedia says the miniscule style originated in the 9th and 10th centuries. That's well beyond the lifetime of John of Patmos. – Bruce Alderman Feb 6 '15 at 15:46
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Bruce Alderman has given a very good answer to the question. It emerges clearly that Shoebat’s claim about the Vatican manuscript is a blatant fraud. Of course, if he knew anything about Greek he would know that all Greek manuscripts at the time of the composition of Revelation are written in majuscules (capital letters), so there is no way that the original text of Revelation would have used miniscules. But this does not bother Shoebat.

I would like to address a different aspect of the same question. Allāh is the name of God in the Arabic language. It is used not only by Muslims, but also by the many millions of Arabic-speaking Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and other countries, and they write it exactly the same way as the Muslims: الله. Shoebat is thus actually claiming that the “number of the beast” is “God”. If I were a Christian I would surely say that this is an obscene blasphemy. Even as a non-Christian I need to say that in an age where the Christians in Syria, Iraq etc. are sorely pressed by their enemies it is enormously irresponsible to insinuate that the Arabic-speaking Christians are in fact worshipers of the beast.

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    Speaking as Eastern Orthodox formerly at an Antiochian parish: My understanding is that the Divine Liturgy and the Bible in Arabic use "Allah" ("God"), but Arabic-speaking Christians use a word meaning "Lord" as the primary non-liturgical term for God. – Christos Hayward Feb 5 '15 at 22:04
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    This would assume that Greek miniscule script and Arabic cursive script were both already in use in the first century (or slightly later, depending on how you date Revelation). In neither case is this true. Arabic script (as we know it) is not found before the 6th century. – fdb Feb 6 '15 at 9:50
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    @JonathanHayward Thank you for this input. I think the usage differes from Church to Church and region to region. My experience is that Iraqi Christians, at least, say Allāh if speaking Arabic and the equivalent Alaha if speaking Neo-Aramaic. – fdb Feb 6 '15 at 9:59
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I might comment that the mark of the beast has been notoriously difficult to interpret; my best understanding is that (as neither Hebrew nor Latin nor Greek have separate letters and digits as we have in English) the number 666 was the number of Caesar Neron (meaning "Caesar Nero"--without the final nu ('n') the number is 616, an existing and attended variant). The Orthodox Study Bible has a footnote saying that 7 is the number of perfection, 777 represents the Trinity, evil is represented as something less so 666 is an evil response to the Trinity, and 8 means one more and 888 represents the number someone would get from 'Jesus' (Ιησους), a suggestion I would find convincing if the idea of 'Jesus' being 888 was attested to anywhere in the Ante-Nicene Fathers besides authors summarizing claims they were attacking as heretical.

St. Irenaeos, 2nd century, disciple of St. Polycarp, disciple of St. John, quite directly stated he had no idea what 666 meant. That's as good a reading as any I've seen.

protected by Caleb Feb 5 '15 at 22:21

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