A newly discovered fragment of the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament indicates that, as far as the Antichrist goes, theologians, scholars, heavy metal groups, and television evangelists have got the wrong number. Instead of 666, it's actually the far less ominous 616.
The new fragment from the Book of Revelation, written in ancient Greek and dating from the late third century, is part of a hoard of previously unintelligible manuscripts discovered in historic dumps outside Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Now a team of expert classicists, using new photographic techniques, are finally deciphering the original writing.
Professor David Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, thinks that 616, although less memorable than 666, is the original. He said: "This is an example of gematria, where numbers are based on the numerical values of letters in people's names. Early Christians would use numbers to hide the identity of people who they were attacking: 616 refers to the Emperor Caligula."
The Book of Revelation is traditionally considered to be written by John, a disciple of Jesus; it identifies 666 as the mark of the Antichrist. In America, the fundamentalist Christian right often use the number in sermons about the coming Apocalypse.
They and satanists responded coolly to the new "Revelation". Peter Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan, based in New York, said: "By using 666 we're using something that the Christians fear. Mind you, if they do switch to 616 being the number of the beast then we'll start using that."
This did appear in the National Geographic article on the papyri we posted last week ... see a post at NT Gateway for relevant followup ...