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# NUMEROLOGY (IN THE BIBLE)

Numbers may be used as simple expression of numerical values, as rhetorical expressions of the same, or as symbolic expressions of realities in some way related to numbers.

Simple Enumeration. In all existing Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the inspired text, words expressing numbers are spelled out in full. In early times the Israelites may have used strokes or digits of some sort to express numbers, as did the Babylonians and Egyptians (e.g., in the Elephantine papyri). In later times both Jews and Greeks used the letters of their respective alphabets as numerical signs. The Masoretes indicated divisions of the Biblical text in this manner. The decimal system was basic, but traces of a duodecimal or sexagesimal system exist. (see weights and measures in the bible.) In Hebrew the digits 1 to 9 were represented by the first nine letters of the alphabet ('to ), the decades 10 to 90 by the next nine (y to ), and 100 to 400 by the last four (q to t ). All other numbers were expressed as combinations of these. The abbreviation (yh ) for the sacred name of God, Yahweh, was avoided by writing 15 as 9 plus 6 (w ) instead of 10 plus 5 (yh ). The explanation for some apparent errors in textual transmission may lie in the similarity of certain letter numbers, especially in the primitive script; e.g., the confusion of d (3) with z (7) may explain the discrepancy in the parallel texts of 2 Sm 24.13 and 1 Chr 21.12. Erroneous transmission of the text, however, is not the only explanation of numerical discrepancies in the Bible. Biblical inspiration does not demand that every enumeration in the Bible be a direct revelation from God. Human values that are simply the vehicle for the transmission of divine truth are not made divine absolutes by the fact of inspiration, but are to be judged according to the nature of the human contingencies in which they appear.

Rhetorical Use of Numbers . Peculiar to Semitic rhetoric was the use of two numbers in sequence in order to emphasize the completeness of the enumeration. The use is frequent in numerical proverbs and oracles (Pry 30.15, 18, 21, 29; Sir 25.7, 26.5, 19; Am 1.32.6). Much more general and varied are what one might call round numbers. Certain numbers are used to express an indefinite amount, large or small: 1 for someone, 2 for a couple, 3 for a few, and 1000 for very many (e.g., Hos 6.2; Ex 20.6; Is 30.17). An exact number may be given for what is only an approximation. Since the superlative in Hebrew is rendered by triple repetition (Is 6.3), the number 3 signifies a certain completeness. Because of the four cosmic directions, the number 4 connotes a certain totality (in every direction). Because of the five fingers of the hand, the number 5 may signify a relatively sufficient number. Possibly because of its connection with lunar phases (approximately seven days between each quarter), the number 7 is especially significant as indicating a complete cycle or series, and multiples of 7 emphasize the extent of the series (Gn 4.15, 24; Prv 24.16; Mt 18.2122; Mk 16.9). The number of fingers of both hands, ten, may signify all of a kind, i.e., a totality (Ex 34.28; Jb 19.3; Mt 25.1). Since it was associated with the 12 months of the solar year, the number 12 suggests a complete cycle. The number 40 is a very frequent round number and designates a rather long period the exact duration of which is not known, but the general idea is that of reaching full maturity, or perhaps more generally, any large number that could be counted but not quickly or easily (cf. the Persian word "fortyfooter" meaning a centipede; see next nine (y to s Nm 14.34; 2 Sm 5.4; Mk 1.13). The numbers 60, 80, and 100 are sometimes found as round numbers, but 1,000 is quite frequent and evokes the idea of a large number. However, there is no real proof that it simply means "group" or "clan" and is not a real number. The rhetoric of "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1 Sm 18.7) signifies that David slew a fabulously large number (cf. Lv 26.8). In fact, many large numbers that are given as sums may actually be very rough estimates, or exorbitant exaggerations expressive of a hyperbolical intent rather than an exact summation.

Numerology . While usually classed together, a distinction can be made between symbolic and mystic numbers.

Symbolic Numbers. A symbol is something that represents an idea, sacred or otherwise, by convention or because of some association. What is important are the things symbolized, but the symbol is a rallying point that emphasizes a common aspect. The conventional and rhetorical use of numbers readily leads to symbolism through particular association, but it is often difficult to determine just where the transition begins. Moreover, the same number may have different symbolic connotations. The number 1, for example, is associated with God's uniqueness (Dt 6.4; Sir 1.6; Jn 17.11; Rom 3.30). The superlative, 3, denotes that a thing is entirely what it is said to be (e.g., dead for three days, i.e., really dead; God thrice holy, i.e., perfectly holy); it is often associated with the perfection of God's being or action (Gn 18.2). The number of cosmic totality, 4 (e.g., the four living creatures in Ez 1.5; Ap 4.6), designates comprehensiveness (four plagues, Ez 14.21; four beatitudes, Lk 6.2022). The number 6 is associated with the creation of man and his personal efforts (six days to work), a fullness of human action but lacking the final completeness in God. The number 7 traditionally designates a complete series. Although it can designate a full complement of evil (seven devils of St. mary magdalene) as well as of good, it is particularly associated with sacred objects and with cult (week, sabbath, feasts, sacrifices, angels, etc.). From such a concept the apocalyptic speculations of Dn9.2,24 about the 70 weeks of years (10 jubilees of seven times seven years) lead to the day of the lord independently of any real chronology. In general, as a number of perfection (3 plus 4), seven and its multiples, and even its half (Dn 7.25), occur frequently as symbolic numbers. As a round number of totality, ten may have some special symbolism, but it is not well defined (ten plagues of Egypt, ten commandments). Through its association with the temporal cycle, 12 seems to designate cyclic perfection or the perfection of order and government. Whether or not the division of Israel into 12 tribes arose from the monthly assignment of sanctuary care to a particular tribe cannot be ascertained, but 12 as a symbol of the people of God is found throughout the Bible12 apostles, 12 gates of the new Jerusalem, the number of the saved 144,000, i.e., 12,000 for each of the 12 tribes, etc. (Mt 19.28; Ez 48.3034; Rv 7.4, 7.8, 21.1214). The number 40 acquires also a certain symbolism through association with successive periods in salvation history, periods characterized by the struggle with evil from which man is ultimately saved by the power of God (Gn 7.12, 17; Dt 8.2,9.9; 1 Kgs 19.8; Mt 4.2). The number 1,000 and its multiples, as a very large round number often without any exact numerical sense, may symbolize the perfect age. (see millenarianism.) The fabulous ages of the antediluvian patriarchs, quite modest alongside their Mesopotamian counterparts, probably have some special significance. However, this is scarcely discernible now (even the textual traditions do not agree on the numbers), except in the case of Henoch, the just man, who lived 365 years, the perfect number of the solar year. Perhaps there is a similar symbolism for the ages of Israel's ancestors, the census in Numbers ch. 1, the 38 years in Jn 5.5, and the 153 (sum of numbers from 1 to 17) fishes in Jn 21.11. Some numbers may be the result of gematria, the designation of a person or thing by the numerical value of the letters of a word. For example, in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1.117), where three series of 14 ancestors each are given, there may be gematria based on the name of David (in Hebrew dwd, i.e., 14), to show that Jesus is eminently Davidic and messianic. The interpretation of the beast's number, 666, in Ap 13.18 as Nero Caesar (written in Aramaic) is commonly accepted but not certain. Given the symbolism of 6, the triple repetition may simply designate the number of the man who refuses to enter into the designs of God and to advance to the perfection of 7.

Mystic Numbers. As distinct from a symbolic, a mystic number may be defined as a number having some hidden significance or even hidden power that only special knowledge, investigation, or supernatural enlightenment can discover and put to use. The Bible never attributes any special power to numbers, even though it recognizes that God "disposed all things by measure and number and weight" (Wis 11.20). Things are not related simply because they have the same number. Number has no special meaning apart from the thing signified. Moreover, the main purpose of inspiration is revelation, not concealment. The allegorical interpretations given to numbers by some of the Fathers of the Church, e.g., St. Augustine, must be considered as done merely by way of fanciful accommodation. While avoiding the excesses of the Pythagoreans (see pythagoras and pythagoreans) and the later Cabalists (see cabala), some Fathers and their audiences were fascinated by numbers and their supposed hidden meanings. The Biblical symbolism of numbers, where it really exists, is quite controlled and secondary to the more important intentions of the Biblical authors.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek (164953). w. h. bennett, j. hastings andj. a. selbia, eds., Dictionary of the Bible, 5 v. (Edinburgh 194250) 701704. o. rÜhl, g. kittel, Theologisches Wöterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935) 1:461464; (Eng.) 1:461464. j. sauer, "Zahlensymbolik," Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 1, ed. m. buchberger, 10 v. (Freiburg 193038) 10:102530. x. leondufour, ed., Vocabulaire du Théologie Biblique (Paris 1962) 687691. j. bonsirven, Vocabulaire Biblique (Paris 1958) 110.

[h. j. sorensen]