Free Online Bible Library | Numbers

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NUMBERS. The Hebrews in ancient times used the common decimal system as a method of counting. There is no evidence that they used figures to denote numbers. Before the Exile they spelled the numbers out in full, as is seen in the present text of the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Siloam Inscription, and on the Moabite Stone. After the Exile some of the Jews employed such signs as were used among the Egyptians, the Arameans, and the Phoenicians—an upright line for 1, two such lines for 2, three for 3, etc., and special signs for 10, 20, 100. At least as far back as the reign of Simon Maccabaeus (143-135 b.c.), they numbered the chapters and verses of the Hebrew Bible and expressed dates by using the consonants of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph for 1, beth for 2, etc. The letters of the Greek alphabet were used in the same way.

The later rabbis developed the theory that all numbers have secret meanings and all objects their fundamental numbers, and elaborate mathematical rules were devised to carry out these concepts. The system came to be known as gematria (a corruption of geometria). Some Bible students think that an example of this is found in Rev.13.18, where the number of the Beast is 666. It is thought that the context shows that the number was intended to be recognized as a definite person by those who knew how to interpret the book, while outsiders were left in the dark regarding his identity.——SB

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