So this has been bouncing around the various blogs and online reports this week - it turns out that the "Number of the Beast" is not 666, but is rather the more prosaic 616. So apparently the devil's area code includes Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. I always knew that Kellogg's Rooster was dangerous.
But the news made me think of the book of Revelations. This was always a favorite book of the bible, since it read like a comic book, or at least a major motion picture. Big plot beats! Explosions! Epic grandeur! More Explosions! Seals breaking! Monsters! Loose Women! Lakes of Fire! Big Finish! (Did I mention Explosions?) So, yeah, I was willing to think that this stuff could come true, and come true in my lifetime (hey, I was 13, and thought I was the center of the universe - what was your excuse?) Books like Late Great Planet Earth just fueled that thinking, much like the Left Behind series does today.
Only later did I pick up the whole idea that the Revelation of John was pretty much written to pummel the dominant political operation of the day - Rome. Its a very political work as opposed to a prophetic one. The seven horns of the beast were the seven hills and number of the beast was accepted code for Nero or Caligula or whoever was doing the persecuting in those days. And I think it got into the final draft of the Bible after the Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD) in part to keep that uppity Patriarch of Rome in line. Indeed a lot of latter-day maneuvering and interpretation of the Book of Revelations seems to come from the fact that it was aimed pretty squarely at Rome, which would be all well and good, except that the church then blossomed in Rome, and now they had to fend off the very imagery they incorporated. ("No, we're not the beast you're thinking of - you want a later beast").
Late Great Planet Earth was instrumental in showing me that non-fiction does not necessarily equal true (Similar books on ancient astronauts and the lost continent of Mu helped drive the point home). When I first read Late Great. . . , I was waiting for the entire scripted apocalypse to unfold on cue. Despite millenial bugs and terrorists, we are still here. (The apocalypse has not been averted, we are now informed, as much as it has been delayed, being pushed back to 2009 or 2014, depending on the tightness of your tinfoil hat).
But this latest revelation (pun intended) is one of the joys of studying the Bible, and I mean really studying it - bringing to bear knowledge to enhance one's comprehension. Over the course of my own lifetime, the Bible has shown itself to be more historically accurate than it had been earlier assumed, and in uncovering the hows and whys and whos of its creation is to my mind a tempering and strengthening of the faiths based upon it, as opposed to an assault on those faiths. That is one joy of a secular outlook - the ability to say "Well, I guess I was wrong", and the go forward with new knowledge. New discoveries enhancing old thoughts. New wine in old bottles.
Oh, by the way, the Satanists have gone on record as saying they will still use "666" as long as it cheeses people off.
Loren Eiseley on Dunsany — and Tolkien - *Loren Eiseley on Dunsany — and Tolkien* So, back when I was working on my Dunsany dissertation I came across a reference to a piece that essayist and thin...
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