666 is cryptically referred to in
Given that Greek and Hebrew letters possess numerical equivalents, “the number of its name” (
After 1611, the English translation of the King James Version of the Bible identified the number as “six hundred  threescore [3 × 20] and six ,” yielding 666 as the number that has popularly been associated with the “mark of the Beast.” In English-influenced cultures, this number also came to be identified as the number of the Antichrist, a term that never appears in the Book of Revelation but rather derives from the epistles 1 and 2 John, where it appears as both “one who opposes Christ” (
Due to its association with the Antichrist and the suppleness of the symbol, 666 came to be identified throughout its long history with whatever enemy a given apocalypticist may have had in mind, including Catholics, the papacy, Freemasons, and leaders of Israel and of Islam. In such cases, the number 666 loses its original biblical context entirely and serves simply to justify fears or hatred.
In English-influenced popular culture, the number 666 has taken on a wide field of associations with evil. Rock and punk music purposefully perpetuate it, sometimes with tongue in cheek, as a symbol of bad behavior or even Satanism (for example, Iron Maiden’s album 666). As a cultural countermovement to those who fear the identification of 666 with a contemporary figure or object, some participate in lighthearted mockery of the “evil” number through products such as 666 vodka and the 666 energy drink.
By contrast, certain groups have straightforwardly adopted the numerical symbol for their self-identification. In a standard, racist tattoo of the Aryan Brotherhood gang, the number is superimposed on a shamrock. The leader of Creciendo en Gracia Ministries, who claims to be both the “Man Jesus Christ” and the “Antichrist,” has adopted the number as a symbol for church; many members have tattooed it on themselves and on their children.
In recent decades, conspiracy-minded individuals who combine idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible with fears that evil governmental or religious forces are overtaking society have variously interpreted 666 as a reference to the United Nations, some presidents of the United States, the Washington Monument, and the European Union. Given the commercial associations with 666 in Revelation, such interpreters also commonly identify the flexible symbol with the modern barcode system, the “www” of the Internet’s prefix for the World Wide Web, RFID seals used for tracking and identification, and smart cards used for cashless swiping. Such conspiratorial speculation unhelpfully feeds the phobias of some, whose fear of the number 666 has yielded a new term: “hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.”
- Barkun, Michael. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
- Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation. New York: Viking, 2012.
- Aune, David E. Revelation 6-16. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998.
- Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.