I recently read a book called Unveiling the Apocalypse, by Emmett O’Regan. It’s an attempt to interpret the prophecies of the Apocalypse in the light of private revelations, e.g. the authorized messages of La Salette, the prophecies of St John Bosco, etc. It’s sane, even though sometimes the author seems to fall into a style of interpreting the bible whereby anything can be made to mean anything.

He has, though an interesting and disconcerting suggestion about the famous “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:18. He points out that the Greek letter which has the numeric value of 6 is the digamma, ϝ (no longer used in writing, by the classical period), and that this is generally transliterated as the letter “w”. Hence the abbreviation www works out as the correct number.

The Apocalypse says that “no man might buy or sell but he that has the mark: the name of the beast or the number of its name”. As Regan points out, it’s perfectly likely that in some not too distant future, physical money could be abolished as an unnecessary encumbrance, with all transactions carried out by crediting and debiting accounts accessed by the internet. In that case, anyone who was not attached to the internet would be unable to buy or sell.

He also considers some of the obvious objections. One is that the number six hundred and sixty six would not have been rendered by three digammas, but by three different letters, one equivalent to 600, one to 60 and one to 6. This however overlooks the fact that the question is not how a Greek speaker would have represented the number in letters, but with what number he would have represented the letters ϝϝϝ. In fact, ϝϝϝ doesn’t represent any number; but if he’d had to choose one, it might have been six hundred and sixty six, since the Greek practice did have room for using the same letter to indicate a shift to another order of magnitude (e.g. β, which is 2, is also 2000 when it comes before three other digits.)

Then there is the question of having the number (or the name) on one’s right hand or forehead. He suggests plausibly that this is a diabolic parody of the practice of wearing phylacteries (little leather boxes containing portions of Scripture) bound around the forehead or the right arm or hand at times of prayer. In another words, the prophecy of the Apocalpyse should not be imagined as involving a tatooing or branding, but as having something bound round the forehead or contained in the hand. He then suggests that internet-enabled mobile phones might be the anti-phylacteries for the hand. What about the forehead? Apparently there are already LCD glasses available which provide the user with the illusion of a 32″ TV screen at two metres away from the face, though they are not yet commercially viable.

An interesting feature of the passage in the Apocalypse is that there is no statement that people are forced to have the mark in their hands or foreheads, as they are forced to worship the image of the beast under threat of death. So it’s conceivable that it could be achieved first by guile. Then, when everything is in place, some token of loyalty to the totalitarian state – perhaps presented as an anti-terrorist measure – could be required in order to let people be connected to the internet, and bingo! No more buying or selling unless you’re on board.

I’m not sure I believe any of that. And he doesn’t give any explanation for how the number is “the number of a man”. Still, it is rather disconcerting…