Where does 666 come from?
The association of 666 with evil originates from a passage in the Book of Revelations in the New Testament of the Bible. As it reads in the King James Version (13:18):
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
The idea of the “number of a man” or “beast” may refer to the practice of gematria in Jewish numerology, where every letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to a number (e.g., aleph=1, bet=2, etc.), and words and names correspond to the sums of these numbers.
Interestingly, the Number of the Beast, as 666 is often called, may have been 616 in earlier versions of the text. While excavating an ancient garbage dump at the Egyptian site of Oxyrhynchus in the 1890s, archaeologists found a number of faded papyri which they then stored at Oxford University. Around 2005, new technology allowed researchers to read the texts. One of them was a third- or fourth-century version of the Book of Revelations that gives 616 as the Number of the Beast.
Using gematria, scholars have variously decoded 666 to learn the biblical beast’s name. A leading theory deciphers 666 as Nron Qsr or Nro Qsr, taken as the Greek and Latin, respectively, for Nero Caesar. The beastly 666, then, may refer to Nero’s persecution of early Christians, though this theory has historical problems. Another theory identifies 666 as Muhammed, the founding Islamic prophet viewed as a false prophet in medieval Christianity.
Regardless of whether it refers to any historical entity, 666 came to stand for the personification of evil over the centuries, thanks to the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelations. Some avoid the number out of fear of its evil associations, but others playfully revel in it. The notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley, for example, referred to himself as The Great Beast 666.
Rock and heavy metal bands have also adopted the number. In 1968, Deep Purple listed the play time of one of the songs on their album The Book of Taliesyn as 6:66, though the track is actually seven minutes and six seconds long. Iron Maiden released an album and song titled “The Number of the Beast” in 1982. In the chorus of the song, singer Bruce Dickinson chants: “666, the number of the Beast / 666, the one for you and me.”
The number 666 has inspired many superstitions. After their second term in the White House, Ronald and Nancy Reagan retired to 666 St. Cloud Road in Bel-Air, California, but had the house number officially changed to 668. Reagan himself has been subject of conspiracy theories, where the number has an active life, because Ronald, his middle name Wilson, and Reagan are each six letters long.
In 2003, US Highway 666 was renamed to US 491 after “decades of complaints,” according to the Albuquerque Journal. Similarly, in 2015 Republican Representative Joe Barton had the number of a bill he was sponsoring in the House changed from 666 to 702.
Who uses 666?
The number 666 evokes strong feelings in many people. Some Christians, for instance, might go out of their way to avoid the number. Others may use the number to evoke an air of darkness or find amusement in coincidental appearances of the number in popular culture or everyday occurrences. Yet other people may look at it, folklore aside, as just another number.
For Chinese gamers, 666 has an altogether different meaning. Liù, the pinyin for the Chinese word for six, is a homophone for the word for skilled. 6 or a string of 6’s can be used by Chinese gamers to show respect for an instance of highly skilled gameplay.
“sqrt(666) = root of all evil 666/π = axis of evil”
linjaaho Reddit (October 24, 2013)
“For those keeping score at home, Tim Tebow's 1st homer w/ the Fireflies came against pick No. 666 in the draft. His 2nd came on Palm Sunday.”
Paxton Boyd @paxton Twitter (April 9, 2017)
“Years ago I worked summers on a farm in Michigan, near a fundamentalist Christian community. I didn’t know much about them other than that you didn’t want to get behind one of their members in a checkout line, because if their total had the number six in it, they would keep buying things until the sixes disappeared. This behavior came from a fear of having anything to do with the number 666, which some Christians have connected to Satan and see as a symbol of evil.”
Joel Schorn, “What is 666 in the Bible?” US Catholic (October 2013)