Does 666 add up to Nero?

Nero Julius Caesar (on the left), eldest son of Germanicus, is seen saluting Tiberius (seated, on the right), in a detail of the so-called Great Cameo of France, a five-layered sardonyx cameo and Roman artwork from the 1st century AD.

One of the most enigmatic passages in the book of Revelation is the number of the name of the beast — “666.” Popular culture has embraced this number and used it for everything from horror movies to energy drinks, but what does it mean? Who is “666”?

In the last article, we saw how the number could symbolically represent imperfection or perhaps even a mocking of the Holy Trinity. But the biblical background to “666” tied into King Solomon, who at the height of his power received 666 talents of gold. We noted that Solomon was a type of Christ. He was the son of David and the builder of the temple. However, Solomon transgressed God’s command to kings not to have larger armies, many foreign alliances, or to multiply gold. Therefore, the number 666 could represent a ruler who has unbridled power.

With this background in mind, let’s try to give at least one viable answer to who exactly John was identifying with “666.” I approach this question with some trepidation because there is no other book in the Bible more difficult to interpret than Revelation. In fact, one of the very first articles I wrote for The Michigan Catholic was to outline the different approaches to this book.

Some believe Revelation speaks about events that largely had already occurred. Others believe it speaks only about future events. Still others see it a purely symbolic representation of the battle between good and evil that occurs in every age. There are also approaches that combine the ones above.

Where does this leave us? If Revelation is speaking of the beast as someone who has already come, the best candidate appears to be Nero Caesar (reigned AD 54-68).

Revelation 13:8 says, “Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six.”

The Greek name “Nero Caesar” put into Hebrew letters is NRON QSRN, which adds up to six hundred and sixty-six. If this were all we had to go on, then Nero would not be any more likely a candidate than any other name that could add up to this number, but there is one more piece of evidence that points to Nero.

We learn from the early Church father Irenaeus of Lyons that in his day (c. AD 180) the reading “666” was “... found in all the most approved and ancient copies” (Against Heresies, 5, 30, 1), but he doesn’t tell us what number the minority manuscripts give. There is manuscript evidence that the alternative number is “616.” But why this second number? Where did it come from?

It’s possible that the second number comes from the Latin version of Nero’s name, which, when put into Hebrew letters drops the second “N” (Hebrew, Nun) so that it reads, NRO QSR instead of NRON QSR. Since “N” Nun) has the value of “50.” The Greek version of his name when put into Hebrew letters has the value of 666, while the Latin version has the value of 616.

Nero also seems to be a likely candidate in that Revelation 13:3 speaks about the beast having one head that “... seemed to have been mortally wounded, but this mortal wound was healed. Fascinated, the whole world followed after the beast.” Roman historians report that after Nero committed suicide in AD 68, there was a widespread belief — possibly generated through the prediction of a group of astrologers — that Nero was not dead but would return to power soon. After Nero’s death, there were three imposters who pretended to be “Nero Redivivdus” (Nero reborn).

All this being said, its value depends on how one approaches Revelation. If you believe that Revelation speaks exclusively of the future, then Nero obviously isn’t a candidate. Otherwise, everything adds up to Nero.

Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at