The Numbers of the Beast

Many numbers have been linked to bad luck and spooky coincidences. What are the roots of these numerical superstitions? Here’s a quick rundown.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 1.12.33 AM13: The Code of Hammurabi, a collection of Mesopotamian laws dating all the way back to 1772 BC, is conspicuously missing its 13th rule. If this was due to ancient Triskaidekaphobia, where did the fear originate? It might have been 13’s contrast to the number 12, which was seen as a “perfect” number by the ancients–there were 12 months in the Roman calendar, 12 zodiac signs, and 12 gods of Olympus. Therefore, surpassing that number was seen to upset a certain divine order. 13 was later associated with Judas, the 13th apostle at the Last Supper, who betrayed Jesus.

Death floor, anyone?
Death floor, anyone?

4: In Asia, many buildings do not have a fourth floor, special events are not planned for the fourth day of the month, gifts of 4 items are seen as unlucky, and public transit vehicle numbers do not start with 4. This fear of 4 goes back as far as the Chinese language: in it, the word for four (which sounds like “suh”) is a homophone for the word death. A study done for a British medical journal showed that heart-attack rates for Asians peak on the fourth day of the month. Pure chance or self-fulfilling prophecy?

666: The ancient Babylonians worshipped 36 supreme gods, each of which was assigned a number. If all of these are added to each other (1+2+3+4…+36), the sum is 666, a number that was believed to represent the total power of all the gods combined, and which was therefore greatly feared. When Catholicism replaced paganism, the number was seen as a threat to monotheism and thus linked with evil, and even Satan. And of course, 666 gets most of its modern-day notoriety from its mysterious mention in the Book of Revelation Chapter 13: “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.”

Image from
Photo by Terry Richardson.

P.S. The word count of this blog post is 373, which is 3+7+3, which equals…well, you guessed it. 😉