In The Apocalypse Unsealed[1], after elucidating relevant ideas from ancient Greek philosophy and Vedic metaphysics over the course of 10-15 preceding pages, Pryse introduces the four well known apocalyptic animal symbols, or θερια (theria "beasts"), as conspicuous dramatis personae. Since he has already presented the information required to identify the true nature of these various beasts, he immediately proceeds to do so. In this essay, however, I'm first going to address the reasons the riddles of the Apocalypse eluded solution successfully for so long. In the following essay I will address Pryse's decoding directly.

The four apocalyptic beasts are: (1) a Lamb, having seven horns and seven eyes, and who is identified as Ἰησους (Iesous "Jesus"), who becomes Ὀ Νικῶν (ho nikon "the Conqueror")[2]; (2) a monster resembling a Leopard, possessing a bear's feet and a lion's mouth, and having seven heads and ten horns[3]; (3) a red Dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and who is named "the Devil and Satan"[4]; and, (4) a beast having two horns like a Lamb but speaking like a Dragon, who is identified as ψευδοπροφήτης (pseudo-prophetes "the False Prophet")[5].

Of these four, the Leopard is specifically referred to as "the Beast." Concerning this particular animal symbol the author of the Apocalypse has much to say. In a key passage[6] he presents us with a simple riddle to identify this beast. In the riddle he issues a challenge to those who would attempt a solution, implying that only one who has attained wisdom will be able to figure it out. He says:

Here is cleverness (σοφία - sophia): he who has wisdom (νοῦς - nous) let him count the number of the Beast; for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

You may well imagine that solving this riddle as well as interpreting these four animal symbols is crucial to understanding the true meaning of the Apocalypse. In fact, as Pryse has demonstrated, this riddle is the first key to unlocking the whole enterprise. So important is the solution of this particular riddle to understanding the Apocalypse as a whole, the author even gives a clue to the correct meaning. That clue is the number "666". Here, and in two other places in the book the author offers the numerical solution to a riddle because the solutions to these three riddles are keys to understanding the book.

Another, less obvious clue to solving this particular riddle is the number of the Lamb (Ἰησους - Iesous) which is 888. A third clue is simply that there are precisely four beasts. And a final clue is the most famous Christian symbol of them all, namely the cross (σταυρος - stauros) whose number is 777.

Lacking numerals, the classical Greek language employed each of the letters of the alphabet to express numerical values[7]. The number of a word then was simply the sum of the numerical values of its individual letters. Calculating the numerical values of Greek words is known as isopsephy. Although this method of numbering was not very useful for even the simplest arithmetic, it made for interesting reading! It also made it relatively easy to encode secret messages.

You may think that the sequence 666, 777, 888 and the words to which they correspond is a coincidence, as perhaps did many Christian apologists over the centuries who made little or nothing of it. However, are there three more significant Christian symbols? Jesus, the cross and the beast: their vital significance in the symbology of Christianity can not be overemphasized. It seems difficult to me to mistake this as mere coincidence simply resulting from a fluke of the Greek alphabet. Yet, so it was mistaken. Although Christians have long been aware of the number of Jesus as 888 they have made little or nothing of it. Generally, any attempts are along the lines of this or this or this. While the number 777 generates pablum like this.

Of course, Christians have long associated 666 as the "mark of the beast", somehow branded or affixed to the godless so that the Anti-Christ will recognize his own at the end of the world. Be that as it may, it is clear from the context that the number 666 refers to someone or something specific, or at least intended to give that impression. So let's see where we can go with that idea.

Many possible combinations of Greek letters will add up to the total of 666. Because the passage speaks of the number being that of a man, the literal minded have taken it to represent some specific historical figure in addition to the Anti-Christ and Satan himself. They have nominated many candidates from the Christian gallery of rogues for the dubious distinction of being thus symbolically pilloried as the arch enemy of God.

Most popular of these are: Caesar Nero, the despicable Roman emperor from A.D. 54 - 68; Muhammed; and, the Papacy, by Protestants only of course[8]. You can read the Wikipedia link to see the alphabetical gymnastics required to get any of these names and others to equal 666.

The orthodox and their recent Protestant competitors in their efforts to identify the "man" fail to see there might be an incongruity in their deduction. Take Nero, for example. The author of the Apocalypse, writing in Greek, had to use the Hebrew transliteration of a Roman emperor's Latin name to render what is arguably the most famous and potentially important number in Christian history. Imagining that such a thing actually happened supposes that no convolution of logic was too complex for the wily Greek mind to indulge. Such efforts as this simply reinforce the lack of real understanding exemplified by a simple literal reading of the text. For if we assume that the "man" is Nero or some other historical character, what then? Where do we go?

The answer is nowhere. All such efforts lead to a dead end. Why did not the author of the Apocalypse just say that Nero, or whomever he had in mind, was a skunk? Why disguise it? Certainly the manuscript was meant for Christian eyes only. Even if the Romans, or members of a rival faction, got their hands on it, the identity of its author could be concealed. So, I think it just as reasonable to propose that the "man" does not refer to any specific individual, as much as to suppose it does. Perhaps, even more reasonable to think not.

Aside from the identity or non-identity of the "man" referred to by 666, the primary reason Christians have failed to solve the riddle of 666 is simply this. The literal minded think that the Apocalypse can only be comprehended against that historical background which hypothetically occasioned its writing[9]. Like its apparent Old Testament counterparts Ezechiel, Zachariah and Daniel, as well as the apocryphal Enoch and other second century apocalypses, it appeared during an era of persecution. Literalists like to point out that from 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 such apocalyptic writing enjoyed a wide audience in both Jewish and early Christian circles. They claim that it represented a sort of resistance literature that was inspired by Roman oppression. This began first with the Jews, culminating finally in the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70. The destruction of the Jewish nation and the dispersion of the Jews followed. The Christians then had their share of persecution at the hands of the Romans well into the second century.

There can be no denying that this period was undoubtedly both cruel and savage. The brutal Roman crucifix was a common and dreadful sight. Slow and painful death became a spectacle staged for the sadistic entertainment of the Roman emperor and the equally barbarous crowds of Rome and other cities of the empire. Christians justifiably viewed the Roman emperor and the power of Rome that he wielded as their enemies. By logical extension, in Christian minds they also became the enemies of God.

In this vein, the orthodox see the pagan Rome, situated atop its seven hills, as the harlot Babylon seated upon the seven headed scarlet beast of the Apocalypse[10]. The beast's blasphemous names refer to the divine titles assumed by the Roman emperors. The tribulations are the wrath of God unleashed upon the unrepentant pagans, or the Christians' other rival Jewish factions. For extreme fundamentalists the beast becomes a symbol for an Anti-Christ, who at some future date will restore the pagan kingdoms of old which oppressed the ancient and God fearing Hebrews. And, in the person of Nero, persecuted the Christians themselves. These will then be cast into hell at the second coming of Christ.

The Apocalypse then, as a period piece, becomes a mere exhortation for Christians to stand firm in their faith against persecution first at the hands of the Romans and finally at the hands of the Anti-Christ at the end of the millenium. They are encouraged to await patiently for the fulfillment of God's promises to them. These are, of course, to reward the faithful with entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem and to punish the wicked as severely as their cruelty deserves.

The literalists thus understand the book as simply the product of an era of severe persecution. It was written in symbolic and allegorical format merely to protect its author from Roman retribution, although presumably the author of an unsigned manuscript was safe from prosecution. Probably few Christians at the time could identify "John", even if he had signed a manuscript. They read into the book continuing validity for Christians of all times. For although they say its symbols and metaphors had very specific application at the time of the book's writing, they also have universal relevance and are readily and simply interpreted.

The repulsive symbols, the vile and vindictive language and repugnant images supposedly now inspire all the Christian faithful to face evils from within and without with courage. Thus the diatribe of an age of repression attains universal worth. It inspires Christians to trust in God's promise to remain with the church and his flock of faithful forever. Despite the trials and tribulations of life, even to the point of physical torture and murder, the invisible God remains present to bolster his followers.

Superficially, the perspective of the Apocalypse is the end times. This period refers to ultimate salvation and victory over evil. It supposedly takes place at the end of the present era with the second coming of Christ. Yet the book presents the decisive struggle of Christ and his followers against Satan and his demonic allies as having already been successfully concluded. Christ's total defeat of the kingdom of Satan has ushered in the everlasting reign of God. Still, the forces of evil run amok in the apocalyptic world, apparently somehow and even unwittingly fulfilling a mysterious and secret divine plan! Just what the secret divine plan may be is never explained. Although, there is lots of speculation[11].

According to James Pryse, all such interpretations, however convincing any or all may seem to the literalist, completely miss the mark. He contends that the Apocalypse is unique: that its images and symbols while similar to those used by the Hebrew prophets are not the same in meaning; that most references to the Old Testament and to the Hebrew tradition in general are misleading and meant to mislead. He further asserts that while the author of the Apocalypse apparently borrows many symbols and images from earlier Hebrew writings and from contemporary first century messianic politics, he almost invariably employs them simply to cloak his real meaning. He endows them with a different or a variant significance that is readily determined as I shall soon demonstrate.

Consequently says Pryse, all those who attempt to follow seeming Old Testament and first century parallels will generally be misled and confused. The author doubtless intended that they should be. And he succeeded markedly. For the religious and political zealots from the first century to our own have been misled by these simple subterfuges for two thousand years already! They continue to squabble about superficial and superstitious nonsense that was purposely laid before them to confuse them.

All scholars agree that the Greek of the Apocalypse is full of ungrammatical and unlexical usages. As early as Dionysus of Alexandria (Bishop from 247-8 to 264-5) the Greek of the Apocalypse was thought to be so inferior as to make it unfit for apostolic authorship. Current consensus is that the problems are not due to a lack of understanding Greek because the errors present in one place are correct in another. One of the proposals to account for this peculiarity is the contention of some scholars that the Apocalypse was originally composed in Greek, by a Hebrew writer whose Hebrew thought processes influenced his Greek writing style, in imitation earlier Hebrew writings. For a detailed discussion[12].

This may be true. But I will try to demonstrate in the following essays that problems with the text are due not so much to Hebrew influences as to the technical nature of the writing project. That is, encoding a hidden message under a cloak of anagrams, riddles, zodiacal, religious and political jargon necessitated breaking the rules of grammar to ensure that the cipher remained usable. Still, it is interesting to speculate that a Greek speaking Hebrew, most likely a resident of Alexandria during the first half of the first century, with a profound understanding of the Greek philosophers and mysteries introduced from India was the real author. Perhaps someone like Philo of Alexandria[13]. There has been speculation that in fact Philo was actually the founder of Christianity by virtue of his combination of Jewish theological ideas and those present in the Greek mystery religions[14]. It is alleged that the followers of Jesus seized upon Philo's precepts and incorporated them into the letters that became the New Testament. If such might be the case, it would be hardly more implausible to imagine he composed a gnostic version as well. Although many of his ideas are thoroughly gnostic, there is no indication in Philo's extant writings to indicate that he had any knowledge of Indian metaphysics. But then if he had wanted to hide them within the new Christian religion, he would have hidden his access to that knowledge as well.

The case for Greek as the original language is bolstered by the parallels between the Apocalypse and the writings of Plato and Greek philosophy in general, which as Pryse has demonstrated clearly are numerous and striking. They are also far more fruitful than the deceptive ones to be found in the Hebrew scriptures. They are, according to Pryse, in fact the sole basis for accurately deciphering the real meaning of the Apocalypse.

[ Introduction ] ~ [ Riddles of Revelation ] ~ [ Breaking the Code ]


  1. James M. Pryse, The Apocalypse Unsealed, John M. Pryse, New York, 1910, p25.
  2. Apocalypse, 5.6.
  3. Apocalypse, 13.2.
  4. Apocalypse, 13.1.
  5. Apocalypse, 13.11.
  6. Apocalypse, 13.18.
  7. Greek numbers online key.
  8. The Number of the Beast, Wikipedia.
  9. The Book of Revelation, Wikipedia.
  10. The Whore of Babylon, Wikipedia.
  11. The Second Coming of Christ, Wikipedia.
  12. C. G. Ozanne, The Language of the Apocalypse, Tyndale Bulletin 16 (1965) 3-9. [PDF] download.
  13. Wikipedia.
  14. Bruno Bauer, Christianity Exposed: A Recollection of the 18th Century and a Contribution to the Crisis of the 19th, 1843. Also see Wikipedia.


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