Nero Antichrist: Patristic Evidence For The Use Of Nero’s Naming In Calculating The Number Of The Beast (Rev 13:18) -- By: Francis X. Gumerlock

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 68:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: Nero Antichrist: Patristic Evidence For The Use Of Nero’s Naming In Calculating The Number Of The Beast (Rev 13:18)
Author: Francis X. Gumerlock


Nero Antichrist:
Patristic Evidence For The Use Of
Nero’s Naming In Calculating The Number
Of The Beast (Rev 13:18)

Francis X. Gumerlock

Francis X. Gumerlock is a professor of Historical Theology at Providence Theological Seminary, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. -Rev 13:18

I. The Nero Theory and the Problem of Patristic Evidence

In Rev 13:18 John says that the number of the beast is that of a man.1 For almost two centuries a multitude of scholars have suggested that the “man” was the Roman emperor Nero. Although according to certain authors the Nero identification is “the most widely accepted” interpretation, one of its main problems is the lack of substantiation for it in patristic literature.2 In this article I will introduce a fifth-century chronicle from North African Christianity, entitled Liber genealogus or Book of Genealogy, that has bearing on the question of

whether or not early Christians used Nero’s name in their calculations of the number of the beast. I will provide a translation of the relevant portion, contextualize and explain the passage, bring it into dialogue with a statement from Irenaeus, and discuss its implications for biblical studies.

Those who hold to the identification of Nero as the man of Rev 13:18 claim that 666 is the sum of the numerical value of the Hebrew letters nrwn qsr, transliterated Neron Kaisar in Greek.3 While the non-standard spellings—nrwn instead of nrw for Nero and qsr instead of qysr for Caesar—are somewhat problematic for the theory, the Talmud, Rabbinical writings, and the discovery of a scroll at Qumran, all containing similar spellings of Nero’s name, are used as supporting evidence.4 A further argument in support of the interpretation is that the sum of a Latinized form of Nero’s name in Hebrew, nrw qsr, equals 616. This, proponents say, accounts for the variants of Rev 13:18 in several ancient versions of the biblical text which contain 616 in place of 666.5

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