"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. “(13:18, KJV)
In Hollywood, producers have picked the day to release a remake of the 1970 horror flick “The Omen,” in which a beautiful couple raises the devil’s spawn, and a handful of bands, including AFI, a pop punk band, and Slayer a black metal band, are releasing albums on the date. Slayer is also launching a world tour. In New York, Crown books will launch “Godless: The Church of Liberalism” by Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit and pin-up girl. And Hell, Michigan, is turning the day into a festival of sorts, complete with 666 T-shirts and mugs.
From Christians, there has been little more than a yawn. True, a Netherlands-based evangelical group, Ambassadors Ministries, has called on Christians in 21 countries to hold a 24-hour prayer vigil against Satanic forces. Most Christians, however, are savvy enough to know June 6 is just a date. But the lack of excitement, especially from a group known to be occasionally obsessed with predictions and dates, may be significant in itself.
“How come the dog isn’t barking this time?” asked Warren A. Gage, director of the Knox Theological Seminary’s John-Revelation Project. Gage’s group is a Reformed church response to fundamentalist ideas of the “end times,” the period of great upheaval before Christ’s predicted return described in Revelation. “I think that maybe people are getting tired of all that.”
“All that” is pre-millennialism--a five-dollar word to describe the belief held by some fundamentalist Christians and biblical literalists that the end times will be marked by warfare, natural disasters, and the coming of the Antichrist, who will bear the mark 666. But many scholars argue that the Bible’s authors never intended their work to be interpreted as literal prophecy. Some scholars say that the Antichrist in Revelation, for example, represents the Roman emperor Nero. The passage predicting Armageddon, scholars say, refers to the final victory of good over evil, not a literal battle.
Yet even Christian creators of apocalyptic websites are not worried about the date.
“The date has no meaning whatsoever in regards to the Antichrist,” wrote Pietro Arnese, editor of www.apocalypsesoon.org. Arnese, who is based in Europe, says “the plethora” of references to the number in popular culture keeps people from taking Revelation’s prophesies seriously.
“One effect this is having is to produce the classical ‘cry-wolf syndrome, even with some believers,” he wrote. “And that is a pity, because it eventually leads to unbelief.”
Terry James is one of the biblical literalists behind www.raptureready.com, which features a “rapture index” that rates the nearness of The End. Every few days, he and a colleague rate the intensity of different predictors–floods, famines, plagues, etc.–to calculate its proximity. It hit an all-time high on Sept. 24, 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. June 6, 2006 gets nary a nod.
”It means absolutely nothing as far as prophesy is concerned,” he said. “That is just a Hollywood thing.”
But that doesn’t mean James and other fundamentalists think the number has no significance. “Six is the number of man because God made man on the sixth day,” James explained. “And of course the Antichrist is the ultimate man, the ultimate outcome of what fallen man, if left to his devices, will become.”
In the ancient world, scholars say, six was an "imperfect” number because it is one shy of seven, which was the number of God, who rested on the seventh day, the Lord's Day, according to the Book of Genesis. Three sixes would, therefore, be very imperfect, even evil.
Yet even Satanists are not really excited about the date. One group, the Church of Satan, will hold a sold-out high satanic mass in Los Angeles’ Steve Allen Theater (Steve Allen. Grave. Spinning.), and Radio Free Satan, a Chicago-based online radio station, will hold a heavy metal concert in the same city on the same day.
“It’s a Tuesday; that’s the extent of its significance,” said Rev. Andre Schlesinger, leader of the New York-based Maninblack Grotto, an affiliate of the Church of Satan.
Michael Barkun, a professor at Syracuse University and author of “A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America” (University of California Press, 2003), says the hullaballo over Y2K offers another clue to the ho-hum attitude.
“I think there is a certain amount of date fatigue,” he said. “Nothing happened around the year 2000.”
But something did happen on Sept. 11, 2001, and since then Americans have lived with near-constant yellow and orange alerts and dire predictions about possible terror attacks. Thankfully, the alerts, warnings, and anniversaries have come to nothing. But the constant state of expectation could explain the lack of excitement over the June date, Barkun said. “There is a kind of dulling of people’s fears,” he said.
“People who are serious about the conflict have almost all learned from Lindsey and Miller that you don’t get tied up with specific dates,” said Bruce David Forbes, a religious studies professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, who has written about end-times fascination. “They know better.”
Another answer could lay in the nearness of the date itself.
“The most exciting time for believers to talk about the end times is when they are close enough to be interesting, but too far to cause panic,” said Robert Glenn Howard, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who is writing a book about fundamentalist Christianity and the Internet. June 6, he said, is “too darned close.”
Another wet blanket could be that last year scholars deciphered a scroll fragment from the third century that indicates the number may be 616. The scrap, recovered from an ancient Egyptian garbage dump, is of a page out of Revelation, except the number of the beast is 50 less than originally accepted. If they are right, Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a very scary area code and Iron Maiden’s 1993 song lyric, “666, the one for you and me,” will have to be rewritten.
But most scholars favor 666, saying 616 was likely a slip of the ancient stylus. They look to the second-century church father Irenaeus, who indicated the number was, indeed, 666.
Throughout the centuries, it is 666, not 616, that has inspired hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, the fear of the number of the Beast. Ronald and Nancy Reagan both suffered from hexa . . . you know. When they retired to Bel Air in 1989, they bought the house at 666 St. Cloud Road. They changed it to 668. The original number was fine with Johnny Carson, who lived there before the Reagans.
Greg Johnson lives with the number of the Beast everyday. It’s the last three digits of his cell-phone number. Pretty funny for a guy who is a Christian pastor and lives in Utah.
“It was only funny the first hundred times or so” that he took some ribbing from fellow Christians, said Johnson, a Conservative Baptist Church pastor. “But I always say as long as it’s not on your forehead or your forearm, it’s just a number.”