Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Symbolism of Numbers in the Bible

Alice C. Linsley

St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) wrote: “Numbers are the universal language offered by the Deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.”

St. Augustine is not saying that numbers tell us truth, only that God uses numbers symbolically to confirm the truth. This is what St. Augustine argues against the Donatist, Tichonius, observing that "if Tichonius had said that these mystical rules open out some of the hidden recesses of the law, instead of saying that they reveal all the mysteries of the law, he would have spoken truth" (De Doctrina Christiana, III, xlii).

The Church Fathers condemned magical use of numbers in occult practices such as divination, but recognized the numerical symbolism of Scripture.

St. Ambrose, commenting on the days of creation and the Sabbath, explained: "The number seven is good, but we do not explain it after the doctrine of Pythagoras and the other philosophers, but rather according to the manifestation and division of the grace of the Spirit; for the prophet Isaias has enumerated the principal gifts of the Holy Spirit as seven.”

We see in Ambrose’ view a consideration of the consistency of biblical symbolism. The Church Fathers were not interested in philosophical speculation about numbers. Nor was the Apostle Paul. Risto Santala, the Finnish Bible scholar and expert on Paul, wrote, "The esoteric Qabbalah wandered off the right track in creating a very extensive literature on doctrines of angels and mysteries relating to God's being (razei El). Only those over the age of forty were allowed to study them. The angel RAZIEL, whose numeric value in gematria is 248 and who thus knew the inner secrets of the two hundred and forty-eight 'do'- commandments, gave Adam the 'Sefer Raziel', that is, 'the Book of Raziel', an esoteric source. The enormous literature of the Qabbalah is occupied with these imaginary conjectures. They indeed have 'an appearance of wisdom,' but both Jesus and Paul entirely renounced them."

Numbers, Gender, and the Cardinal Points

The number symbolism of the Bible emerges out of the far more ancient Afro-Asiatic cosmology which assigned numbers and gender virtues to the north, south, east and west. Thus the number one is assigned to north, and north is associated with the heavens, God’s eternal throne. The number six is assigned to south, the earth and all fleshly concerns. The number nine represents the west, the future, and the bridal chamber.

When the number 3 is associated with south it signifies peace on earth or "thy kingdom come". This is evident in the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. The city has twelve gates and sits on twelve foundation stones (Rev. 21:12-14). Three face east, three face north, three face south, and three face west. We may illustrate this as follows

3→ 3↑ 3↓ 3← Notice that the third position faces south.

Compare this to the “bronze sea” in Solomon’s temple that rested on twelve oxen (1 Kings 7:23-26).

3→ 3↑ 3↓ 3← Notice that they coincide.

Number symbolism among the ancients

Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors were deeply spiritual and regarded both the body and the spirit/soul as sacred and intended for immortality. The "second death" came when the two became separated at death. This explains why they took great pain to ritually bury their loved ones, and especially their rulers. They expected a Righteous Ruler to appear who would defeat death and lead his people to immortality. This is the origin of Messianic expectation.

Their worldview was binary in that it involved binary sets such as life-death, night-day, male-female, heaven-earth, etc. Gender dimorphism, the vertical and horizontal alignments of the cardinal points, and observation of fixed celestial patterns led to theological reflections such as those found in the Kabbalah.

Kabbalah is not the source of the number symbolism of Abraham's people. The symbolism is much older than Kabbalah, as Assyriologist Dr. Simo Parpola has shown in his treatment of this topic. (See Parpola's “The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 52, July 1993.)

The term Kabbalah is derived from the ancient Egyptian words ka and ba, which speak of the body and soul. These were to be kept together or one would not taste immortality. That is why Christianity stresses the value of the body and the necessity of the physical resurrection of Jesus, the "first born from the dead." He is the one who leads us to immortality.

The Ten Sefirot or the "Tree of Life" (shown right) is used to explain the mystical number symbolism of Kabbalah. The ten Sefirot are: 

1. Keter Elyon - the "supreme crown" of God
2. Hokmah - the "wisdom" of God
3. Binah - the "intelligence" of God
4. Hesed - the "greatness" or "love" of God
5. Din (Gevurah) - the "power" or "judgment" of God 
6. Rahamim (Tifaret) - the "compassion" or "beauty" of God
7. Netzah - the "lasting endurance" of God
8. Hod - the "majesty" of God
9. Tzaddik (Yesod Olam) - the "righteous one" or "foundation of the world"
10. Malkut - the "kingdom" of God 

[Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p.213; and Kabbalah, p.106]

The notion here is that of a shuttle moving back and forth. The weave requires redoubling to make the fabric or the web strong. The English word web is likely derived from the word keb or kab. Kab pertains to weaving with a shuttle. Weavers are called the ka, those who kab. Ka also refers to the the body which is "knit" in the womb. Ka-ba refers to the relationship of body and soul. Kab also implies a doubling or redoubling to strengthen.

This movement between points corresponds to the ancients' observations of the stars and constellations. They were adept at sidereal astronomy. Horus of the two horizons (east-west, dawn-dust) and Horus of the two crowns (north-south, Lower Nile-Upper Nile) are examples of how meaning is derived by holding 2 points in view. We see this in the Passover sacrifice at twilight, what is called in Hebrew ben ha-'arbayim, meaning "between the two settings." Rabbinic sources take this to mean "from noon on." According to Radak, the first "setting" occurs when the sun passes its zenith at noon and the shadows begin to lengthen, and the second "setting" is the actual sunset (p. 55, vol. 2, The Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentary, "Exodus").

The number symbolism of the Bible reveals influences from ancient Afro-Arabian mystical number symbolism and parallels are found in Kabbalah. It is difficult to say whether or not the numerological meanings were also held among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors who spread over the Arabian Peninsula and into India and beyond. Much of the number symbolism of the Bible is based on astronomical observation. According to Plato, the Nilotes had been star gazing and keeping records of astronomical events for 10,000 years. The numbers 7 and 72 especially related to astronomical observations. There are 7 visible planets (bowls) and this included the Sun.

The number 72 represents the number of years it takes for the constellations to move one degree due to precession. The precession of equinoxes traces out a pair of cones joined at their apices in a cycle of approximately 26,000 years, that is approximately 1 degree every 72 yearsThe Great Pyramid of Giza and Angkor Wat are nearly 72° apart. It has been noted also that Angkor Wat is located 72° of longitude east of the Giza Pyramids. The name Angkor correlates with the ancient Egyptian Anhk-Hor, meaning "Long live Horus." Images of Horus, Re's solar boat, and sacred cattle have been found there.

The Kabbalah speaks of seventy-two names of God, derived from Exodus 14:19-21, where each verse numbers seventy-two letters. In some folklore it is said that there were originally 72 peoples inhabiting the earth, all descendants of Noah.  The Igbo claim that these seventy-two peoples of the Earth match the seventy-two priest-kings of Edda in Igboland. Edda consists of 72 sub-villages, presumed to have descended from seventy-two priestly families of the distant past. The Qur'an speak of 72 Houris. The Houris are Horite beings of distinction or deified ruler-priests, Jesus Christ sent out 72 disciples, symbolic of the universal spread of His Gospel.

Besides astronomical observation, the ancient number symbolism involves the cardinal points in their binary sets: North-South and East-West. True south is assigned the number 6 and is associated with mortality, fleshly desires, the way of all flesh, marriage, and reproduction/fertility. North and East is associated with divine power, authority, judgement and renewal.

North is always the position of priority and is assigned the number 1, symbolizing the Uncreated One who Creates, the Cause of all Causes, Hidden God, I AM WHO I AM. Originally, the number 1 was attached to symbols/glyphs that have become letters: Y and O, both solar symbols. Among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors the sun was the emblem of the Creator and all other symbols were relative to that complex conception. For example, the Horite rulers were of the priestly caste devoted to Horus, the son of God. Their divine appointment was indicated by the solar cradle which represents the overshadowing of the Creator. So it is that these Horite rulers names begin with Y: Yaqtan (Joktan); Yisbak; Yishmael (Ishmael); Yitzak (Isaac); Yacob (Jacob); Yosef (Jospeh); Yeshai (Jesse); and Yetro (Jethro).

Praying toward the East symbolizes right “orientation” (orient = east) toward God. That is why the priest faces east and church altars are on the east wall. Respecting the male and the female aspects of life (male and female principles) is one way we show respect for one another. In this binary system, males and females are complementary and supplementary.

West is assigned the numbers 3, 9 and 10. The number 10 is actually the beginning of a new sequence as the Afro-Arabian number system was based on 9. The number 3 symbolizes the Spirit moving. The number 9 symbolizes the Bridegroom, and 10 symbolizes the birth of a New Reality or a New World.

East is assigned the numbers 7 and 8. These symbolize the Risen One/the One who Ascends/the Promised Royal Son who is often associated with David or David's Horite line from which Messiah is expected to come (and did come!) The word sheba (sheva) means seven and likely derives from the priestly clan of Sheba (kinsmen of  Dedan, Ramah, Ophir, and Joktan/Yaqtan). Their ancestors came from the Nile Valley and among them were the earliest known astronomers who noted seven visible planets/stars and thought of them as bowls in the heavens.

Beer-sheba can mean the "well of seven" or the "well of Sheba" and most likely means the latter. Abraham met and married his cousin wife Keturah in Beersheba. It was the southern most point of Abraham's territory in the land of Edom. David's claim to the throne was challenged by a ruler named Sheba. Sheba was a royal house with ties to the ancient Nubians.

The number 4 symbolizes God's tender love, grace and mercy shown to the four corners of the earth. Halfway between west and south is the number 5. Kabbalah teaches that 5 may go to 1. The person who is not consumed by the things of this world may go to God. The number 5 symbolizes judgment, strength and determination. The virtues of 4 and 5 are generally associated with the opposite gender to which they are assigned on the Ten Sefirot. Usually judgment, strength and determination are associated with the male principle and tender love, grace, mercy and with the female principle. But here we have a reversal. Reversals speak of supplementarity and meaning is mediated through the relationship of the opposites. Unlike Western metaphysics, which grants privilege to one side of an opposition and marginalizes the opposition (Jacques Derrida), the biblical system maintains the male and female principles as inseparable and supplementary, and derives meaning from their relationship.

While North is assigned the number one and priority, it necessary is followed by the number two which resides half way between 1 and 7/8, or halfway between north and east. Two is Logos, Generative Word that comes from the Father in a kenotic act. Christians will be reminded of Genesis 1 and of John’s Prologue: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…”

Rabbi Kaduri upon his death at age 108, left a signed note indicating Messiah's identity: Yeshua - Jesus. His manuscripts, written in his own hand, have cross-symbols painted all over the pages. Many Jews have attempted to explain away the crosses, arguing that the great Rabbi Kaduri was not a Christian. Whether or not he believed in the Incarnate Son who died on the Cross to save sinners, only God knows. As one of the world's authorities on Jewish mysticism, Rabbi Kaduri knew the tradition of Abraham's people expressed in symbols and numbers and, as St. Augustine reminds us, those confirm truth.

The ancient symbolism points to Jesus Christ, The Logos of God (2) who by the Spirit (3) became incarnate of the Virgin Mary (5), lived on earth among men and died (6) but rose from the dead, showing great mercy to all the world (4) and ascended as the Royal Son of God (7) who becomes the Royal Bridegroom (8) who enters the bridal chamber to consummate the marriage to his pure and spotless Bride, the Church (9) and from that union will be born a new reality, a new world (10).

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