The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine—better known as the Book of Revelation—is the final book of the Christian Bible, and also the strangest. Its prophesy of the End of Days is filled with veiled references, obscure symbols, and enigmatic allusions, the most famous being Revelation 13:17-18: “No one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or name of the beast, or the number of his name, and his number is 666.”
For two millennia, this mysterious sentence has both attracted and baffled the finest minds in Christendom, from early Church fathers Irenaeus and Augustine, to modern scholars Robert Graves and Elaine Pagels. Who, or what, is “the beast”? What does the beast have to do with buying and selling? And what is the meaning of 666?