A newly discovered fragment of the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament indicates that, as far as the Antichrist goes, theologians, scholars, heavy metal groups, and television evangelists have got the wrong number. Instead of 666, it’s actually the far less ominous 616.

The new fragment from the Book of Revelation, written in ancient Greek and dating from the late third century, is part of a hoard of previously unintelligible manuscripts discovered in historic dumps outside Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Now a team of expert classicists, using new photographic techniques, are finally deciphering the original writing.

Professor David Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, thinks that 616, although less memorable than 666, is the original. He said: “This is an example of gematria, where numbers are based on the numerical values of letters in people’s names. Early Christians would use numbers to hide the identity of people who they were attacking: 616 refers to the Emperor Caligula.”

The Book of Revelation is traditionally considered to be written by John, a disciple of Jesus; it identifies 666 as the mark of the Antichrist. In America, the fundamentalist Christian right often use the number in sermons about the coming Apocalypse.

This is the sort of news that could shake the faith of a lot of people (especially those unfamiliar with how the Bible was put together/decided on in the first place) and piss off a lot of people who now have to airbrush their tattoos in their efforts to remain shocking. Neither topic is what I was going to write about. This is serving as an excuse for me to post one of the comments from my Hollywood Jesus blog review of War of the Worlds:

the coming of Jesus Christ will be MUCH different from this movie. Jesus’ coming will not EVER be for entertainment purposes and will be far more SPECTACULARLY profound than anything that Speilberg could ever contrive.
FIRSTLY … When the Rapture takes place, there will be such chaos that only the coming of the AntiChrist will put people’s mind’s at rest by means of the big lie. JESUS SECOND COMING AT THE END OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION (WHICH WILL MAKE WAR OF THE WORLDS SEEM LIKE A ROMP IN THE PARK)WILL BE UNPARALLELED FOR ETERNITY AND WILL MAKE THE GREAT FLOOD OF NOAH’S TIME SEEM LIKE A SUNSHOWER. War of the Worlds shows that Satan is REALLY getting very restless and knows that his time OF JUDGEMENT is VERY near. Like a man on Death Row, Satan sees the FINAL writing on the wall and is using every means to convince himself that he will be victorious. But the Lake of Fire and its Eternal Burnings are all that he and those who have rejected Jesus Christ have to look forward to. Movies like Independence Day, War of the Worlds, the Day the Earth stood still etc. are subconscious intimations of men concerning the judgement to come. Actually they are merely distractions … substituting ‘alien invasions’ for the Second Coming of Christ. But it is a poor substitute. As it was in Noah’s Day so it is in our own time … and the door of the Ark is about to be shut by the Lord. All truly Born Again believers should look up for our redemption is very close … closer than we thought. Uncompromising love for Christ and non-conformity to the tremendous deceptions of the day should guide the Christian in his/her daily walk with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God the Father. As Jesus said to the High Priest at his illegal trial: “..ye shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds on the right hand of the POWER with His Father’s angels and with great glory…” . Will you be with Christ when he returns? or will He be your judge. Scientologist cultist Tom Cruise and Jewish director Stephen Speilberg should ponder this question.

My response:

Okay, true, Christ’s second coming will look a lot different than what Spielberg has imagined in this movie. I suspect that His coming will not involve too many aliens. It’s just a guess on my part however. To say that Jesus’ second coming will not ever be for entertainment purposes rather belies the entire “Left Behind” cottage industry (movies included). This brand of
eschatology (the theology of end times) has actually only been around for the last couple hundred years. That’s not a whole long time in the two thousand plus years of church history.

Judging from some of my e-mails, this is a common take on “War of the Worlds”: seeing it as some sort of judgment of humanity/earth that people seem to “know” is coming and are trying to work out in their art. Another take on “War of the Worlds”, however, could go something along the lines of this: people can become so concerned with their personal salvation that they often condemn the world, their community, their neighbors in the process. But, hey, at least their theology was “right” and they weren’t “Left Behind”.

My eschatology is simple: Jesus Christ will return. What this will look like, I don’t know. The point isn’t to fret about he details of how or treat the book of Revelation similar to the work of Nostradamus. Nor is the point to paint scary scenarios in the hope of scaring people into heaven. I think we tried that already with our Medieval depictions of hell. For that matter, Left Behind is little more than poorly written Dante. I don’t think the point is making sure that I’m going to be “there” when Christ returns or make sure that my butt makes it into heaven. I think that the point is to make sure that I join with God in His mission to be a blessing to the world, for me to be salt and light, while I am here. Loving my neighbor as myself, rather than sitting in judgment, isn’t a bad place to start.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.