The mass rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has led to considerations from some individuals that may be described as rational: What are the uncomfortable side effects? How efficient will the shot be? And then there are those that are anxious that the vaccine will model individuals with the “mark of the beast” as described in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.

The mark of the beast – a cryptic mark in Revelation which signifies allegiance to Satan – has been invoked by fringe Christian figures all through the pandemic in reference to what they deem to be the evil of masks and vaccines. It ranges from the seemingly metaphorical likening of vaccine passports by a Republican House consultant to one thing like “Biden’s mark of the beast” to the extra literal interpretation that these getting a vaccine can be marked as followers of Satan.

It is tempting to dismiss such beliefs out of hand. After all, it is a fringe concept promoted by conspiracy theorists. But the concept has gained sufficient traction that some medical institutions have felt the want to handle it head on. Minneapolis-based Hennepin Healthcare, for instance, states in an internet truth sheet that “the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain … The Mark of the Beast.”

As a scholar of early Christian literature, I’d observe that the mark of the beast in Revelation has all through historical past been misunderstood as referring to numerous occasions and phenomena. Its connection to the COVID-19 vaccine is but the newest instance of such misunderstanding.

Moreover, I argue that the mark in Revelation is greatest understood in the first-century context by which it was used, as a polemic in opposition to the Roman Empire.

Reading Revelation with first-century eyes

The Book of Revelation is a sophisticated textual content. Written towards the finish of the first century by an writer who calls himself John, the textual content is stuffed with symbolic imagery that has mystified readers for hundreds of years.

Using visions of angels and demons, loss of life and destruction, John tells a story of an ongoing cosmic battle between good and evil that can finish with good triumphing finally. The beast and its mark are each understood by this writer to be evil, and they’re some of the most well-known and most misunderstood elements of his story.

Story continues

In Revelation 13, John describes the beast as having seven heads and 10 horns, a leopard’s physique, the toes of a bear and a lion’s mouth. The beast on this textual content is highly effective, Satanic and is an object of worship.

There is additionally a second beast that promotes worship of the first. The most notable factor about the second beast is that it causes individuals to obtain a mark on their brow or proper hand with “the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

John concludes this chapter with a riddle: “Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.” (Rev 13:18).

The beast and the empire

Throughout historical past, this quantity has been used to demonize phenomena that readers are both cautious of or don’t totally perceive. It ought to come as no shock, then, that some have tried to join the COVID-19 vaccine to the mark in a comparable means.

This interpretation is problematic, nevertheless, and for 2 causes: First, the COVID-19 vaccines are fashionable phenomena that the writer of Revelation and his earliest readers would haven’t any familiarity with. Second, there is one other rationalization for the beast and its quantity that makes way more sense traditionally.

Many biblical students preserve that the first beast is a symbolic illustration of first-century Roman emperors. In this studying, every head would signify one emperor. While there is some debate in scholarship on which particular emperors the writer of Revelation is alluding to, there is pretty widespread settlement that Emperor Nero is one of them.

This conclusion is drawn not solely from different references to Nero in Revelation, but additionally from his status in the first century for persecuting Christians in Rome.

In A.D. 64, when Nero was emperor, a nice fireplace took maintain in Rome and burned for practically a week. Roman historians Suetonius, Cassius Dio and Tacitus declare that Nero himself was the one answerable for igniting the blaze, Tacitus provides that Nero tried to free himself of blame by putting guilt on the Christians dwelling in the metropolis.

Nero’s quantity

There are a quantity of different factors in Revelation the place the writer appears to allude to Nero. There is a attainable reference to the nice fireplace of Rome later in the textual content, for instance, in Revelation 17:16. John’s description of one of the beast’s heads being “wounded” might likewise be a reference to Nero’s loss of life, which Suetonius describes as a self-inflicted stab to the neck.

But maybe the clearest reference to Nero in Revelation is the notorious “666,” the quantity of the beast that constitutes the beast’s mark.

Past, not future

Although there was a lot hypothesis over the quantity’s significance in the previous, there is a rising physique of students who imagine it to be a direct reference to Nero.

There is a well-known follow in the historic world referred to as “gematria,” by which letters are assigned numerical values. This permits authors to refer to people by utilizing “the number of their name,” fairly than their precise title. And biblical students have lengthy famous that in Hebrew characters, the numerical worth of Nero’s formal title – Caesar Nero – is 666.

This, together with the different allusions to Nero in Revelation, leaves little doubt, I argue, as to who the writer is referencing with this quantity.

There is, nevertheless, one piece of this riddle left, and that is what precisely the mark of the beast in Revelation is. Given the symbolic nature of the ebook as a complete, the reference to being marked on the brow or hand is doubtless not one thing to be taken at face worth.

More necessary is John’s declare that nobody would have the ability to purchase or promote something with out having the mark that bears the title of the beast. So, what does one want to purchase and promote that may even have the title of the beast on it? One attainable reply to that query is cash – and we have now quite a few examples in the archaeological document of Roman coinage that bears the title Caesar Nero.

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One of the causes that Revelation is typically complicated to these making an attempt to interpret the ebook right this moment is that they steadily are educated to see it as a ebook about the future, when in actual fact it is primarily a ebook about the previous. Clearly, John and his first-century readers would have been in a position to know the reply to “What is the mark of the beast?” of their first-century context. Otherwise the textual content wouldn’t have made a lot sense to anybody when it was first written.

In different phrases: when John offers his “number of the beast” riddle to readers in the first century, he anticipates that it is a riddle they are going to be geared up to clear up in the first century.

While some might have lingering questions on COVID-19 vaccines, the query of whether or not these vaccines are linked to the mark of the beast shouldn’t be one of them.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit information website devoted to sharing concepts from educational consultants. It was written by: Eric M. Vanden Eykel, Ferrum College.

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Eric M. Vanden Eykel does not work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.

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