"Looked at my watch and it it said 6:66. That's devil cock, baby!"
- The Frogs
A few months back I was walking past a herd of mouth-breathers who were protesting outside of my neighborhood Planned Parenthood, when one of the proto-hominids asked me "What if Jesus* had been aborted?" Unknown to this poor, backward idiot, I'd been waiting for years for someone to ask me that question. "What if you're preventing a woman from aborting the Anti-Christ?" I replied. From the puzzled look on the ape's face you'd think I'd put a gun to his head and told him that I'd pull the trigger if he could explain Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity.
And in other Anti-Christ-related news:
Former satirist turned dancing monkey for the Democratic Party Al Franken once asked perennial punch line Jerry Falwell if it was true that Falwell had said that the anti-Christ was currently among us and is Jewish. Falwell nervously explained that since Jesus was Jewish the anti-Christ would be Jewish. Without missing a beat, and much to his credit, Franken then asked "It's not Marvin Hamlisch; is it?" The odd thing (odd even for Falwell) is that the Reverend refused to rule out Hamlisch as a candidate for The Beast, causing Franken to wonder "Why would the anti-Christ write Chorus Line? Why would the anti-Christ write The Way We Were?" I don't know about you, Al, but to me, those seem like exactly the sorts of things the anti-Christ would do.
I mention these incidents of nonbelievers encountering the righteously ill-informed because 06/06/06 is just around the corner and we need to prepare ourselves for the assload of craziness that's going to be riding in its sidecar. If you want to shut you superstitious coworkers' mouths before you have to hear two syllables of "End Times" bullshit there's something you'll need to know, and that something is the identity of the anti-Christ (Since John never uses the term "anti-Christ" in the Book of Revelation - and aren't you sick of people calling it the Book of Revelations - the correct term is really "The Beast.")
And the winner is: Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. You really wanted it to be Marvin Hamlisch; didn't you? Well, if you're going to read this site, you should learn to get used to being disappointed. So how does the Emperor Nero get to be The Beast? To find out, we'll get to combine two of my favorite pastimes: talking about ancient history and pissing off Fundies.
A little history about Nero.
Born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus on the 15th of December of 37 CE to Agrippina the Younger and Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus. Lucius would later change his name after his was adopted by his great uncle, the emperor Claudius whom his mother had married and whom she and Nero would later conspire to poison (Agrippina and Nero also murdered Claudius' son Britannicus).
Since Nero was only sixteen when he ascended to the throne, Agrippina acted as his co-regent. This arrangement didn't sit well with Nero who eventfully decided to knock off his own mother, which turned out to be easier said than done. After a failed attempts at poisoning Agrippina and rigging the ceiling of her bedroom to cave-in, Nero hit upon the idea of having a collapsible boat built in which his mother would suffer a "downing accident". It was a brilliant plan: or it would've been, had not the amphibious Agrippina managed to swim to the shore. After this Nero was forced to go old school and have his mother beaten and stabbed to death. Happy Mothers' Day, everybody!
Other highlights of Nero's reign include kicking his wife, Poppaea Sabina, to death, using Christians as human torches with which to light his garden parties, his winning chariot race despite the fact that he fell of his chariot (let's see 'em try that in NASCAR), and the occasional public act of cross-dressing. All-in-all, still a better record than Bush.
Meanwhile, thanks to Nero's incompetence and fondness for executing people, the situation in Rome had grown so desperate that the praetorian prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, convinced his troops to abandon their allegiance to Nero and the senate condemned the emperor to death by flogging.
Rather than face this ignoble death, Nero committed suicide (actually he had to ask an assistant to help him) on June ninth of 68 CE, just after uttering the famous line "Qualis artifex pereo".
Local boy makes God.
According to Irenaeus, the Book of Revelation was written towards the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian (roughly 95 CE), during a time of great Roman persecution towards Christians. Since John couldn't title his book "Rome can suck my balls" without getting his head lobbed off, he chose to veil his criticism in the fog of ancient symbolism.
So, if Nero died 68, why isn't Domitian The Beast? Well, it seems that a lot of people during the First Century were certain that Nero was going to stage a huge comeback: from beyond the grave. Booooooooo! This zombie-messiah ideology was propelled by the fact that in the years following Nero's suicide, several pretenders appeared throughout the Empire claiming to be the former Emperor.
So, did John think that Nero would be coming back from the dead? Revelation 13:1 describes The Beast as having seven heads (just as Rome has seven hills): one with a mortal wound that was healed. Many scholars believe that this is an allusion to Nero's impending return from beyond. Since John believed that Jesus had died and returned from the dead, so would it be necessary for John's ant-Christ figure to do the same.
You're still not convinced, are you? Skepticism is a good thing. Here's some more proof:
"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."
- Revelation 13:18
In both Hebrew and Greek numerical values were assigned to the letters of the alpabet. Making word games from the numerical value of the letters in names was the Dungeons and Dragons of the first century: a pastime for pathetic geeks. In fact, Suetonius passes along this graffito from the time of Nero:
Count the value of the letters in Nero's name and in "Murdered his own mother" you'll find the same.
Here are the values for each letter in the Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar: nun = 50, resh = 200, waw = 6, nun = 50, quph = 100, samekh = 60, resh = 200. Add 'em up and you get Six hundred threescore and six.
By the way, Nero was also the sixth of the Ceasers
Oddly, third and fourth century versions of the Book of Revelation have been discovered in which the number of The Beast" isn't 666, but 616. There's an alternate Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar and yes this adds up to 616.
So when June sixth rolls around and your Christian coworkers started bleating about the anti-Christ, calm them down by explaining that it's highly unlikely that Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus probably isn't coming back anytime soon.
PS. Be sure to pick up a copy of the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology. It contains a great article about the "Satan's Throne" which touches heavily on this subject.
* But what would Jesus think about abortion? As a Jew living in the first century of the Common Era, Yoshua ben Yosef (or Pantera) would've believed that infants did not have souls until they were forty days old. In other words, Jesus' opinion about abortion would differ greatly from Operation Rescue's.
The Latin phrase of the day is:
Qualis artifex pereo - What an artist the world loses in me.