Very few things in 20th and 21st century America have fostered as much superstitious nonsense as the overflowing abundance of completely clueless, utterly ignorant ideas about the meaning of the “mark of the beast” mentioned in The Revelation of John the Divine. Almost all of the misconception and its concommitant idiocy derives from a profoundly zero knowledge of Judaism at all and less-than-zero of any real information about the religion of “Jews” and the real Palestine of the first century.
I have placed the word “Jews” in parentheses because, as I have explained elsewhere, it meant something entirely different in the first centuries BCE/CE than it does in the twenty-first century.
The King James Version of the Bible calls these “phylacteries”. Observant Judean (the only meaning of “Jew” in the first century), Idumean, and Galilean males in first century wore tefillin as part of their daily dress, as opposed to the custom today in which Orthodox (and some other varieties of Judaism) tie them on for morning and evening private prayer. They were worn on the forehead and on the left wrist (now the left upper arm).
The practice came out of the Pharisee camp. It is based on verses in the Book of Deuteronomy which still form its core passage, Deut. 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: Yahuweh our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
The sentence in bold provides the reason for the Pharisees’ interpretation of the passage as a mitzvoth, or duty. While some of their followers almost certainly adhered to the practice, as a whole, the Sadducees, Bene Sedeq (forerunners of today’s Karaites), Essenes, Hellenists, and other sects did not. Neither, of course, did the Samaritans. Of those mentioned, the Karaites are all that remain (well, except the 750 Samaritans) and still do not wear tefillin ever, because they interpret the passage to be metaphorical.
The original passage so worn was merely the first verse, “Hear, O Israel: Yahuweh our God is one Lord”. Not so much to worry about wearing around balled up in a scroll inside a tiny pouch. Then it expanded to include the whole passage above, then to include three more passages, so that pouch grew into a box, then into a large box, too bulky for daily casual wear.
So, wearing this passage, “Hear, O Israel: Yahuweh our God is one Lord”, was for those afore-mentioned first century residents of Palestine a way of writing the “Name of the Lord” (Yahuweh) on their forehead and their hands, or wrists. One of these, and probably a 20th or 21st century Jew, would understand the passage about the followers of “the beast” writing his/its name on their foreheads and hands immediately.
The Name of “the Beast”: 666
Superstitious fear about this number, 666, became so widespread in the latter half of the 20th century that it now has its own psychological diagnosis: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.
From whence the number 666 in Revelation? For it to be used in the allegory that is the work in question, which is not a prophecy but an apocalypse, one of hundreds written at the time, such symbolism would have to be readily understood by its target audience, else it would be like addressing a letter to Americans in general in ancient Hebrew, or in any other language not American English, for that matter.
In the First Book of Kings, the amount of the fictitious Solomon’s annual revenue is given as follows (1 Kings 10:14): “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold”. By the first century, the number “666” had to come to symbolize wealth, especially excessive wealth at the expense of others.
Capitalist government and society have written 666 on the foreheads and left hands of every citizen of the country. We Americans love our 666, or $$$ if you would rather. The great 666/$$$ is what makes our nation go around, at least at the levels of the top. Keepers and diviners of the 666/$$$ of the finance bourgeoisie are its prophets.
Not only our President and Congress but even our Courts and often even prelates and clerics hold up the 666/$$$ to be praised and adored, indirectly sometimes but often blatantly.
“There is no god but 666/$$$, and Wall Street is its prophet”. We symbolically wear virtual tefillin with the line “Love 666/$$$ our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" as bracelets on our wrists and frontlets on our foreheads every day. The great war of the tribulation is over; we are all servants of the great 666, whose lawgiver is Ayn Rand, that philosopher so beloved by so many of the white supremacist-Christian chauvinist-misogynist Tea Party, wearing a White Jesus mask.
Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple grounds. American government and society has not only invited them back in but enthroned them as gods in the Holy of Holies in the form of corporations now deemed “persons” by all four branches (legislative, executive, judicial, and corporate) of the de facto American polity. If a corporation were actually a person, that person would be a psychopath. There’s no treatment for psychopathy, therefore capitalism cannot be “reformed”. It is like an old wineskin that needs to be discarded.