Isopsephia (iso meaning "equal" and psephos meaning pebble") is the name for the practice of adding up the number values of the letters in a word or a phrase to form a number. A Greek synonym for the word "pebbles" is kalkuli and is the origin of the word "calculate." The early Greeks used pebbles arranged in patterns to learn arithmetic and geometry. Here are some famous examples of ancient isopsephia riddles and one of my new discoveries.
Nero = The Mother Killer
The Roman historian Suetonius recorded this isopsephia riddle in his account of the Roman Emperor Nero, who reigned from 54-68 AD. After the people learned that Nero ordered the assassination of his own mother (59AD) the following piece of graffiti was written on the walls of the city:
Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, circa 110 AD
The isopsephia value of Nero (Nerwn = 50+5+100+800+50) and "killed his own mother" (idian mhtera apekteine = 75 + 454 + 476) both add up to "1005."
The Sibylline Jesus Riddle
Here is an isopsephia riddle from the Christian Sibylline Oracles which the early Church falsely claimed were written before the time of Christianity and which were widely touted as prophesies of the new religion:
The Sibylline Oracles, circa 150 AD
To solve the riddle, the son of God has to have a name with four vowels and two consonants plus the numerical value of all the letters in his name have to add up to 8 + 80 + 800. Of course the only name that matches all these conditions is the Greek name Iesous.
Jesus = IhsouV = 10+8+200+70+400+200
The four vowels are I, E, O, U ... the two consonants are the letter S ... and all six Greek letters add up to "888."
The Caulacau and Abraxas Riddles of Basilides
Basilides was a Gnostic scholar who taught in Alexandria during the reign of Hadrian 117-138 AD. He wrote the Exegetica in the 130's, a work of 24 volumes of which only a few fragments have been preserved in quotes from Clement, Origen, and Irenaeus. Here are some examples of isopsephia riddles unknowingly recorded by the early Church father Ireneaus in his tirade against the Gnostic doctrines of Basilides:
Basilides was absolutely famous for combining mathematics with religion. Orthodox Christians viewed the practice of isopsephia as a kind of "number magic" and the graphing of diagrams (images) as "another kind of curious art." There are three isopsehia riddles hidden in Irenaeus's account:
The Sarapis Riddle
Here is an example of an isopsephia riddle that can be found in pseudo-Callisthenes' biography of Alexander the Great. On the occasion of his ordering the Egyptian city of Alexandria to be built, a God appeared to Alexander in a dream and gave him this oracle:
Alexander allegedly solved the riddle by writing down the string of numbers given to him in the dream (200 + 1 + 100 + 1 + 80 + 10 + 200) and then switching each number for its corresponding Greek letter to spell out the name Sarapis (SARAPIS). Like so many ancient historiographies, the story was a fabrication because the god Sarapis didn't exist when Alexander was living. Sarapis was created by order of Ptolomy (Alexander's successor) so that the new god would share the attributes of two Egyptian gods (Osiris and Apis) and two Greek gods (Apollo and Zeus) for the purpose of uniting the religious beliefs of the Greek ruling class with its Egyptian subjects.
The Calculation of Strato
Anus and Gold have the same numerical value: I once discovered this while casually calculating.
The Musa Puerilis of Strato of Sardis, epigram XII, 6.
The Greek word proktos (prwktoV = 1570) means "anus" and Chrusos (crusoV = 1570) means "gold."
The Secret Meaning of the 318 Males Circumcised by Abraham
Learn therefore, children of love, concerning all things abundantly, that Abraham, who first appointed circumcision, looked forward in the spirit unto Jesus, when he circumcised having received the ordinances of three letters. For the scripture says: And Abraham circumcised of his household eighteen males and three hundred. What then was the knowledge given to him? Understand that He said the "eighteen" first, and then after an interval "three hundred." In the eighteen 'I' stands for ten, 'H' for eight. Here you have JESUS (IHSOUS). And because the cross in the 'T' was to have grace, he said "three hundred. So he revealed Jesus in the two letters, and in the remaining one the cross.
Epistle of Barnabas 9:6-7, circa 71-131 AD
Barnabas is refering to the 318 men born in the house of Abram whom he sent on a rescue mission (Genesis 14:14). The traditional rabbinic explanation is that 318 is the isopsephia value of the Hebrew name Elizer, Abrams chief servant and heir who was also the captain of the 318 men. Barnabas explained that the number 318, through Greek isopsephia, secretly stood for the first two Greek initials of Jesus (I H = 10 +8) and that the Greek letter Tau (T = 300) because of it's appearance, represented the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
The Sacred Geometry Mysteries
of Jesus Christ
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