"These are men that have the mark of the beast in their foreheads and right hands"

The Number of the Beast is 666, c.1805
Public DomainThe Number of the Beast is 666, c.1805 - Credit: William Blake

The Beast is a monstrous creature whose coming is foretold in the Book of Revelation. A veritable walking bestiary, he is likened to a leopard with the feet of a bear, the mouth of a lion, the horns of a lamb and the voice of a dragon. He is equipped with miraculous powers that are predicted to entrance the unregenerate

“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 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 13:16-18)

Speculations about what the number 666 may represent have run wild. Some scholars have postulated that it is a code for the tyrannical Roman Emperor Nero; others that it signifies Martin Luther, Napoleon or John Knox. Significantly in this context, a number of Protestant Reformers associated it with Papacy.