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Number


Number. Like most Oriental nations, it is probable that the Hebrews in their written calculations made use of the letters of the alphabet. That they did so in post-Babylonian times we have conclusive evidence in the Maccabæan coins; and it is highly probable that this was the case also in earlier times. But though, on the one hand, it is certain that in all existing MSS of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament the numerical expressions are written at length, yet, on the other, the variations in the several versions between themselves and from the Hebrew text, added to the evident inconsistencies in numerical statement between certain passages of that text itself, seems to prove that some shorter mode of writing was originally in vogue, liable to be misunderstood, and in fact misunderstood by copyists and translators. These variations appear to have proceeded from the alphabetic method of writing numbers. There can be little doubt, however, that some at least of the numbers mentioned in Scripture are intended to be presentative rather than determinative. Certain numbers, as 7, 10, 40, 100, were regarded as giving the idea of completeness. Without entering into St. Augustine’s theory of this usage, we may remark that the notion of representative numbers in certain cases is one extremely common among eastern nations, who have a prejudice against counting their possessions accurately; that it enters largely into many ancient systems of chronology, and that it is found in the philosophical and metaphysical speculations not only of the Pythagorean and other ancient schools of philosophy, both Greek and Romans, but also in those of the later Jewish writers, of the Gnostics, and also of such Christian writers as St. Augustine himself. We proceed to give some instances of numbers used, (a) representatively, and thus probably by design indefinitely, or, (b) definitely, but, as we may say, preferentially, i.e., because some meaning (which we do not in all cases understand) was attached to them.

1. Seven, as denoting either plurality or completeness, perhaps because seven days completed the week, is so frequent as to make a selection only of instances necessary, e.g., seven fold, Gen. 4:24; seven times, i.e., completely, Lev. 26:24; Ps. 12:6; seven (i.e., many) ways, Deut. 28:25. 2. Ten as a preferential number is exemplified in the Ten Commandments and the law of tithe. 3. Seventy, as compounded of 7 1/2 10, appears frequently, e.g., seventy fold. Gen. 4:24; Matt. 18:22. Its definite use appears in the offerings of 70 shekels, Num. 7:13, 19ff.; the 70 elders, ch. 11:16; 70 years of captivity. Jer. 25:11. 4. Five appears in the table of punishments, of legal requirements, Ex. 22:1; Lev. 5:16; 22:14; 27:15; Num. 5:7; 18:16, and in the five empires of Daniel. Dan. 2. 5. Four is used in reference to the 4 winds, Dan. 7:2, and the so-called 4 corners of the earth; the 4 creatures, each with 4 wings and 4 faces, of Ezekiel, Ezek. 1:5ff.; 4 rivers of Paradise, Gen. 2:10; 4 beasts, Dan. 7 and Rev. 4:6; the 4 equal-sided temple-chamber. Ezek. 40:47. 6. Three was regarded, by both the Jews and other nations, as a specially complete and mystic number. 7. Twelve (3 1/2 4) appears in 12 tribes, 12 stones in the high priest’s breastplate, 12 apostles, 12 foundation-stones, and 12 gates. Rev. 21:19-21. 8. Lastly, the mystic number 666. Rev. 13:18.