One among many issues in the book of Revelation concerns the mark of the beast–666. While I have my own interpretation/understanding of what that means, it’s been the subject of intense debate over the years. A plethora of candidates have been offered–Muhammad, the Roman Catholic Church, the papacy, various individual popes, Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Martin Luther, Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III, Mussolini, Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan (each of his three names had six letters—666), Anwar Sadat, Muammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein, and I’m sure Obama has been added to this list by some.
One common suggestion for figuring out who the beast is (many scholars point to Nero) is the use of gematria, the practice of assigning numerical value to letters in cultures thad had no distinct numerals (used by both Jewish and Greco-Roman writers). Much of the discussion about this circles around the transliteration of Nero’s name in Greek into Hebrew and, via gematria, you come out with a numerical value of 666.
I was recently involved in a discussion of this and it was suggested that one reason it was unlikely to be Nero is the fact that one would have to transliterate the name (and title) of Nero into Hebrew. My question is this–why would this evidence be considered to weigh against identifying Nero as the beast? It is well known and quite obvious that John assumes his audiences’ familiarity with the OT, so why should we not assume they would have been familiar enough with Hebrew to know what John meant? He has cloaked his rebuke of the empire in the imagery of the OT (and be extension the ANE; he also uses imagery familiar to the Greco-Roman world), so why would this be any exception?
Just a thought–what say ye?
Αυτω η δοξα
 Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 268.