What does 99 mean in the bible

The Bible

Origin, world of thought, theology ...


1. Difficulties in dealing with numbers in the Bible

When we speak of numbers in the Old Testament, it is important to keep in mind that the Hebrew has no number of their own.

As is well known, our numerals were not spread until later, through the Arabs. That is why they are also called Arabic numerals.

Initially, the Hebrew did not know any number signs of his own. Accordingly, as elsewhere, one made do with assigning numerical values ​​to the letters of the alphabet. So you could easily use letters as numerals.

If we look at this using the example of the Latin alphabet, then the "a" would mean the number 1, the "b" the number 2, the "c" the number 3 and so on.

We now have no more than 22 characters in the Hebrew alphabet. This means that with this method only 22 numbers can be directly represented by a number sign. You didn't just count from 1 to 22 - which is quite common from time to time - but continued after 10 characters with 20, 30, 40, ... and then with 100, 200, 300 ... But even with double assignments, only 27 numbers could be represented by a single character.

This already makes it clear that you cannot do great math with this way of writing numbers.

Hence it is understandable that the Hebrews did not find numbers easy. In the OT we hardly find any exact figures, especially when the number of those who are reported exceeds a certain order of magnitude. And if there are even a large number of objects or people, then one often makes do with the banal statement that it was a matter of a thousand or many thousands.

You can imagine it as if you met five professors on the way to the cafeteria and then said to a friend:

"This morning I met a thousand professors again!"

As in this idiom, the number thousand in OT very often simply stands for the expression "immeasurably much". One must therefore enjoy such figures with the appropriate caution and take them for what they are, as descriptions of proportions and proportions and not as exact figures.

2. The symbolic content of individual numbers ⋅2⋅

But not only the number thousand has to be interpreted in a special way. Numbers in general have a very special meaning in the Old Testament. There is a real number symbolism.

The mysterious religious interpretation of numbers beyond their real arithmetic value goes back to the earliest times and is already encountered in natural religions.

It certainly has its reason, first of all, in the simple contemplation of nature.

  • The measure and the orderly variety of things,
  • the multiplicity of parts and links of a whole,
  • the symmetry of an object or even the human body
  • the diverse polarities in human life, such as day and night
  • or the change of the seasons and phases of the moon

All of this gives cause to think about the numbers, their reason and meaning.

Thus number becomes the given measure of space and time. At the same time, however, it also has a share in the mystical-religious significance of these dimensions. Yes, it then even becomes the actual expression of the mystical-religious dimension of space and time.

The Babylonian culture has therefore imagined that the numbers are of divine origin. ⋅3⋅ And here a proper system for interpreting numbers was also developed.

From Mesopotamia, all other ancient cultures and religions in India, Persia, Greece and even ancient Israel were influenced. And mediated through the OT and then the NT, the number symbolism then penetrates into the Christian culture.

The number symbolism that we find in the Old Testament is accordingly not only originally from the Old Testament, but has to be seen in the larger context of antiquity.

We can only guess at some of the symbolic contents. And it is particularly difficult to understand how such a symbolic meaning came about and what its background is. I would therefore like to try to give some hints for the interpretation of just a few numbers.

  • 1: That is the number of the origin and the measure of the numbers in general. The number 1 therefore becomes a symbol for the primordial, indivisible and then also the divine.
  • 2: The number 2 then means, among other things, opposition, separation, polarity, the duality of male and female, right and left, good and bad (see yin and yan), active and passive, sun and moon, day and night.
    In the Christian tradition there is then the polarity OT and NT, and above all God and man with regard to Jesus Christ (two natures in Christ).
  • 3: Some suspect that the number 3 originally received its meaning in the environment of primitive children, in whom the ability to count was already pushed to its limits at the number three. This could also have been reflected in the well-known saying that someone cannot count on 3.
  • Since I then reached the limit of counting with counting 3, the number 3 could originally have got the meaning of "the comprehensive".
  • Another possibility for the origin of this meaning could be explained by looking at the trinity of father, mother and child as the primordial cell of human coexistence.
  • As the whole, the comprehensive, the number 3 then definitely becomes the number of holiness and perfection. This is expressed, for example, in the divine triads of antiquity, such as the three gods Anu, Enlil and Ea in Babylon, which stand for heaven, air and earth.
  • In the Christian realm, this divine trinity is expressed in the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • In the Israel of the Bible, the 3 is encountered as a divine number, for example, in the famous passage Isa 6: 3:
  • "In the year of the death of King Uzziah I saw the Lord Yahweh sitting on a high and exalted throne; his train filled the sanctuary. Seraphs stood before him; each had six wings. With two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and He floated with two of them. And one of them kept shouting to the other: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory" "(Isa. 6: 1-3).
  • Another example is the visit of the three men to Abraham in Gen. 18. It is noticeable that this text is structured in many layers. One layer speaks of the fact that Yahweh entered with Abraham. In the other, these three men are spoken of instead of Yahweh.
  • And when Genesis speaks of man being created in God's image (Gen 1:27), then in this verse the expression "created", the Hebrew word ברא ["bara>"] also used three times:
  • "So God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him. Man and woman he created them." (Gen 1:27.)
  • 4: The number 4, on the other hand, has physically cosmic relationships.
    • 4 wind and cardinal points,
    • 4 seasons
    • 4 world elements.
  • Hence it becomes quite harmonious with the number of the world. This is expressed in the Old Testament, for example, in the 4 streams of paradise or the 4 world empires, which in Dan 7 shape the vision of the prophet.
  • 5: Five is, among other things, the number of planets known in antiquity. Hence - how exactly I cannot go into more detail now, we cannot deal with the entire ancient theory of numbers here - it becomes the number of the Babylonian mother and love goddess Istar, the wife of the sky god Anu. ⋅4⋅ Mediated via Istar, the five later becomes the number of Venus. Through these goddesses, who always imply the idea of ​​sexuality and fertility, the five becomes the number of the wedding.
  • This thought is reflected in the New Testament in the five foolish and five wise virgins invited to the wedding supper. ⋅5⋅
  • 6: In ancient times, the number six is ​​the number of the macrocosm or the cosmos in contrast to the heavenly, divine sphere. Hence the number of days of creation in the world is six. Six is ​​half of twelve. With the twelve we shall see that it is the number of heavenly perfection. Six would then be the conditioned, earthly perfection. Hence it is also the number of the ages of the people.
  • The seraphim's wings are, as we have seen above, also six. The product 2 x 3, three pairs of wings, certainly plays a role here. The Star of David is to be interpreted in a very similar way. It is composed of two equilateral triangles. ⋅6⋅
  • 7: The number seven is the sign of wholeness, abundance and perfection in the Babylonian and Israelite religions. It is the sum of 3 and 4. This is underlined again by the fact that the number of planets, according to ancient ideas, increased by the sun and moon is seven. With this the seven also becomes the number of the perfection of the universe. In this sense it is also adopted by the Greeks and later also by Augustine.
  • This is reflected in a number of places in the Old Testament. 7 times it says in Gen 1 when the world was created ברא ["bara>"] =" he created ", although, interestingly, 8 works are mentioned here. This underlines the symbolic content of the list.
  • In the same context "and God saw that it was good" is said 7 times; 7 times it says "and it was so"; and of course God rests on the seventh day.
  • The 7 animal sacrifices in Num 28.11 and Ez 45.23 are part of the long series of "sevens" in the Old Testament.

    This is where the seven-armed candlestick belongs, or the seven fat and the seven lean cows in Pharaoh's dream from Genesis.
    Incidentally, Item 3,9a is also of importance. Here the prophet lets Yahweh speak to Joshua:

  • "Thus says Yahweh Zebaot: If you walk in my ways and do my service right, then you are to administer my house and guard my courtyards, yes I will give you access to those who stand here. For, see, the stone that I am Joshua have presented - seven eyes rest on the one stone - see, I will engrave an inscription, says Yahweh Zebaot ". (Sach 3,7.9a.)
  • The seven eyes are a symbol for Yahweh and here especially for his omnipresence and omniscience.
  • The New Testament and the Christian tradition are in line with this number symbolism
    • the seven sacraments,
    • the seven loaves with which Jesus feeds the multitude
    • and the seven petitions of the Our Father.
    • Seven is the number of virtues
    • of deadly sins,
    • of the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
    • of works of mercy.
  • The Apocalypse knows a lot of groups of sevens.
    In Islam, too, the number seven recurs as a sacred number. ⋅7⋅
  • 10: The number 10 is first and foremost the number of fingers. This is important in so far as the ten fingers were often used as a counting aid in the early days. Especially when reciting memorized phrases, you could orientate yourself quite easily with your fingers. For this reason, in ancient times there were quite often rows of tens of certain sentences, when the fingers were used as a counting aid when they were recited.
  • The set of commandments of the Decalogue certainly belongs to these rows of ten. The ten number was primarily a memory aid. You could use your fingers to help you recite the commandments and count the order of the commandments on them.
  • These old rows of ten are then reverberated in later times in artistically designed lists. Perhaps the Decalogue also has an effect on the 10 words of creation.
  • The number 10 is then also used as the number of historical epochs and therefore occurs again and again in the gender lists:
    • there are 10 generations from Adam to Noah
    • 10 generations from Shem to Abraham
    • but also 10 original kings of the Babylonians and Egyptians. ⋅8⋅
  • 12: The number 12 is the great cosmic number in China as well as in Babylon. It is the basic number of the sexagesimal system.
    • As the product of 3 and 4, it becomes the number of heavenly perfection. Hence it is also the number of the zodiac.
    • In Egypt the day is divided into 12 hours and the year into 12 months. The Gnostic emanation ⋅9⋅ knew 12 aeons.
    • The number 12 is also the number of completeness and holiness through the background of the numbers 3 and 4.
    • Ultimately, it becomes the number of the national community in Israel, which is reflected in the
    • 12 tribes of Israel, but also expressed in the speech of 12 great judges in the book of judges. ⋅10⋅
  • 40: Astronomically speaking, the number 40 denotes the number of days during which the Pleiades disappear behind the sun. So it is the number of their escape time. This astronomical observation shapes the meaning of the number 40. From now on it becomes the number of flight, but then also the number of expectation and preparation. Examples include the 40 years in the desert or the 40 days of Jesus' stay in the desert. ⋅11⋅

This may suffice as an indication of the diverse meanings of individual numbers at this point.

3. Use of ideal numbers

The so-called ideal numbers are about a slightly different kind of symbolic content of individual numbers. Ideal numbers are numbers that are often artfully put together. The multiplication of numbers is a popular means.

Ideal numbers are used with preference, for example, for age information. The age of the fathers is often expressed in ideal numbers.

  • Abraham, for example, lived to be 175 years old, which is the product 7 x 5 x 5.
  • Isaac's age was 180 years (5 x 6 x 6).
  • Jacob was 147 years old (3 x 7 x 7).

While the meaning of the first examples can hardly be deciphered (at least the sequence of 5 x 5 - 6 x 6 - 7 x 7 is striking), the underlying reasoning behind this can still be clearly understood with Jacob: The age of Jacob as the progenitor of Israel corresponds to the product of the divine number 3, and the square of the number of perfection.

  • Josef was 110 years old. The product is not decisive here. The number 110 should go back to an Egyptian symbol number. It is the Egyptians' favorite number, with which they describe a happy life.
  • Enoch, in turn, lived to be 365 years old. Again, it's not about which product is behind this number. Rather, the number 365 corresponds to the number of the solar year and thus promises a happy life.

This type of age specification was also common in other cultures. The ancient kings of the Babylonians, for example, live according to tradition between 12,000 and 18,000 years old.

4. Examples of "Gematria" ⋅12⋅

There is also another important example of the artful nature of number symbolism.

I have already pointed out that in the absence of numerals, each letter of the alphabet has been assigned a numerical value. So related to the Latin alphabet, the "a" the 1, the "b" the 2 and so on.

The numerical values ​​of the Hebrew alphabet now look like this:

א

["Aleph"]

= 1

ב

["Beth"]

= 2

ג

["Gimel]

= 3

ד

["Daleth"]

= 4

ה

["Hey"]

= 5

ו

["Waw"]

= 6

ז

["Sajin"]

= 7

ח

["Cheth"]

= 8

ט

["Tet"]

= 9

י

["Iodine"]

= 10

ךְ, כ

["Kaph"]

= 20, 500

ל

"Lamed"]

= 30

ם, מ

["Mem"]

= 40, 600

ן, נ

["Now"]

= 50, 700

ס

["Samech"]

= 60

ע

["Ajin"]

= 70

ף, פ

["Pe"]

= 80, 800

צ

["Zade"]

= 90, 900

ק

["Koph"]

= 100

ר

["Resch"]

= 200

שׁ / שׂ

["Sin" / "Schin"]

= 300

ת

["Thaw"]

= 400 ⋅13⋅

This has tremendously inspired and stimulated the symbolism of numbers. And here the so-called "Gematria" has its origin.

The term comes from the Greek word γεωμετρία ["geometría"], which means something like "numerology" or "letter calculation". Perhaps there is also the word γραμματεία ["grammateía"] ("writing") behind it.

The Gematria is a phenomenon that we encounter in the ancient oriental and Jewish, as well as in the Greek, Christian and Arab tradition.

  • A simple example of the Gematria in the Old Testament is the name David. It consists of three Hebrew consonants: ד ["Daleth"] - ו ["Waw"] - ד ["Daleth"]. Since ד ["Daleth"] is the 4th and ו ["Waw"] the 6th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the name David contains the cross sum 4 + 6 + 4 = 14. The number 14, the sum of the numerical values ​​of ד ["Daleth"], ו ["Waw"] and ד ["Daleth"], thus becomes the number of David.
  • Only those who keep this in mind will understand the genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament in the form handed down by Matthew. This is by no means a historical list of the ancestors of Jesus. Rather, we are dealing here with a list artfully compiled on the basis of the Gematria, which the author himself explains in the final sentence:
  • "So all the families from Abraham to David are fourteen families, and from David to the way to Babylon there are fourteen generations, and from the way to Babylon to Christ there are fourteen generations." (Mt 1:17.)
  • The author is therefore hardly concerned with the names mentioned. It is crucial that there are 3 x 14 generations, 3 times the number of David. With this, Jesus Christ is actually proven to come from the family of David. And at the same time, that is what the 3 stands for, associated with God.
  • The use of the Gematria in Gen 14 is even more complicated:
  • "When Abram heard that his brother was imprisoned, he surveyed his trained crew, three hundred and eighteen men, all born in his house [more literally: his homeborn servants], and pursued as far as Dan." (Gen 14:14.)
  • Is it true that Abraham had 318 servants? And should it really have been exactly 318? With the other customs of Scripture, wouldn't one expect here that it is said that Abram had sent out 300 men, or also many hundreds of men?
  • The solution to the riddle is offered by the chief servant of Abram אֱלִיעֶזֶר [">æleft<æsær "]. Eliezer was Abram's chief servant. And when Abram sent his servants, then of course it was under his direction and guidance. Elieser uses the Hebrew consonants to write:

א

["Aleph"]

= 1

ל

"Lamed"]

= 30

י

["Iodine"]

= 10

ע

["Ajin"]

= 70

ז

["Sajin"]

= 7

ר

["Resch"]

= 200

  • Adding these numerical values ​​together results in the exact number 318. So if Abram sends out servants in Gen 14:14, 318, then that means nothing other than that he sent his servants under the leadership of the chief servant Eliezer. With the help of the Gematria one has now inferred the number of servants, which does not mean that one also wanted to say that there were so many. That was not the intention of Gematria. It was much more about the artful indication of the number of servants that one saw hidden behind the name Eliezer. ⋅14⋅
  • Another figure is extremely artistic. Num 1,46 gives the number of all members of the people of Israel who left Egypt:
  • "All patterned Israelites amounted to their families, from the age of twenty onwards, all in Israel as far as they were fit for military service, all patterned therefore amounted to 603,550" (Num 1,45-46.)
  • With this strange number, 603,550, one almost has to assume that there is something else behind it. This can also be discovered with a little skill. You have to use the expression בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל ["bene jisra>el "]," sons of Israel "with the help of the Gematria. It looks like this:

ב

["Beth"]

= 2

נ

["Now"]

= 50

י

["Iodine"]

= 10

י

["Iodine"]

= 10

שׂ

["Sin"]

= 300

ר

["Resch"]

= 200

א

["Aleph"]

= 1

ל

"Lamed"]

= 30

  • These numerical values ​​result in the cross sum 603. Since the size mentioned is the abundance of all sons of Israel, this number is simply multiplied by 1000 again. The number of sons of Israel is therefore 603,000.
  • In order to express once again that it is really about all the sons of Israel, the expression Ausdruckל־רֺאשׁ ["kål rosch"], "each head", "the whole number", "sum" is added . This expression gives the following numerical values:

כ

["Kaph"]

= 20

ל

"Lamed"]

= 30

ר

["Resch"]

= 200

א

["Aleph"]

= 1

שׁ

["Schin"]

= 300

The total is now 551. If you add this to the numerical value just calculated for the sons of Israel, you get 603,551, just one more than the number ⋅15⋅, which is given in Num 1.46 and 2.32. This number could therefore simply mean "the sum of all sons of Israel". ⋅16⋅

Remarks

Cf .: Alfons Deissler, Introduction to the Old Testament - compilation according to an authorized lecture transcript from the winter semester 1969/70 or an unauthorized transcript based on tape recordings from the winter semester 1976/77 with partial additions for the winter semester 1979/80 (Albert-Ludwig- University of Freiburg i. Br.) 26-27

See: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1303-1305.

There are indications that there are connections for this culture as far as China.
(Compare: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1304.)

Elsewhere, 15 is mentioned as the number of the Istar. That could be related to the product of three and five.
(Compare: Franz M. Th. De Liagre Böhl, Art .: "Istar", in LThK (1960) V / 811.)

The five-star (Venus star), the pentagram (Trudenfuss) is also considered a defensive (magical) symbol. Five is also the number of the senses, the wounds of Christ, the talents in the parable, the pillars of piety in Islam.
(Compare: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1304.)

It is then interpreted as a connection between the spiritual and the material.
six is also the number of working days - from the days of creation, in Christian practice the number of weeks in Lent, in the New Testament the number of jars at the wedding of Cana.
(Compare: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1304.)

The number 8 occurs as a happy number in the 8 paradises of Elam and in Islamic piety, in the 8 Beatitudes of Christ and in the eightfold path of right life with Buddha. In the New Covenant, 8 is the number of Christ's resurrection. In one of the letters of Peter reference is made to the 8 people who survived the flood. Hence 8 also becomes the number of baptism. It therefore shapes the octagonal shape of the baptisteries.
The number 9 is the square of 3. It is therefore preferred as the number of perfection among Celtic, Germanic, Finnish-Hungarian peoples. For the Chinese, too, the nine-story pagoda is an image of the sky. 9 is named as the number of choirs of angels; and the ninth hour is the hour of death. Christ.
(Compare: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1305.)

Since 10 is the number of completion, the number gets 11which the completion then exceeds by one, the meaning as the number of excess.
(Compare: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1305.)

Emanation: the emergence of a multitude (of all individual things) from a unified primordial ground as a timeless event, especially according to Neoplatonic doctrine. The decisive factor was the thought that the primordial ground is not exhausted in emanation, but rather remains in its perfection without experiencing a decrease or increase; it is of greater reality than the many flowing out of it. Thus the system of emanationism stands in sharp contrast to the systems that claim an increase in the reality of the many in the progressive development (evolutionism). Against the Gnostic doctrine of emanation, the early church theology (especially in the doctrinal points of creation and the relationship between the Son of God and God the Father) directed the doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), which is still valid today.
The concept of emanation differs from the theological and philosophical teachings that assume that the world is created by God only when a pantheistic identity between the one and the many is not assumed. On this premise, the medieval theologians polemicized against Neoplatonism and the Arab-Jewish philosophy (Avicenna and Ibn Gabirol). The Indian and Persian religions were strongly determined by the idea of ​​emanation. The most important philosophical system of Emanaticism was Plotinus; it influenced all later doctrines of emanation (Johannes Eriugena, G. Bruno, B. de Spinoza, G.W.F: Hegel).
(Compare: Art .: Emanation, in: Brockhaus (Mannheim 19th edition 1988) VI / 337.)

The number 13 is the number of the Babylonian underworld, the divider of the completed and closed system and the leap year. So it is the unlucky number in Babylon, which it has remained in superstition to this day.
In the OT as in the Catholic life of piety, however, the number 13 occurs as a holy number.
The number 14 is already considered to bring good luck in Babylon and Egypt.
The number 15 is the number of Ishtar, the Idean mother, the Old Testament step psalms, the mysteries of the rosary.
17 is a mirabile sacramentum, according to Augustine, because 10 is the law and 7 is the gifts of St. Spirit mean.
18 is considered favorable in the Kabbalah and is thought of in connection with the name of God the "living". 18 is also St. Number of the Il-Sami Mawlawi order.
Among the next numbers is 25 as a round the jubilee number, 28 the moon number, 33 the number of completion, as the number of the age of Christ.
(Compare: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1305.)

60 is important as the basis of the Babylonian sexagesimal system.
72 is an astronomical number (1/5 of the circumference). It is therefore considered a number of size and variety. Note here also the product of 6 and 12 as the conditional number of the completeness of the nations, which is reflected in the number of 72 disciples who are sent out by Jesus.
The following higher numbers only have special significance in exceptional cases:
The number 99 is the number of the most beautiful names of God in Islam,
666 is the number of the beast in the apocalypse
and 1000 is - as already mentioned - the perfection number or simply an indication of "immeasurably many".
(Compare: Josef Hasenfuß, Art .: "Number Symbolism", in: LThK (1965) X / 1305.)

See: Karl Hermann Schelke, Art .: Gematria, in: LThK (1960) IV / 642.

See: Reiner-Friedemann Edel, Repetitorium der Hebräischen Grammar (Marburg 4th edition 1977) 6.

Cf. Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament (Heidelberg 12th edition 1979) 203.

Georg Fohrer assumes that this has simply been rounded off. (See Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament (Heidelberg 12th edition 1979) 200). Maybe the aleph in כָל־רֺאשׁ ["kål rosch"] just turned out when counting.
Many reject Foehrer's interpretation because of this difference. In: Hans-Christoph Schmitt and Gunter Wanke (Hrsg.), Journal for Old Test Official Science, (111/1999) 404-415, Rüdiger Heinzerling has one under the heading "Balaam's Riddle - Counting Those Eligible for Military Service in Numbers 1 and 26" made a very different, very complex attempt at interpretation. But even this is hardly able to remove all difficulties.

Going further is to say:
Words with the same letters were exchanged as isopsephic according to the methods of Gematria. In Greek, for example, Θεός ["theos"], ἀγαθὁς ["agathòs"] and ἅγιος ["hagios"] are interchangeable terms. They each result in the numerical value 284.
Striking numbers or checksums were interpreted as secrets. The number 666 of the Apocalypse is interpreted for example in reference to Emperor Nero. His name, written in Hebrew, כסר נרו K ["Kesar Neron" (Kaph Samech Resch Nun Resch Vaw Nun)] gives this cross sum.
According to Sib I, 326-333, 888 means "Jesus" and the like more.
In the Talmud and Kabbalah, the Gematria is often used for exegesis of the scriptures.
(Compare: Karl Hermann Schelke, Art .: Gematria, in: LThK (1960) IV / 642; Johann Michel, Art .: Apokalyptische Zahl, in: LThK (1957) I / 707.)