This week ends with a great meme:
the number of the beast
Now you are arriving at it in context,
If only in the jumbled dreamscape of nightmares!
The second of a pair
(not one of the 4 in the celestial court vision)
rises out of the earth,
just as the first rose from the sea
The vision is smaller –
2 horns, like a lamb
voice, like a dragon
This beast is the sub-delegate of the first beast –
Dragon to beast #1, beast #1 to beast #2,
But still it has their authority over the world
Lest you get complacent,
Confirming your vision of beast #1,
With its mortal wound on one head,
Give me a fireworks show, eh?
Shock and awe in the sky over Baghdad –
Meteors, ICBM missile tests, nuclear tests
If that’s greatness, see if you can reflect it dimly
All the people are invited to make an idol –
An image of the beast, mortally wounded, yet healed
A parody of the Lamb, also slaughtered, yet alive
That likeness of a transpersonal force,
Bigger than humans,
Smaller than God,
Can do enough to gain loyalty,
And to motivate murder
Of those who refuse to worship it
(after all, it’s a knock-off, diluting the beast brand
a mere imitation
constructed by the sub-delegate
of the original beast –
which itself was beast #2,
of 2 beasts subordinate to the dragon,
which himself was already vanquished and thrown down)
Everybody is marked
On the right hand or forehead
Without a mark,
None can buy or sell
Is the arena of the beast
Though it was not so,
Before the marks –
In our economy,
Where the buy-and-sell market dominates
This would be hegemony –
I wonder how John and his early hearers imagine it
(perhaps just the mercantile markets,
not barter or household oikumene?)
Now I was in theology school in the early 1980’s,
And the prof enjoyed matching names to ‘666’ –
My favorite then was Ronald Wilson Reagan
(6 letters in each of his names)
Have I inured you to the ‘a-millenialist tradition’ retort?
Nothing in my reading fits one historic time, event, person, place –
Everything in my reading shapes how we construe them all
Yes, we have an image of 144,000 ‘sealed’,
Safe from the tribulations of the 7 seals and 7 trumps
And we have an image of most of humanity branded
With the brand of the beast, however diluted
It seems as fickle to me as sports paraphernalia,
As badges, membership cards, tattoos, uniforms, haircuts, rings
As Ratzinger wrote before he was Pope Benedict
‘Our identity is built from all our identifications’
in your vision,
could the same human
be sealed by the angel,
and also marked by the beast?
In mine, they could!
But that’s my quota for the day –
It’s up to you to dream this dystopian vision through –
Before we ever reach something more utopian!
New Jerusalem Bible
11 Then I saw a second beast, emerging from the ground; it had two horns like a lamb, but made a noise like a dragon.
12 This second beast exercised all the power of the first beast, on its behalf making the world and all its people worship the first beast, whose deadly injury had healed.
13 And it worked great miracles, even to calling down fire from heaven onto the earth while people watched.
14 Through the miracles which it was allowed to do on behalf of the first beast, it was able to lead astray the people of the world and persuade them to put up a statue in honour of the beast that had been wounded by the sword and still lived.
15 It was allowed to breathe life into this statue, so that the statue of the beast was able to speak, and to have anyone who refused to worship the statue of the beast put to death.
16 It compelled everyone -- small and great alike, rich and poor, slave and citizen – to be branded on the right hand or on the forehead,
17 and made it illegal for anyone to buy or sell anything unless he had been branded with the name of the beast or with the number of its name.
18 There is need for shrewdness here: anyone clever may interpret the number of the beast: it is the number of a human being, the number 666.
11 Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.
12It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed.
13It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all;
14and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived;
15and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
16Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead,
17so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.
18 This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six.