The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
To find out some deep mystery expressed by the numerical value of the letters in a name is the grand foundation of the famous science of the Kabbala. Although the Jewish Talmudists now engross all the honour of the discovery, it is but consistent with the known character of that very uninventive race to suspect that they borrowed the first notion from a foreign source--Chaldæa, the real fountain-head of all their spiritual knowledge. The earliest instance that can be quoted
of this way of expressing a name is St. John's so much discussed "Number of the Beast," employed to screen from vulgar curiosity some dangerous secret. What though its analysis has supplied good Protestants like Bishop Newton with a deadly weapon (in their own eyes) against the Pope, after the sum total has been reduced into its integrals Λατεινὸς; yet a prosaic non-controversialist will be more inclined to suspect that the Kabbalistic number shrouds the name of some potentate of the times who had happened to make himself especially formidable to the beholder of the Vision. * But the titles Iao, Abraxas, and the like, instead of being recent Gnostic inventions, were in all likelihood recognised "Holy Names," and borrowed from the most ancient religions of the East. Pliny must be alluding to something of the sort when he mentions with a sneer the miraculous powers ascribed by the Magi to amethysts engraved with the names of the Sun and Moon--names certainly from the nationality of his authorities not inscribed in either the Greek or the Latin tongue. In the "Shemesh Eilam," "Adonai," "Abraxas" of these talismans we may reasonably recognise the words of power referred to by the great naturalist.
The Alexandrine Greeks, proceeding upon the axiom that "things equal to the same thing are equal to one another," spied out the sacred number 365 in many Holy Names, and thus proved the identity of the several personages, so denominated, with one another. To give a few examples: the same sum is obtained by adding up the numerals in Μειθρας and in Αβρασαξ; and whether we interpret the latter as "Blessing" or "Holy Word," both are equally applicable to the Persian god. Again, the Egyptians, says Heliodorus (Æth. ix. 22), discovered the same value in Νειλος, appellation of that earliest god and father of their land, entitled in their hymns Horus also, properly the name of the Sun. † In the new-coined religions of Egypt, other and stranger mysteries were extracted out of
sacred names by following the old process. Kircher publishes a gem inscribed ΧΝΟΥΜΙΣ · ΡΙ, and supposes, with much apparent reason, the last syllable to be added in order to make up a sum equivalent to χριστὸς = 1480. That most ingenious of the Gnostics, Marcus, based his whole system upon these numerical deductions. According to him, the Saviour calls himself Α and Ω, because these letters stand for 801, which is the sum of those in περιστερὰ, the Dove, assumed in virtue thereof for the vehicle of the Holy Ghost. But the profoundest mystery that rewarded his researches is the fact, certainly a very curious coincidence, that all the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet added together yield the exact "number of the Name" Ιησοῦς = 888. But his own words well deserve to be quoted (Hip. vi. 50): "Now Jesus had this ineffable origin. From the Mother of all things the First Tetrad, proceeded another Tetrad, and there was an Ogdoad, whence proceeded the Decad, so there were Eighteen." The Decad therefore having come together with the Ogdoad, after that it had decoupled the same, produced the number Eighty. And again after that it had decoupled the Eighty it begot the number which is Eight hundred, so that the whole number of the letters proceeding from the Ogdoad according to the Decad is eight hundred and eighty and eight--the same is Jesus. For the Name Ιησοῦς by the value of its letters is the number 888. And, verily, the alphabet of the Greeks has eight monads, and eight decads, and eight hundreds, producing the number 888, which is made up by all the numbers, the same is Jesus. For this cause Both He call himself Α and Ω, to set forth his generation from the All." At first sight it will strike the reader, accustomed only to Arabic numerals, as a work of incredible laboriousness to discover numerical values, so aptly tallying in different words, of totally different components. But the difficulty was in truth much less than it appears. The Greek, accustomed perpetually to use the letters of his alphabet
indifferently as symbols of number and of sounds, perceived the two forces at the same glance in every word that caught his eye, and easily estimated the total value of each proper name, more especially when he made it his business to attend to such coincidences. The same operation would be equally familiar to ourselves were our "Arabic" numerals exchanged for the first ten letters of the Roman alphabet, instead of being what they are, the ancient Palmyrene somewhat modified by the wear of ages and a long course of travel.
The use of the Numerical Value of Names is remarkably exemplified by a Midrash, which makes the 318 men of Abraham's household, with whom he defeated the Five Kings, to be no more than his one servant, Eliezer, the numeral letters in whose name exactly make up that sum--a coincidence, though accidental, truly astonishing!
That genuine Gnostic, Dante, employs with great effect this numerical expression of a Name in that most mystical prophecy with which his 'Purgatorio' closes:--
[paragraph continues] The interpretation whereof is found in the word DVX formed out of the Roman letters, and applying to the "General" of the Ghibelline League, from whom such great things were expected by the poet for the chastisement of the Papacy and the restoration of the Imperial power.
254:* Who expressly tells us that "his number is the number of a man"; that is, the sum of the numerical letters in the name of a certain person. The Hebrew characters representing "Cesar Nero" produce by addition the required sum.
254:† Amongst the many points of p. 255 close connexion between Hindoo and Egyptian Mythology is the name of the sacred river, so nearly resembling the Sanscrit nil, "blue," referring to the remarkable colour of its waters. "In Nilo cujus aqua mari similis," observes Pliny (xxxv. 36), speaking of a picture by Nealces of a naval battle upon that river. The Arabs still distinguish its upper confluents as the Blue and the White Nile.