Who Review: Extremis

Deep in the Vatican vaults lies an ancient text, in an ancient language lost to the ages. Called “Veritas,” it’s a dangerous text. Those in times past who could read it have taken their own lives, a mortal sin in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. What could be so terrible that people would put their souls in jeopardy, would prefer hell, than to go on living after discovering what the text says? In more recent times, a team of people managed to translate this short document. And one by one, they all killed themselves afterwards. But before the last man ended his life, he emailed the translation. Now the deadliest written work known to mankind is out in the public. And the Vatican is scared. So scared, they call upon the Doctor. Can the Doctor read the text, discover its secret, and save the world? How can the Doctor refuse? There is, of course, the fact that he’s blind. To the Doctor, not being able to see is a mere hindrance when the stakes are so high. But he doesn’t yet realize how devastating the truth is, and the price he may have to pay to save the universe…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Steven Moffat gives us an interesting brain-twister of an episode as we hit the mid-way point of New Who Series 10. It is, in fact, two story strands that join up at the end. The first reveals the mystery of the vault that the Doctor’s guarding in the basement of St. Luke’s University. At some unspecified time in the past, the Doctor is called upon to execute a fellow Time Lord convicted of capital offenses. That Time Lord is Missy. And the execution device will stop her hearts, stop brain activity, and rob her of the ability to regenerate. But she’s a Time Lord, and one who has been known to cheat death on numerous occasions, so the Doctor takes an oath to guard her body for 1,000 years–just to be sure. Of course, the Doctor has done some rewiring, so the device doesn’t kill Missy. However, the Doctor, true to his oath, puts Missy in the vault, where she remains.

The second strand is the main plot of this episode: the mysterious “Veritas” text, and why it is causing people to kill themselves. The premise isn’t new to sci-fi, but this is an interesting setting for it, with an interesting twist. What if reality as we know it isn’t real, but a simulation, and because we don’t know any better, we carry on as if it’s reality? Now–what would we do if we found out the truth, and were given a way to demonstrate that it’s true? Many people, thinks Moffat, would be driven to rebel by killing themselves. Some would carry on regardless. And some, like the Doctor, would fight back. Especially when they discover the purpose of the simulation.

Why the Vatican? At first I wondered if Moffat was getting all Da Vinci Code, and maybe Dan Brown’s novel was partly influential. But, to be honest, the Roman Catholic Church sets itself up for this by the very nature of its own bureaucracy and secrecy. I don’t take this as a slam against my faith because, as a Christian of the Reformed persuasion, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t represent my beliefs. There is no secrecy to the gospel. And the Doctor’s quip that religion is like the Vatican vault, where “the layout is designed to confuse the uninitiated,” is perhaps true of Roman Catholic tradition, dogma, and ritual, but that’s not Biblical Christianity. Suffice to say, I took no offense from the “religion” content in the story.

I think Moffat did a good job here. There’s credible, witty, and thoughful dialog, a strong plot, and plenty to keep the viewer intrigued. I also like the way he made the Vault reveal seem gratuitous, until the end when it’s clear the Doctor’s going to need Missy’s help. I thought he pulled those strands together well, though the next few stories will tell how well they hold. He threw in a couple of things that might come back later as significant (something Moffat likes to do). For instance, when the Doctor hooks himself up to the box that temporarily restores his sight, he refers to it as “borrowed” tech from the future, for which he will have to pay somehow–permanent blindness, loss of regenerative power, or something else… He also brought back the sonic sunglasses, only this time they are of practical value, so no complaints from me.

As far as acting and special effects go, I couldn’t fault this episode. Pearl Mackie continues to impress with her portrayal of Bill. Certainly one of the best New Series leading ladies so far, by my reckoning. I’d be very surprised if the offers aren’t pouring in when she’s finished with Who. Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas also continue to deliver solid, believable performances. I even appreciate Nardole’s comic interjections, partly because there’s a gravity to them. He’s not funny to make light, but because he’s scared and genuinely concerned for his friends. It’s a very human reaction, and it adds depth to his character.

“Extremis” is not Moffat’s best, but it’s a very good addition to a great season so far. Worth watching.

How Cool Is That?!

Someone… well, not just someone, but my writer friend John Frain (who spent the month of April being murdered) pointed out to me that I’m in the current (July – August, 2017) issue of Writer’s Digest. I posted a comment on Twitter about Barbara Poelle’s excellent “Funny You Should Ask” column in the previous issue, and the editors decided to include that comment in their “Spotted on Twitter” section (p. 8):

OK, so it’s not like having a story published, or being the subject of an author interview, but it’s cool nonetheless.

Thanks, John, for drawing my attention to it. And to Writer’s Digest for giving me a few seconds of fame. 🙂

Who Review: Oxygen

“Space, the final frontier. Final, because it wants to kill us.” Against Nardole’s better judgment, and contrary to the oath he took to guard the vault, the Doctor takes Bill and Nardole for a trip into space. And of all the places he could have chosen, of course, the Doctor picks the one with the distress signal. A mining ship is having problems with its space suits. Designed for best economic efficiency, the suits are programmed to deliver a limited amount of oxygen before the wearer has to buy more. Any unlicensed oxygen will be filtered out of the suit, killing the occupant. However, the suits on this ship have received a single line command: “Deactivate your organic component.” Deactivation involves shutting down the wearer’s central nervous system. When the TARDIS team arrive, there are four of the forty crew members still alive, thanks to their suits being offline when the message was sent. Thirty-six zombie suits are, however, roaming the ship hunting down the survivors. Was this command a malfunction, or is someone trying to kill the crew? Cut off from the TARDIS, and facing insurmountable odds, the Doctor needs to figure out who sent the command and why before they all join the walking dead…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Episode five of New Who Season 10 takes us deep into space, and pits the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole against space zombies. Written by Jamie Mathieson, who brought us “Mummy on the Orient Express,” “Flatline,” and “The Girl Who Died,” this episode is, in my estimation, the best of the season so far. It’s an interesting concept with some foundational science, and plenty of OMyGoodness moments to keep the viewer riveted to the screen. There are some significant plot developments too that will, no doubt, play into the larger themes of the “vault” and the Doctor’s upcoming regeneration. While there isn’t a “bad guy” in the traditional sense, there is at least a malevolent force behind the drama in the form of capitalism taken to an extreme, where human life is expendable for the sake of saving, or making, money. “Profit over people” is, sadly, something we see all to often in real life, and this was a creative way of connecting the other-worldly with the familiar.

The space adventure starts with the Doctor giving Bill the choice of destination. She wants to see reviews, something like online hotel ratings, to find the best place. For the Doctor, however, the universe really only shows its true face when it’s asking for help, which is why he gravitates to where there’s a distress signal. A short while later, when Bill wants to run from the danger, the Doctor puts to her the other side of this: “We show ours by how we respond.” I’ve noted in past reviews how much a Who story is strengthened when the Doctor has clear motive for staying. Here we have the Doctor’s reason for not running back to the TARDIS: there was a distress signal, and it’s not in his character to walk (or run) away from that. He has to help. Of course, they have further reason to stick around when they are separated from the TARDIS by a door that’s vacuumed sealed. But at least we have a credible reason why the Doctor doesn’t just leave at the first sign of life-threatening danger.

When the Doctor and Bill encounter the first corpse, he is just a lifeless body standing in a suit. This introduces us to the idea of the suits having a “life” of their own (albeit robotic). Even when the wearer is dead, they can stay upright, and can keep track of oxygen use. They then come across an unoccupied suit doing manual labor, showing us that the suits don’t have to be worn in order to function, at least on a basic level, and can communicate via synthesized speech. Both of these concepts are important for understanding the situation on board the ship. I appreciate this kind of thoughtful writing, where important plot points are incorporated naturally into the story early on to preclude later questions.

One very interesting scene is when Bill meets the blue crew member. Of course, she is taken aback–this is the first alien humanoid life she has encountered that doesn’t look like Earth humans. His reaction, “Great–we rescued a racist!” is understandable, and ironic, considering Bill has been the object of racism herself. Then, when she talks to him slowly, and Anglicizes his name, he is understandably ticked off. Bill isn’t trying to be racist, but this little interaction shows how easy it is to offend by thoughtlessness, and mirrors the way many people treat “foreigners” in our societies. Especially in the West.

As if being chased by zombies wasn’t dramatic enough, the Doctor seemingly sacrifices Bill when her suit malfunctions and she can’t move. The zombies catch her, and we see her get zapped. The Doctor tells her to trust him, but only later do we find out he had determined her suit didn’t have enough power to deliver a lethal shock. She recovers, but the Doctor spent too long in a decompressed environment trying to get her to safety, with the result that he is blind. Right up to the end, we are led to believe his blindness is temporary. But, as he reveals only to Nardole, it’s not. At least for the next episode, if not longer, we’ll have a blind Doctor!

Finally, the Doctor’s solution to the zombie suit problem is ingenious. Since the computers running the algorithms that determine who is expendable are driven by profit, make it inefficient and costly to kill the life forms. He does this by programming a connection between them and the ship–if they die, the station will blow, and the company will lose its means of making money. “Our deaths will be expensive!”

This is good Who, with not much to fault–at least in my estimation. It was a bit convenient that there were three “offline” suits available to the TARDIS team, so they wouldn’t be affected by the deadly message. But the suits were offline for repairs, which then makes sense of why Bill’s suit would malfunction.

“Oxygen” is well worth watching, and restores my hopes for the rest of the season after last week’s half-good episode.

What did you think?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:18 Follow-Up

We took this class time to digest all we discussed previously concerning Revelation 13:18, the number of the Beast, and the various possibilities as to who it could represent. We also pursued a few conversational bunny trails, but that’s normal. With regard to the identity of the Beast, based on what we presented last time, I think if John had someone contemporary in mind, Domitian is the best supported. Nero requires too much special pleading. But even Domitian is not without problems. Unfortunately, we don’t have anything from the time of Revelation that tells us irrefutably and conclusively who Christians would have thought of when they saw “666.” As it is, we are left to conjecture based on applying the kind of reckoning familiar at the time, along with our understanding of the history and culture of John and his audience. We saw how names can be manipulated by careful transliteration to make the math work. But just because we can make a name fit by certain linguistic gymnastics, we can’t prove that John’s readers would have done the same.

I believe the best we can do is to say:

  1. There’s a good probability John was pointing his contemporary readers to the Emperor Domitian.
  2. However, the Lord has left the precise meaning of the number veiled to everyone outside of John’s audience (as is evident from the writings of the Early Church Fathers, even within 100 years of John writing Revelation). This speaks to the fact that the number is a symbol, representative of the Beast–whoever that might be in any particular age. For John, probably Domitian. But each generation will recognize their Antichrist and False Prophet. Given that “6” is one short of the number of completion in Revelation, there must be some significance to a Trinity of sixes.
  3. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that someone may come at a future time for whom the number “666” fits effortlessly, somehow. We don’t believe the events of Revelation are all history. The End has not yet come, and there will be final representatives of Babylon and the Beast around when Christ returns. I think it would be presumptuous to assume we know all there is to know about this passage, when there are events in Revelation that have yet to transpire (i.e., the Lord’s return).
  4. This brings us to the most important point of Revelation 13:18: those who belong to the Beast carry the number of his name. Those who belong to Christ bear his name. While things look good for the Beast’s people in Chapter 13, this situation will not last, as we will see. Whose name do you wear?

I quoted a section from Ireneaus of Lyons, who wrote a work called Against Heresies around 180 AD, within a hundred years of Revelation. In Chapter 30 of Book 5, he discusses Revelation 13:18, noting how there are so many names that could apply, making it difficult to be sure which one is intended. He gives his best guess, but concludes:

It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved. For if there are many names found possessing this number, it will be asked which among them shall the coming man bear… But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is…

I don’t agree with all of Irenaeus’s thoughts, but I think his general approach is worthy of note. Whoever this Beast is, if we are in Christ, we will know him. And we need not fear him because we are Christ’s and not the Beast’s.

We only have a few more classes left before we break for the summer, so we might make a start with Chapter 14, but I doubt we’ll dig too deeply at this point. We’ll see.

Who Review: Knock Knock

Bill and her student friends are looking for accommodation, but finding a place big enough for all six of them at a price they can afford is proving harder than they anticipated. So when they are approached by an elderly gentleman offering them a place to live that will more than suit their needs–and their budget–it’s an offer they simply can’t refuse. At first glance the old manor house is impressive, atmospheric, and sufficiently spacious for the students. But when the Doctor helps Bill move in, he senses something odd. More than the antiquated electrical system. More than the fact they can’t get a mobile signal. More than the landlord’s ban on visiting the adjoining tower. The strange noises sound like there’s someone, or something, else sharing the house with them. A suspicion Bill begins to take seriously when her friends start to mysteriously disappear…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

After stories in the future and the past, it’s back to present-day reality for Bill. If you recall, Bill used to work in the canteen at St. Luke’s University in Bristol, but the Doctor, who is posing (quite convincingly) as a lecturer at the university, has taken Bill on as his personal student. This means she is now one of the student body, and has joined with five other students to find somewhere affordable to live. It’s a classic creepy house story, but with a Doctor Who twist: the creeks and bumps are the result of alien bugs that have been re-purposing previous tenants to keep the landlord’s ailing relative alive. These bugs swarm on their victims, and suck them into the woodwork. Potentially gruesome stuff, but with some CGI magic it all looks horrible, but nothing to turn the stomach. Unless you don’t like the sight of giant swarming roach-like insects.

The fact that the Doctor is part of the faculty makes for some awkward scenes with Bill and her friends. The Doctor tries to be “cool” with the students, but, of course it doesn’t work very well, especially since he’s not really trying too hard. He just wants to hang around so he can figure out what’s going on with the house. Bill tells her friends the Doctor is her grandfather–is this just an in-joke for the Whovians, or are we to attach significance to it? (Also, we got the season’s first reference to “regeneration,” when the Doctor explained to Bill times when a Time Lord may need to sleep. She asked what “regeneration” is, but he didn’t answer. She’ll find out soon enough, methinks…)

The sinister Landlord is played with charming edginess by David Suchet, who made his name on British TV playing Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” in the long-running series. Suitable casting for what is, essentially, a locked-room mystery. The whole ensemble do well, actually, even the young actors playing the students. One of the hallmarks of New Who is the fact they tend to get high-caliber talent, so the performances are usually top-notch.

As for the effects, they are fairly run-of-the-mill for New Who–i.e., far better than Classic Who, but nothing particularly stand-out for early 21st century television. I will give a special shout-out to whoever designed the wooden person costume for the Landlord’s relative. That particular effect was extremely well done.

The story itself is not the best so far, but it’s not bad. As I said, it starts off as a standard creepy house tale with creaking floorboards, and strange bangs and knocks. But then we see the house sprouting bugs and devouring people, which brings us into the realm of Doctor Who. For all the good acting and great effects, it lacked something truly sinister. Sure, the Landlord was fairly sinister, but in the end all he wanted was to keep his relative alive (yes, I’m deliberately veiling the relative’s exact relationship, for the sake of not giving everything away!), so I suppose we’re supposed to feel somewhat sympathetic toward him. What ended up not happening was a really big climactic finale. It just sort of fizzled. Yes, the Landlord fessed up, and cried in his relatives arms, giving us a high emotional moment. But that was about it. And, to be honest, I really didn’t feel anything for either the Landlord, or his relative. Bill might have been in tears, but I wasn’t with her.

Finally, we learn a bit more about the Vault and what’s inside. No doubt there’s someone in there, since they play the piano, and respond (albeit with music) to the Doctor’s comments. What’s unclear is the relationship this person may have to the Doctor. He seems to have a kindly disposition toward whoever is behind those doors, and yet that person is quite securely locked away. However, the Doctor has no qualms about taking food in to them. Is it Missy? The Master? Or is Steven Moffat going to pull something out of left field and bring back Susan (after all, her picture’s on his desk, and Bill referred to him as “grandfather” more than once during this adventure)?

I enjoyed the episode, and it was a good story. But I’m starting to look forward to the return of some classic monsters, as promised: the Ice Warriors, the Cybermen, the Master/Missy. I just hope they stay bad, and don’t degenerate into the kind of post-modern “not really bad, just misunderstood” mush that, frankly, does not make for gripping sci-fi adventures. I’m not saying this season has gone there totally, but I fear it’s wandering in that direction.

Did you watch “Knock Knock”? If you did, what did you think?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:18

18 Here is wisdom: the one who has understanding, let him count the number of the Beast, for it is a human number, and its number [is] six hundred and sixty-six.

Revelation 13:18 is one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible. It has been at the center of theological debates since the second century, and is firmly fixed in popular culture, especially in occult circles, and within popular horror literature and movies. With all the baggage this verse has accumulated over the last two thousand years, it’s hard to look at it dispassionately, or without some preconceived notion as to what it means. However, if we are to honor this verse as part of God’s word to His people, we need to keep our eyes fixed on the two questions we apply everywhere else in Revelation: What did it mean for John and his audience? What does it mean for us, the church, today? As part of God’s eternal word, this verse meant something to John and those to whom he wrote in Asia Minor, and it has had abiding meaning to God’s people ever since, even to this day.

Before we get to “666,” we need to recall the context. John has been describing two “beasts”: a main beast, and his minion beast who is drawing the “earth-dwellers” (i.e., unbelievers) to worship the main beast by means of wondrous signs and a talking idol. As with all the other visions in Revelation, John is being shown spiritual realities by means of symbols. The main beast is some kind of overarching authority working under the power of Satan (the dragon in chapter 12). He is a false Messiah, as we see from his horn that dies and rises again, and the fact he has horns, like the Lamb in chapter 5. The second beast is some kind of subordinate power, operating like Jesus’s apostles. He’s a false prophet, drawing people away from worship and allegiance to the true God, so they might be under the dominion of the main beast. Among the second beast’s activities is to apply a special mark on the earth-dwellers that enables them to buy and sell. Those who do not have this mark, i.e., the heaven-dwellers (God’s people), are not able to buy and sell. Just like the name of God that is written on the foreheads of the heaven-dwellers, the mark of the beast is placed on the head of the earth-dwellers. This indicates ownership and loyalty. The mark can also be placed upon the right hand, which calls to mind Deuteronomy 6:8, wherein God instructed His people to carry His commandments on their foreheads and their hands. It seems the beast is also parodying this command of God, such that the earth-dwellers will have the beast’s name as part of their everyday life.

This is the situation for the persecuted church. Having lost the heavenly battle by failing to destroy the Messiah (chapter 12), Satan is going after the church. Since he can’t touch God’s people spiritually, he’s going after them physically. We’ve seen this played out in broad strokes with the seven seals, and here we’re getting more detail. Those who do not have the beast’s mark are those who carry the name of the Lord: the church. The beast has been empowered to act against them, both financially and mortally. Failure to carry the beast’s mark carries at least financial punishment, and at most, capital punishment.

Now, in verse 18, John calls us to apply “understanding” or “discernment” (Greek nous) to figure out, “count,” or “calculate” the number of the beast’s name. The Greek verb here is psēphizō, which is associated with accounting. The psēphos was the name they gave to the small stone or pebble they would use to represent numbers or votes. The reason the beast’s name is calculable is because it is a “human number.” Some translations might render this “the name of a man” or “a man’s name” which is not accurate. The Greek is arithmos anthrōpou, using the word often used to indicate mankind in general, anthrōpos, as opposed to the word for a person of the male gender, anēr. I believe what John is saying is that this is not an esoteric, heavenly number that is beyond man’s reasoning. Rather, it is a regular number, and as such, its meaning can be ascertained by use of “wisdom,” “understanding,” and “discernment.” John then gives us this number: Six hundred and sixty-six.

Given the way John introduces the number (“his number is”), most scholars and students of Revelation agree that “666” is a form of gematria called isopsephy. “Gematria” is simply representing words, or names, by using their numerical values. “Isopsephy” literally means “equal count,” and refers to a kind of number game that was popular in the first and second century. Essentially, you come up with a number that can represent equally two different words. Since in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, numbers were represented by letters of the alphabet, one “word” would be the letters that constitute the number. That number, however could also be derived using letters that make up a name.

Here is a chart showing letters of the Greek alphabet and their corresponding number values:

(Note for those familiar with the Greek alphabet: the letters representing 6, 90, and 900 are pre-Classical letters that fell out of use except to represent numbers. The two letters that can be used for 6 are stigma or digamma. For 90, I have given two forms of the letter koppa, and the letter for 900 is sampi)

This is a real example of ancient graffiti that uses isopsephy:

For those that don’t read Greek, it’s pronounced philō hēs horithmos [which is a misspelling of “arithmos”] ‘Atē. “Atē” is not a real Greek word, but the “word” that makes the number 1,308 (A + t + ē). If you want to know who the mysterious “Atē” is, you would try various female names until you come up with one whose letters make up 1,308. Of course, there could well be more than one contender, in which case, unless you knew the person who wrote the graffiti and his social circle, you may never know. Classical Greek scholars, who clearly have more time to spend pouring over ancient graffiti as opposed to Revelation 13:18, think the lady in question is Tuchē (but spelled with a lower-case “t”). This was a popular female name for the period, and the math works (t = 300, u = 400, ch = 600, ē = 8).

This form of gematria could also be used with phrases. For example:

(Again for the non-Greek readers: neopsēphon: Nerōn idian mētera apekteine, which translates to “A calculation new: Nero his own mother slew.”)

This is a very famous example cited by the historian Suetonius as a “new calculation” that was going around Rome during Nero’s reign. If you add together all the Greek letters in the name “Nero” (Nerōn), you get 1,005. And if you add together the Greek letters in the words following (idian mētera apekteine), you get… 1,005! This was actually cited as proof that Nero killed his own mother.

Now we know what gematria is, and what isopsephies are, we can apply this to Revelation 13:18 and the number/name of the Beast. Of the possible meanings derived using gematria, there are three that seem most likely.

NERO

The most popular contender, even among scholars, though I can’t say I find the reasoning overly compelling. As we saw above, Nero’s number, using the Greek form of his name (Nerōn) is 1,005, not 666. If we transliterate the Latin “Nero” to Greek (Nerō), we get 955. At this point, those that argue for Nero turn from Greek to Hebrew. We can do gematria with Hebrew letters using a table like this:

If we transliterate the Greek Nerōn into Hebrew, we get 50+200+50 = 300. We could use a defective spelling, with a waw standing for the “o” sound (which it often does in Hebrew). That gives us 50+200+6+50 = 306. Still not there. But what if we include Nero’s title: Nero Caesar, which in Hebrew could be written :

That makes 50+200+6+50 + 100+60+200 = 666!!!

However, that transliteration of “Caesar” isn’t accurate. A better transliteration would be:

Indeed, that form of “Caesar” can be found in various Jewish writings (e.g., the Talmud), whereas the other form has little or no attestation anywhere. Unfortunately, with that extra letter added, the math comes out to 676. Another point to consider is the fact that the “s” sound in “Caesar” could be made with either the letter shown (a samek), or with a sin (the letter designated 300 in the chart above). The only reason for using the samek is because the Talmud used it, but if you wanted to play with the math, you could just as easily substitute one for the other.

So “Nero” is possible, but you have to do some special pleading to make the math work. As an interesting side-note, if you transliterate the Latin Caesar Nero into Hebrew, you get:

which works out to 616. There are two manuscripts that read “616” as opposed to “666,” and this may be why. A scribe, assuming the number represented Nero, used the Latin spelling in Hebrew and “corrected” the verse accordingly. We don’t know this for sure, of course, but it’s possible.

DOMITIAN

There is a case to be made for “666” representing Domitian, whom we have discussed previously as one of the first to “officially” persecute the church, and to do so quite mercilessly. We’ve noted how the situation in the churches described by John fits a Domitian time-frame, so could his be the name of the Beast?

The Greek form of his name, Domitianos, comes to 755, so we know from the start this isn’t going to be obvious. But John did say the number required “wisdom” and “understanding” to figure out, so we could expect to have to work a bit. But will it require as much of a stretch as with “Nero”?

Domitian’s official Imperial title in Latin was: Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus. If we translate this to Greek we get:

Clearly all those letters are going to add up to a lot more than 666! But we have evidence of those titles being abbreviated like so:

If we add up the lower-case forms of those letters, we get 666. How popular were these abbreviations? Would John’s audience have known them? If they used money, then it’s very possible. Various of these six abbreviated titles have been found on coins from the time of Domitian, though, admittedly, there’s no evidence (yet) that all five were used on a single coin. This means that Christians buying and selling in the marketplace would be familiar with these abbreviations. Don’t forget the context of Revelation 13:18–we’ve just been talking about how only those with the mark will be able to buy and sell, so one could argue John is giving a clue to the context in which the number is to be understood.

BEAST

The Greek word for “beast,” thērion, adds up to 247. However, if we transliterate the Greek into Hebrew letters, we get 400+200+10+6+50=666! This would mean the name behind the number of the Beast is… beast! While this is appealing because it keeps the symbolism vague, and therefore applicable to anyone (or anything) that might be identified with the characteristics of the Beast in Revelation (e.g., the Roman emperor, or Hitler), it seems a bit like bait-and-switch. John is telling us that the number is human, and with wisdom and understanding we can discern the name represented by that number. For it simply to be “beast” would mean that John’s actually told us nothing. He needn’t have bothered with 13:18 at all. And if there’s anything we’ve learned about Revelation, it’s that numbers have significance. So there must be more to “666” than simply “beast.”

There is another way to approach “666” that has merit, and does not involve the use of gematria. It can be argued that the term “calculate” isn’t talking about math, but about simply figuring out, or reasoning, the number. And when John tells us it’s a “human number” he might not be talking about playing number/word games, but rather telling us the number refers to something in the earthly realm, not the heavenly.

Numbers in Revelation have symbolic meaning: 7 is the number of completion; 12 and 24 both represent God’s people; 1,000 speaks of a large quantity of something, and so on. If “7” is the number of completion or perfection, “6” is one short of that. We recall that the sixth seal was a vision of destruction prior to the Second Coming. Likewise, the sixth trumpet showed plagues and idolatry, just prior to the seventh trumpet–the Second Coming. In chapter 16, we will see seven bowls of God’s wrath, the sixth of which shows false prophets and demons assembling at Armageddon, just prior to the seventh bowl, when judgment falls. Three sixes, all looking to a time when the clash between Satan and God’s people reaches a climax.

Alternatively, the Greek name for Jesus, Iēsous, comes out as 888, using our gematria chart above. As you can imagine, this was a very popular number among Christians in the first few centuries of the church. The number 777 could, therefore, be used to represent the Trinity, in which case 666 would be an “unholy” Trinity, representing the height of Satanic evil.

There are a couple of Old Testament uses of the number “666.” Perhaps most notably, Solomon’s gold is said to have weighed 666 talents (1 Kings 10:14, 2 Chronicles 9:13). This was not the sum total of all his gold, but it is the number mentioned in the text. After describing Solomon’s great wealth, we then read of how he turns away from the Lord. The text ascribes his backsliding to the foreign women he married, who led him into idolatry. This isn’t directly associated with his wealth, but no doubt the power accorded to him as a result of his riches played a big part in his ability to attract the attention of women from other lands. With regard to Revelation 13:18, however, I’m not sure this helps beyond underscoring the power of earthly desire to lead people away from the Lord, just as the Beast was using the desire for wealth to entice those with the mark. The quantity of Solomon’s gold doesn’t leave us with a “name.”

So, what do we make of all this? Personally, of the three possibilities given using gematria, I think Domitian is the most likely–and I don’t say that simply because it strengthens my case for Revelation being written during Domitian’s time period. I think it’s less of a stretch than Nero, since the necessary abbreviations were known at the time, and were on the coins everyone used to buy and sell. The fact we haven’t found all five abbreviations on a single coin is problematic, but I don’t think it’s a show-stopper. People would have known all five abbreviations, even if they hadn’t seen them all in one place, and the fact we haven’t found a coin containing them all doesn’t mean such coins were never made. We just haven’t found any yet. I also think the number “666” is, itself, important as a symbol of that which is Satanic and evil. While Domitian is long in his grave, there have been other “Domitians” that represent the same Satanic power in operation against God’s people ever since. This is why John leaves the Beast’s name as a number that the reader is to reckon. We can play math games and make just about any name fit (Nero, Stalin, Hitler…), so whether or not John had a specific person in mind (e.g., Domitian) is beside the point.

As we come to chapter 14, we’ll see that the issue of greater concern for us is not so much the identity of the Beast, but that we don’t wear that name. Chapter 14 will present to us a contrast. While the Beast’s people have his number on their heads, God’s people do not. Rather, they wear the name of their Lord and Savior. And as we shall see in the coming chapters, in the end, that’s what will make the difference between the lake of fire, and eternal glory.

Since I used up all our time going through this material, we’ll take time out in our next lesson to discuss as a group. I’ll update the notes with any interesting insights.

Who Review: Thin Ice

It’s London, February 4th, 1814, and the last ever frost fair. For hundreds of years, the Thames has frozen once during the winter. It has become such a regular event, the city has made a tradition out of throwing a party on the river’s uncommonly icy surface. And this year is no exception. Fair food, acrobats, sword-eaters, games, and even elephants draw thousands out into the snow and onto the Thames for this once-a-year festivity. But something is amiss under the ice. The Doctor and Bill turn up in time to witness a child swallowed up by the river. Both Bill and the Doctor noticed little green lights under the surface, gathering around the boy’s feet just before the ice opened and he was sucked down. Whatever is hiding out in the Thames is not human, but something human seems to be pulling its chain. And this person has plans that could jeopardize the lives of many, unless the Doctor and Bill can stop him.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

If there’s one thing the best of the New Who writers grasp, it’s that you don’t need an overly ambitious concept to write a good story. Sarah Dollard, who wrote last season’s Clara finale, “Face the Raven,” this time gives us a tale of human greed, and the lengths to which it will go. The villain of the piece is not the giant serpent creature living in the Thames, but rather Lord Sutcliffe, the compassion-challenged aristocrat who wants to make money from the serpent’s extraordinary excrement. Poop that burns at twice the heat of coal and lasts longer could change the world and make him very rich. For that, he’s willing to sacrifice the creature’s freedom, and the lives of however many “forgettable” people it takes to keep it fed.

Once again, Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts is superb, and if this keeps up we’re both going to get bored of me saying it for the next ten weeks. She draws the Doctor’s attention to the fact that her melanin count might be a problem in Regency England since, well, to put not-too-fine a point on it, “Slavery’s still totally a thing!” Then, when they venture out to watch the shows, Bill notes the variety of people in the crowds. “Interesting,” she says. “Regency England. A bit more black than they show in the movies.” To which the Doctor responds, “So was Jesus. History’s a white-wash.” This is quite a provocative comment, though admittedly quite accurate. This was the first time (as far as I can remember) that Jesus has been mentioned in Doctor Who by name, and the Doctor noting Jesus’s real ethnicity indicates the Whoniverse accepts the historical fact of Jesus. I know, that’s not an endorsement of Christian theology, but it’s better than I expected of a show produced largely by atheists and secularists.

Back to Bill, I really appreciate the genuine wonder and excitement she brings to the show. When the Doctor gives her the decision whether to leave the creature in chains or set it free–after all, it’s the future of her people, human beings, that’s at stake–she doesn’t need to make a speech about the huge responsibility being placed on her, and the mind-blowing idea of acting as representative of humanity. It’s on her face. And again, at the end, when the Doctor reminds her that the change in fortunes for the street urchins was because of the decision she made, the look on her face says more than words could. Excellent acting.

I’m glad we actually had a villain. I was afraid this was going to be another “Beast Below” (see New Who Season 5), where the “villain” was actually a victim of ignorance. Granted, the villain here is not one that will go down in the annuls of great Who monsters, but he gave the story an antagonist, which gives our heroes something to fight against.

The BBC always do a good job with period drama, and this story is no exception. Everything looks wonderfully believable, the effects are top-notch, and even the kids put in good performances on top of being adorable.

Nardole got just a few minutes in at the end, solidifying his role as the Doctor’s butler and caretaker. The “vault” story arc advances a few paces too, with the strange knocking that takes Nardole by surprise. Is it just coincidence that it’s three knocks? Remember the Tenth Doctor’s finale…?

Another great episode of Who. At this rate, this may end up being Capaldi’s best, as well as last, season!

What did you think of “Thin Ice”?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:16-17

16 And he makes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, so that he might give to them a mark upon their right hand or upon their forehead, 17 and so that no-one may be able to buy or sell except the one having the mark–the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

We covered these verses very briefly last time, so before launching into verse 18, which will take all our time when we next meet, I thought it would be good to go back and look at them a little more fully. Verse 18 is one of the most famous (infamous?) verses in the entire Bible, which is why I’ll be devoting a whole lesson to it, and why it’s important we set it up properly.

As we noted last time, the Greek word used for “mark” here, charagma, was the word used to describe the Emperor’s seal on business contracts, and the imprint of the Emperor’s head on the coinage. So in its most basic usage, it denotes some kind of seal of approval. We also mentioned the libellus, which was a document given to those who proved their loyalty to Caesar by renouncing all other gods (especially Jesus), and paying homage to, or worshiping, an image of Caesar. This would serve as a “seal of approval” that people could show to suspicious officials to demonstrate they are good citizens of the Empire.

The mark of the Beast is to be carried upon the right hand or the forehead. It’s very possible this is a parody of the injunction in Deuteronomy 6:8, where the Lord exhorted His people to bind His commandments upon their hand, and as frontlets between the eyes. What was possibly intended as a poetic exhortation to make God’s commandments a part of one’s daily activity (hand) and thinking (forehead), was taken literally by Jews in later years with the practice of wearing phylacteries. These are small boxes strapped to the right hand and the forehead within which are portions of Scripture. As the Lord wants His commands to be ingrained into the lives of His people, so the Beast wants his name, his identity, to be in the deeds and minds of his people.

The intention of the Beast is for his mark to be worn by people of every societal strata: rich, poor, important, insignificant, free, and slave. The Beast is inclusive in his deception, discriminating against no-one, well, almost no-one. As we saw in verse 15, the second beast has authority to kill those who don’t wear the Beast’s mark. The fact that the mark is given without regard to social or economic privilege is, perhaps, a reflection of the way Christ has sealed his myriad of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (see chapter 7). An important point to notice here is that there is no middle ground. You either have the mark or you don’t. And if you have the mark, you have the protection of the Beast, and the ability to buy, sell, and function fully within society. If you don’t have the mark, you are denied the marketplace, and risk execution. Those who carry the mark are the earth-dwellers, those who look to physical security and worldly progress over faithfulness to the Lord. The ones who refuse the mark are the ones who belong to Christ, the heaven-dwellers, those who would rather die than deny the Lord. There are no “heavenly earth-dwellers,” or “earthly heaven-dwellers”–you’re either one or the other.

The economic sanctions on the heaven-dwellers may reflect what we saw with the church in Smyrna: “I know your poverty,” Jesus told them, “but you are rich…” (2:9). We noted back then how participation in the trade guilds would require devotion to the trade’s deity, which, of course, would be anathema to the faithful Christian. As a result, allegiance to Christ would bar the believer access to the guild, and hence to the reputation and business contacts that would come as a benefit of membership. We also saw in 6:5-6, the third seal, where the rider of the black horse carries scales, accompanied by a voice saying “a quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius!” Each of these items would cost a laborer his day’s wage, and would barely be enough food. This is the third “Horseman of the Apocalypse” bringing economic privation, a picture of the “poverty” experienced by the believer for whom the regular avenues of trade are prohibited.

Verse 15 says that everyone not bearing the beast’s mark would be killed. However, verse 17 clarifies for us that this is not a hard-and-fast rule. There will be those without the mark who will want to buy and sell, but can’t because they are not Beast-worshipers. This indicates that the Beast has granted the second beast authority to kill them, but he has not mandated that they must be executed.

But what is this mark? Verse 17 says it is “the number of his name.” So the number of the Beast is some kind of numerical representation of the Beast’s name. And this is where we get into a whole world of speculation, and not without some warrant, since verse 18 says that understanding the number of the Beast requires “wisdom,” or “discernment.” However, that doesn’t give us license to be reckless in our reasoning. It requires some “special thinking,” perhaps, but it must be thinking that would make sense both to John’s readers and to us. This is a number that can be “reckoned.” The Greek word there is psēphizō, which is an accounting term, used for the act of calculation. The psēphos, from which the verb is derived, is the name the Greeks gave to the small pebble they would use to help keep count.

It seems, then, John is inviting the reader to reckon, or figure out, the name of the Beast from this number. Next time, we shall explore and evaluate the ways people have tried to do just that, and see if we can draw some conclusions of our own about the meaning of this number.

Who Review: Smile

For her first “proper” TARDIS trip, Bill chooses to visit the future. The Doctor takes her to a time when the Earth has been evacuated, to a planet that is to be the future home of the colonists. The place has been designed to appeal to humans, and make them content and comfortable. Emoji-robots monitor the city, making sure everyone is happy, while microscopic robot “Vardies” take care of construction, and agriculture. But happiness is more than just an aspiration–it’s a requirement. As the advance party found out, anything less than a smiley carries the death penalty. And when the Doctor and Bill find their skeletal remains, they realize they must do something before the colonists arrive, or the human race will be annihilated…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

I can’t say I didn’t experience some trepidation with the second episode of season ten. It was written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the writer responsible for the season eight story, “In the Forest of the Night,” which was–um–not my favorite episode of Doctor Who. Possibly one of my least favorites. Ever. Part of the problem with that story was the complete lack of real conflict. The Doctor assumed a problem that he set out to fix, only to find out there really wasn’t a problem and the earth was just taking care of its human inhabitants. A nice environmental message wrapped up in some witty dialog and tense moments with tigers and lost children, but not exactly riveting Doctor Who. Even “Time Flight” and “Love and Monsters” had proper antagonists! So, would we get more of the same with “Smile”? Or is there really a monster to defeat and people to save?

Well… sort of. Yes, the Vardies are vicious and will kill anyone who displays anything less than a positive demeanor on their emoji badges. And the human race is in peril–or potential peril–as a result of these brutal bots. But once again, we have the Doctor getting the wrong end of the stick, thinking he needs to destroy the city before the colonists arrive. No, the colonists are already there, in hibernation. And then, when Bill shows him the body of the first person to die (of natural causes), it dawns on the Doctor what’s really going on. The robots are programmed for happiness, so when the first thing happens that causes distress (death), the robots are confused, and seek to eliminate the cause of that unhappiness. And since it is the people themselves who are grieving, they kill the people. Which causes grief for other people, so the robots kill them, and so on. The Doctor’s solution? A re-boot of the system! Pop open the head of an emoji-bot, find the “reset” button, and let them discover a new purpose alongside their new human co-inhabitants.

So, there is some real danger, and a real problem to solve. But the “bad guys” are not really bad, just ignorant, and operating according to programming. And the resolution to the story was, like “In the Forest of the Night,” all a bit too easy. Indeed, the fact the Doctor could hit a reset button and make everything right put me in mind of “The Edge of Destruction,” the third ever Doctor Who story. In that adventure, the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan, are trapped in the TARDIS, and everyone seems to be turning on each other, possibly due to an outside force trying to take over. In the end, the strange behavior was the result of the TARDIS trying to warn the crew that something’s wrong with the ship, namely a broken spring on the “Fast Return” switch. So the Doctor fixes the switch, flips it, and all is restored to normal. “The Edge of Destruction” was written in two days as a filler story. I think the Who team could have come up with something better for “Smile.” For example, this could have been a great set-up for an alien invader looking to take over. Set the robots on the colonists, wait for them to be wiped out, then settle down and enjoy everything the people from Earth had created for themselves. Instead, we have something that starts out promising, end up a bit deflating, with lots of messaging about technology, emojis, and colonization.

The story isn’t without its highlights, the first being Bill. Her down-to-earth-ness and curiosity remind me of Sarah Jane, with a bit of Rose’s cheekiness. Peter Capaldi is excellent, as usual, and while the story may falter at the end, it’s a good script with a good premise. It’s easy to see the story as a critique of emoji culture, where emotions are conveyed by means of pictures, and there may well be a bit of cynicism intended. Show-runner Steven Moffat has made no secret of his somewhat-curmudgeonly attitude toward the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, but that’s mainly thanks to leaks, spoilers, and piracy, which obviously get up his nose. I prefer see it as a playful take on something that has become part of early 21st century digital life, with a gentle reminder that an emoji is no substitute for real life contact when it comes to knowing how people feel.

In episode one, we learned that the Doctor is watching over a mysterious vault. In this episode, we learn that the Doctor has promised to keep an eye on the vault, and not leave Earth. This is why he’s at the university. In his brief few seconds in this story, Nardole reminds the Doctor of his promise–right before the Doctor whisks Bill away to another time and place. The Doctor assures a concerned Bill that he will get them back before they left, so it won’t matter. But, of course, that doesn’t happen. I’m sure there will be consequences. We’ll have to wait and see.

I mentioned “The Edge of Destruction” earlier. That story ended with the TARDIS crew walking out into a snow covered landscape, to begin a new adventure where they meet Marco Polo. “Smile” ends with Bill and the Doctor walking out into snow-covered Regency London. With elephants. I presume this leads us straight into next week’s story, “Thin Ice.”

To sum up: “Smile” is a good story with a disappointing ending, worth watching mainly for the chemistry between the Doctor and Bill. While it’s much better than “In the Forest of the Night,” it’s by no means a classic, and I doubt it will be the talk of the series.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:14-17

14 …and that he might lead astray those dwelling on the earth on account of the signs which were given to him to do in the presence of the beast, telling those dwelling upon the earth to make an image to the beast who has the wound of the sword and lived. 15 And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might speak and act [so that] as many as might not worship the image of the beast may be killed. 16 And he makes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, so that he might give to them a mark upon their right hand or upon their forehead, 17 and so that no-one may be able to buy or sell except the one having the mark–the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Last time we started talking about the ways the second beast leads astray the earth-dwellers such that they worship the first beast. John gives us two principal tactics used by the second beast. The first is with a show of miraculous signs, particularly calling fire from heaven, the purpose of which is to make the people believe the beast has some kind of divine status and authority.

The second method employed by the beast’s underling is to have the earth-dwellers create an image of the first beast. It seems a natural follow-up to the miraculous signs to have them create a tangible form of the beast that they can then worship. In essence, the second beast is drawing the people into idolatry. When we consider this in terms of John’s social context, we immediately think of the Roman Empire, and the practice of emperor worship. It’s commonly believed that all Roman emperors were regarded as gods, however this is not strictly true. There was an official mechanism by which an emperor could be recognized as a god. First, the Senate had to approve the designation of divus to that emperor. Second, the emperor needed to be dead. This means most of the emperors, at least prior to the second century, that were considered divine, were designated that way posthumously. This didn’t prevent emperor cults rising up locally, however. Given the fact that the emperor rarely got to visit all regions of his empire, these local cults formed to pay homage to their ruler and show loyalty in his absence, not necessarily because they really thought he was a god (though no doubt some did). The first emperor temple built in Asia (the broad region in which John’s churches reside) was constructed in Pergamum in 29 BC. By the end of the first century AD, all of the seven cities in Revelation 2 and 3 had both a temple and an emperor cult proclaiming Caesar’s divinity. I said there weren’t many emperors who were officially considered divine. The first to assert his own deity, and to do so in official documents, was Emperor Domitian, and his official imperial cult was in Ephesus, which we presume was John’s home city. Domitian actually used the title “dominus et deus” (“lord and god”) in imperial documents. This is another reason why I think the period of Domitian’s rule is the most likely time frame for the writing of Revelation–it fits well with the situation John appears to be describing.

So, when John speaks of a beast that leads people into idolatry and worship of a false Messiah through making an image, his audience very likely would have seen the emperor cults and statues in their own cities and understood. But that doesn’t mean this is only relevant to John’s day. We have seen government structures like this throughout history, where idols are made of leaders, and people are expected to follow and obey, or face dire consequences–and we will continue to see power-hungry authorities rise up and claim dominance. But there are other more subtle ways this kind of idolatry seeps into our lives. Hollywood has a long history of immortalizing and near-deifying its idols. We see the same kind of thing happening more and more in politics, where in America the political pantheon consists of JFK, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama. Both entertainment and politics wield extraordinary power in the lives of many people, influencing how people spend their money, what they do with their time, and how to think about social issues. Anyone who takes worship away from the one true God is guilty of idolatry, whether or not the idols are made of stone.

In verse 15, John tells us what happens to those who refuse to worship the beast: they are killed. This is reminiscent of Daniel 3, where Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden image 90 feet tall, and commands everyone to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the statue, and so they are consigned to the furnace. We have said that those led astray by the second beast are the “earth-dwellers”–those who are not of God’s people. One might be tempted to infer from verse 15 that the earth-dwellers did not wish to worship the image but were coerced, or that some of the earth-dwellers didn’t comply with the beast’s demands. I don’t think this is what’s being said. Rather, I think John is simply telling us that the beast had authority to execute those that refused to worship the image of the beast. We know that the “heaven-dwellers”–God’s people–will not, so they are under threat of death. I say threat because the beast has authority to execute. Verse 17 implies that not everyone who refuses to worship the image will die, but they certainly will suffer economic sanction.

The beginning of verse 15 says that the beast was given the ability to put breath into the beast’s image to make it talk. Is this a supernatural phenomenon, or is this symbolic? There’s a long history of supernatural acts happening in association with idolaters. In response to Aaron’s staff turning into a serpent, Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers do the same thing (Exodus 7). In the early church, writers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus speak of false teachers who do “mighty acts” which include exorcism, incantation, and making love potions. “Pseudo-Clement” speaks of one individual who could make statues walk, could fly, and turn himself into a serpent or goat. As sophisticated, 21st century Western Christians, we might be tempted to dismiss such things. However, as Christians we believe in the supernatural, so we mustn’t rule out these kinds of phenomena. Indeed, “Pseudo-Clement” advises Christians to discern miracles by asking what end the miracle serves: is it to convert and save, or to admonish and deceive?

That said, while we are open to the possibility that this could be speaking of a literal miracle whereby idols are made to talk, it would be strange to have something literal in the midst of all this symbolism. If the beasts, the horns, and all the other aspects we’ve discussed are symbolic, then the talking image is also more than likely symbolic. Perhaps it refers to some kind of representation of the “beast” (i.e., the global authority) that can speak and act on the beast’s behalf. Perhaps this is a false version of Christ (the second beast) and the church (the image)? The image could therefore represent local officials, or the military, or some other arm of government that does the beast’s bidding. “Worship” of these entities (obedience and submission) would be seen as worship of the beast himself.

Verses 16 and 17 speak of the scope of the beast’s influence: everyone great and small, rich and poor, free and slave is included in the beast’s worship. Worship of the beast checks all the diversity boxes, and is fully inclusive. And to make sure everyone complies, a mark is put on the forehead or right hand of all those who participate in this idolatry. This mark is the name, or number, of the beast.

We’ll get into these verses more next time, but in finishing, we made a few observations. First, the word for “mark” (Greek: charagma) is also the Greek word used for the emperor’s seal on business contracts, and also his image on a coin. It signifies his authorization, an official stamp of approval. During times of persecution, people had to prove their devotion to Caesar. It was not uncommon to have someone suspected of being less than loyal to the emperor declare “Caesar is lord,” or perform an act of worship to an image or representation of Caesar as proof of their devotion. Those that did this were then given a document, called a libellus, that certified they had proven themselves to be a devotee of the emperor. Many Christians refused, and suffered as a result. Similarly, this “mark” is proof of devotion to the beast.

In Deuteronomy 6:8, the Lord tells His people to bind His commandments on their hands and their foreheads, a practice which is taken literally by orthodox Jews to this day in their use of phylacteries–small boxes tied to the hand and forehead containing portions of Scripture.

We’ll dig more into what this means, and discuss the nature of this mark next time…