Gematria (//; Hebrew: גמטריא or gimatria גימטריה, plural גמטראות or גימטריאות, gimatriot) is an alphanumeric code of assigning a numerical value to a name, word or phrase based on its letters. A single word can yield multiple values depending on the cipher used.
Gematria is a Hebrew alphanumeric code or cipher that was probably used in biblical times and was later adopted by other cultures. It is still widely used in Jewish culture. Similar systems have been used in other languages and cultures: the Greeks isopsephy, and later, derived from or inspired by Hebrew gematria, Arabic abjad numerals, and English gematria.
A type of gematria system ('Aru') was employed by the ancient Babylonian culture but, because their writing script was logographic, the numerical assignations they made were to whole words. The value of these words were assigned in an entirely arbitrary manner and correspondences were made through tables. This practise was very different from the gematria systems used by Hebrew and Greek cultures, which used alphabetic writing scripts. Similar systems have been used in other languages and cultures derived from or inspired by Hebrew gematria, Arabic abjad numerals, and English gematria. There is currently no academic consensus over whether Hebrew gematria or Greek isopsephy was used first.
Gematria sums can involve single words, or a string of lengthy calculations. A well-known short example of Hebrew numerology that uses a gematria cipher is the word חי chai (lit. "alive"), which is composed of two letters that (using the assignments in the Mispar gadol table shown below) add up to 18. This has made 18 a "lucky number" among the Jewish people. Donations of money in multiples of 18 are very popular. Unlike numerology, gematria sums are usually derived from a written text and tend to only involve the nouns for calculation. For instance the nouns from Genesis 1:1 בראשית אלהים השמים הארץ that mean 'In the beginning, Elohim, the Heavens, the Earth' add up to 700 (using the biblical gematria cipher) to represent the seven days of creation.
Although the term is Hebrew, it may be derived from the Greek γεωμετρία geōmetriā, "geometry", which was used as a translation of gēmaṭriyā, though some scholars believe it to derive from Greek γραμματεια grammateia "knowledge of writing". It is likely that both Greek words had an influence on the formation of the Hebrew word. Some also hold it to derive from the order of the Greek alphabet, gamma being the third letter of the Greek alphabet.
The word has been extant in English since at least the 17th century from translations of works by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. It is largely used in Jewish texts, notably in those associated with the Kabbalah. The term does not appear in the Hebrew Bible itself.
The first documented use of gematria is from an Assyrian inscription dating to the 8th century BC, commissioned by Sargon II. In this inscription, Sargon II states: "the king built the wall of Khorsabad 16,283 cubits long to correspond with the numerical value of his name."
There are at least two cases of gematria appearing in the New Testament. The reference to the miraculous catch of 153 fish in John 21:11 is largely seen as an application of gematria derived from the name Eglaim in Ezekiel 47. The appearance of this gematria in John 21:11 has been connected to one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, namely 4Q252, which also applies the same gematria of 153 derived from Ezekiel 47 to state that Noah arrived at Mount Ararat on the 153rd day after the beginning of the flood. Many historians see gematria behind the reference to the number of the name of the beast in Revelation as "666", which corresponds to the numerical value of the Hebrew transliteration of the Greek name "Nero Caesar", referring to the 1st century Roman emperor who persecuted the early Christians. On the other hand, another possible influence on the use of 666 in Revelation goes back to reference to Solomon's intake of 666 talents of gold in 1 Kings 10:14.
Gematria makes several appearances in various Christian and Jewish texts written in the first centuries of the common era. One appearance of gematria in the early Christian period is in the Epistle of Barnabas 9:6-7, which dates to sometime between 70 and 132 AD. There, the 318 servants of Abraham in Genesis 14:14 is used to indicate that Abraham looked forwards to the coming of Jesus as the numerical value of some of the letters in the Greek name for Jesus as well as the 't' representing a symbol for the cross also equaled 318. Another example is a Christian interpolation in the Sibylline Oracles, where the symbolic significance of the value of 888 (equal to the numerical value of Iesous, the Greek version of Jesus' name) is asserted. Another two examples can be found in 3 Baruch, a text that may have either been composed by a Jew or a Christian sometime between the 1st and 3rd centuries. In the first example, a snake is stated to consume a cubit of ocean every day, but is unable to ever finish consuming it, because the oceans are also refilled by 360 rivers. The number 360 is given because the numerical value of the Hebrew word for snake is 360. In a second example, the number of giants stated to have died during the Deluge is 409,000. The Hebrew word for 'deluge' has a numerical value of 409, thus leading the author of 3 Baruch to use it for the number of perished giants.
Gematria is used several times in the rabbinic literature. One example is that the numerical value of Satan in Hebrew is 364, and so it was said that Satan had authority to prosecute Israel for 364 days before his reign ended on the Day of Atonement, an idea which appears in Yoma 20a and Peskita 7a. Yoma 20a states: "Rami bar Ḥama said: The numerological value of the letters that constitute the word HaSatan is three hundred and sixty four: Heh has a value of five, sin has a value of three hundred, tet has a value of nine, and nun has a value of fifty. Three hundred and sixty-four days of the solar year, which is three hundred and sixty-five days long, Satan has license to prosecute." Genesis 14:14 states that Abraham took 318 of his servants to help him rescue some of his kinsmen, which was taken in Peskita 70b to be a reference to Eleazar, whose name has a numerical value of 318.
The total value of the letters of the Islamic Basmala, i.e. the phrase Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim ("In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"), according to the standard Abjadi system of numerology, is 786. This number has therefore acquired a significance in folk Islam and Near Eastern folk magic and also appears in many instances of pop-culture, such as its appearance in the 2006 song '786 All is War' by the band Fun^Da^Mental. A recommendation of reciting the basmala 786 times in sequence is recorded in Al-Buni. Sündermann (2006) reports that a contemporary "spiritual healer" from Syria recommends the recitation of the basmala 786 times over a cup of water, which is then to be ingested as medicine.
In the standard (Mispar hechrechi) version of gematria, each letter is given a numerical value between 1 and 400, as shown in the following table. In the Mispar gadol variation, the five final letters are given their own values, ranging from 500 to 900. It is possible that this well-known cipher was used to conceal other more hidden ciphers in Jewish texts. For instance, a scribe may discuss a sum using the 'standard gematria' cipher, but may intend the sum to be checked with a different secret cipher.
A mathematical formula for finding a letter's corresponding number in Mispar Gadol is: where x is the position of the letter in the language letters index (regular order of letters), and the floor and modulo functions are used.
The value of the Hebrew vowels is not usually counted, but some lesser-known methods include the vowels as well. The most common vowel values are as follows (a less common alternative value, based on the digit sum, is given in parentheses):
Sometimes, the names of the vowels are spelled out and their gematria is calculated using standard methods.
Other methods in Hebrew
There are many different methods used to calculate the numerical value for the individual Hebrew/Aramaic words, phrases or whole sentences. More advanced methods are usually used for the most significant Biblical verses, prayers, names of God, etc. These methods include:
- Mispar Hechrachi (absolute value) is the standard method. It assigns the values 1–9, 10–90, 100–400 to the 22 Hebrew letters in order. Sometimes it is also called Mispar ha-Panim (face number), as opposed to the more complicated Mispar ha-Akhor (back number).
- Mispar Gadol (large value) counts the final forms (sofit) of the Hebrew letters as a continuation of the numerical sequence for the alphabet, with the final letters assigned values from 500 to 900. The name Mispar Gadol is sometimes used for a different method, Otiyot beMilui.
- The same name, Mispar Gadol, is also used for another method, which spells the name of each letter and adds the standard values of the resulting string. For example, the letter Aleph is spelled Aleph-Lamed-Peh, giving it a value of 1+30+80=111.
- Mispar Katan (small value) calculates the value of each letter, but truncates all of the zeros. It is also sometimes called Mispar Me'ugal.
- Mispar Siduri (ordinal value) with each of the 22 letters given a value from 1 to 22.
- Mispar Bone'eh (building value, also Revu'a, square) is calculated by walking over each letter from the beginning to the end, adding the value of all previous letters and the value of the current letter to the running total. Therefore, the value of the word achad (one) is .
- Mispar Kidmi (preceding value) uses each letter as the sum of all the standard gematria letter values preceding it. Therefore, the value of Aleph is 1, the value of Bet is 1+2=3, the value of Gimel is 1+2+3=6, etc. It's also known as Mispar Meshulash (triangular or tripled number).
- Mispar P'rati calculates the value of each letter as the square of its standard gematria value. Therefore, the value of Aleph is 1 × 1 = 1, the value of Bet is 2 × 2 = 4, the value of Gimel is 3 × 3 = 9, etc. It's also known as Mispar ha-Merubah ha-Prati.
- Mispar ha-Merubah ha-Klali is the square of the standard absolute value of each word.
- Mispar Meshulash calculates the value of each letter as the cube of their standard value. The same term is more often used for Mispar Kidmi.
- Mispar ha-Akhor – The value of each letter is its standard value multiplied by the position of the letter in a word or a phrase in either ascending or descending order. This method is particularly interesting, because the result is sensitive to the order of letters. It is also sometimes called Mispar Meshulash (triangular number).
- Mispar Mispari spells out the standard values of each letter by their Hebrew names ("Achad" (one) is etc.), and then adds up the standard values of the resulting string.
- Otiyot beMilui ("filled letters", also known as Mispar gadol or Mispar Shemi), uses the value of each letter as equal to the value of its name. For example, the value of the letter Aleph is , Bet is , etc. Sometimes the same operation is applied two or more times recursively. In a variation known as Otiyot pnimiyot (inner letters), the initial letter in the spelled-out name is omitted, thus the value of Aleph becomes 30+80=110.
- Mispar Ne'elam (hidden number) spells out the name of each letter without the letter itself (e.g., "Leph" for "Aleph") and adds up the value of the resulting string.
- Mispar Katan Mispari (integral reduced value) is used where the total numerical value of a word is reduced to a single digit. If the sum of the value exceeds 9, the integer values of the total are repeatedly added to produce a single-digit number. The same value will be arrived at regardless of whether it is the absolute values, the ordinal values, or the reduced values that are being counted by methods above.
- Mispar Misafi adds the number of the letters in the word or phrase to their gematria.
- Kolel is the number of words, which is often added to the gematria. In case of one word, the standard value is incremented by one.
Related alphabet transformations
Within the wider topic of gematria are included the various alphabet transformations, where one letter is substituted by another based on a logical scheme:
- Atbash exchanges each letter in a word or a phrase by opposite letters. Opposite letters are determined by substituting the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph) with the last letter (Tav), the second letter (Bet) with the next to last (Shin), etc. The result can be interpreted as a secret message or calculated by the standard gematria methods. A few instances of Atbash are found already in the Hebrew Bible. For example, see Jeremiah 25:26, and 51:41, with Targum and Rashi, in which the name ששך ("Sheshek") is thought to represent בבל (Babylon).
- Albam – the alphabet is divided in half, eleven letters in each section. The first letter of the first series is exchanged for the first letter of the second series, the second letter of the first series for the second letter of the second series, and so forth.
- Achbi divides the alphabet into two equal groups of 11 letters. Within each group, the first letter is replaced by the last, the second by the 10th, etc.
- Ayak Bakar replaces each letter by another one that has a 10-times-greater value. The final letters usually signify the numbers from 500 to 900. Thousands is reduced to ones (1,000 becomes 1, 2,000 becomes 2, etc.)
- Ofanim replaces each letter by the last letter of its name (e.g. "Fe" for "Aleph").
- Akhas Beta divides the alphabet into three groups of 7, 7 and 8 letters. Each letter is replaced cyclically by the corresponding letter of the next group. The letter Tav remains the same.
- Avgad replaces each letter by the next one. Tav becomes Aleph. The opposite operation is also used.
Dozens of other far more advanced methods are used in Kabbalistic literature, without any particular names. In Ms. Oxford 1,822, one article lists 75 different forms of gematria. Some known methods are recursive in nature and are reminiscent of graph theory or make a lot of use of combinatorics. Rabbi Elazar Rokeach often used multiplication, instead of addition, for the above mentioned methods. For example, spelling out the letters of a word and then multiplying the squares of each letter value in the resulting string produces very large numbers, in orders of trillions. The spelling process can be applied recursively, until a certain pattern (e.g., all the letters of the word "Talmud") is found; the gematria of the resulting string is then calculated. The same author also used the sums of all possible unique letter combinations, which add up to the value of a given letter. For example, the letter Hei, which has the standard value of 5, can be produced by combining , , , , , or , which adds up to . Sometimes combinations of repeating letters are not allowed (e.g., is valid, but is not). The original letter itself can also be viewed as a valid combination.
Variant spellings of some letters can be used to produce sets of different numbers, which can be added up or analyzed separately. Many various complex formal systems and recursive algorithms, based on graph-like structural analysis of the letter names and their relations to each other, modular arithmetic, pattern search and other highly advanced techniques, are found in the "Sefer ha-Malchut" by Rabbi David ha-Levi of the Draa Valley, a Spanish-Moroccan Kabbalist of the 15th–16th century. Rabbi David ha-Levi's methods take into consideration the numerical values and other properties of the vowels as well.
Kabbalistic astrology uses some specific methods to determine the astrological influences on a particular person. According to one method, the gematria of the person's name is added to the gematria of his or her mother's name; the result is then divided by 7 and 12. The remainders signify a particular planet and Zodiac sign.
The most common form of Hebrew gematria is used in the Talmud and Midrash, and elaborately by many post-Talmudic commentators. It involves reading words and sentences as numbers, assigning numerical instead of phonetic value to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. When read as numbers, they can be compared and contrasted with other words or phrases – cf. the Hebrew proverb נכנס יין יצא סוד (nichnas yayin yatza sod, lit. "wine entered, secret went out", i.e. "in vino veritas"). The gematric value of יין ("wine") is 70 (י=10; י=10; ן=50) and this is also the gematric value of סוד ("secret", ס=60; ו=6; ד=4).
Use in other languages
The extant examples of use in Greek come primarily from the Christian literature. Davies and Allison state that, unlike rabbinic sources, isopsephy is always explicitly stated as being used; however, this is a dubious conclusion to make because it relies solely on the pure assumption that there is no hidden isopsephy in Christian literature.
Plato (c. 427–347 BC) offers a discussion in the Cratylus, involving a view of words and names as referring (more or less accurately) to the "essential nature" of a person or object and that this view may have influenced – and is central to – Greek gematria.
- About the Mystery of the Letters
- Bible code
- Biblical numerology
- English Qabalah
- Hebrew numerals
- Greek numerals
- 'Ilm al-Huruf
- Katapayadi system
- Mathers table
- Numbers in Chinese culture
- Numbers in different languages
- Numbers in Egyptian mythology
- Numbers in Norse mythology
- Roman numerals
- Significance of numbers in Judaism
- Temurah (Kabbalah)
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