Gematria (; Hebrew: or gimatria ?, plural ? or , gimatriot) is an alphanumeric code of assigning a numerical value to a name, word or phrase according to its letters. A single word can yield several 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 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.
Although the term is Hebrew, it may be derived from the Greek ge?metri?, "geometry", which was used as a translation of g?ma?riy?, though some scholars believe it to derive from Greek ? 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."
As early as the 6th century BC, the first alphanumeric alphabet appears in ancient Greece in the form of the Milesian numeral system, and eventually gained usage in contexts such as divinatory Greek magic, prophecy, and so forth. A sample of graffiti at Pompeii reads "I love the girl whose name is phi mu epsilon (545)". According to Proclus in his commentary on the Timaeus of Plato written in the 5th century, the author Theodorus Asaeus from a century earlier interpreted the word "soul" (?) based on gematria and an inspection of the graphical aspects of the letters that make up the word. According to Proclus, Theodorus learned these methods from the writings of Numenius of Apamea and Amelius. Proclus rejects these methods by appealing to the arguments against them put forth by the Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus. The first argument was that some letters have the same numerical value but opposite meaning. His second argument was that the form of letters changes over the year, and so their graphical qualities cannot hold any deeper meaning. Finally, he puts forth the third argument that when you use all sorts of methods as addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, and even ratios, the sheer infinite ways to combine them will allow you to produce virtually every number for anything you're investigating.
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. The Gnostic uses of the numerological representation of Jesus with the number 888, as the sum of the numerical values of the letters of his name, was condemned by the Church father Irenaeus as convoluted and an act which reduced "the Lord of all things" to something alphabetical. Irenaeus also heavily criticized the interpretation of letters by the Gnostic Marcus. Because of their association with Gnosticism and the criticisms of Irenaeus as well as Hippolytus of Rome and Epiphanius of Salamis, this form of interpretation never became popular in Christianity--though it does appear in at least some texts. 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 ?ama 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.
Still today, the use of gematria is pervasive in many parts of Asia and Africa.
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.
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:
Within the wider topic of gematria are included the various alphabet transformations, where one letter is substituted by another based on a logical scheme:
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 ? (nichnas yayin yatza sod, lit. "wine entered, secret went out", i.e. "in vino veritas"). The gematric value of ("wine") is 70 (?=10; ?=10; ?=50) and this is also the gematric value of ("secret", ?=60; ?=6; ?=4).
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.
The first numerical cipher that is known to be assigned to the English Alphabet was by Cornelius Agrippa in 1533, in his work De Occulta Philosopha. There is no evidence that this cipher was actually used for the purposes of gematria or numerology, however, since 2018 a modern version of his cipher has been popularly employed by many numerologists and conspiracy theorists who use the Gematrix Gematria Calculator or the Gematrinator Calculator.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn employed a transliterated version of the Standard Hebrew Cipher, using digraphs to represent letters such as shin ? (Sh), tav ? (Th), and tsade ? (Ts or Tz). Aleister Crowley learned the transliterated English cipher from the Golden Dawn, but he also claimed to be in possession of the "true numerical keys" to the Bible and the Book of the Law which he called "The Key of it All". He never published these keys during his lifetime, but left a numerical riddle (AL II:76) in the Book of the Law and said that his successor would reveal it.
Since the death of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) a number of people have proposed numerical ciphers for the purposes of numerology with the Book of the Law. The ALW cipher (also known as the New Aeon English Qabalah) was proposed by James Lees in 1976. In 2015, cryptographer Bethsheba Ashe discovered a gematria cipher that worked with both the Bible and the Book of the Law, and encoded the Shematria Gematria Calculator with its values. This cipher is not used for numerology, but for a formal rhetorical system of early mathematics that was used by biblical authors and Aleister Crowley.