Gematria

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Gematria is an Assyro-Babylonian system of numerology later adopted by Jews which assigns numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other, or bear some relation to the number itself as it may apply to a person's age, the calendar year, or the like. The best-known example of Gematria is the Hebrew word Chai ("alive"), which is composed of two letters which (using the assignments in the Mispar gadol table shown below) add up to 18. This has made 18 a "lucky number" among Jews, and gifts in multiples of 18 are very common.[1]

Etymology[edit]

Although the term is Hebrew, it most likely derives from Greek geōmetriā, "geometry", which was used as a translation of gēmaṭriyā, though some scholars believe it to derive from Greek grammateia, rather; it's possible that both words had an influence on the formation of the Hebrew word.[2][3] (Some also hold it to derive from the order of the Greek alphabet, gamma being the third letter of the Greek alphabet (gamma + tria).[4]) The word has been extant in English since the 17th century from translations of works by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Although ostensibly derived from Greek, it is largely used in Jewish texts, notably in those associated with the Kabbalah.

History[edit]

Some identify two forms of gematria: the "revealed" form, which is prevalent in many hermeneutic methods found throughout Rabbinic literature, and the "mystical" form, a largely Kabbalistic practice.[5]

Though gematria is most often used to calculate the values of individual words, psukim (Biblical verses), Talmudical aphorisms, sentences from the standard Jewish prayers, personal, angelic and Godly names, and other religiously significant material, Kabbalists use them often for arbitrary phrases and, occasionally, for various languages. A few instances of gematria in Arabic, Spanish and Greek, spelled with the Hebrew letters, are mentioned in the works of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia;[6] some Hasidic Rabbis also used it, though rarely, for Yiddish.[7] However, the primary language for gematria calculations has always been and remains Hebrew and, to a lesser degree, Aramaic.

A classic Biblical commentary incorporating gematria is Baal ha-Turim by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher.

Gematria is often used by the Maharal of Prague and hasidic Torah commentators (such as the "Sefath Emmeth" from Gur).

Textual sources[edit]

A Mishnaic textual source makes clear that the use of gematria is dated to at least the Tannaic period.

Pirkei Avot 3:23:

רבי אלעזר בן חסמא אומר, קנין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות. תקופות וגמטריאות פרפראות לחכמה.

Rabbi Eleazar Chisma[8] said: the laws of mixed bird offerings and the key to the calculations of menstruation days—these, these are the body of the halakhah. The calculation of the equinoxes and gematria are the desserts of wisdom.

An alternative translation to the Hebrew word פרפראות is "minor side dishes".

Minor dishes may be served before, during, or after a meal, to add interest and variety; they are the appetizers, side dishes, desserts, tid-bits — never to be served as main dishes. In other words, these sciences, while important, are yet only auxiliary and secondary. What is primary is the Torah. What is central is the life-giving law.[9]

Values table[edit]

The Mispar gadol (see below) values are:

DecimalHebrewGlyph
1Alephא
2Betב
3Gimelג
4Daledד
5Heה
6Vavו
7Zayinז
8Hethח
9Tethט
DecimalHebrewGlyph
10Yudי
20Kaphכ
30Lamedל
40Memמ
50Nunנ
60Samechס
70Ayinע
80Peפ
90Tsadeצ
DecimalHebrewGlyph
100Qophק
200Reishר
300Shinש
400Tawת
500Kaph(final)ך
600Mem(final)ם
700Nun(final)ן
800Pe(final)ף
900Tsade(final)ץ

Vowels[edit]

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 digit sum, is given in parentheses):

DecimalVowelGlyph
6
Patach

ַ
10 (1)
Hiriq

 ִ

Holam


ׂ

Shuruk

 וּ
DecimalVowelGlyph
16 (7)
Kamatz

ָ
20 (2)
Zeire

ֵ

Sh'va

ְ
26 (8)
Reduced patach

ֲ
DecimalVowelGlyph
30 (3)
Segol

ֶ

Kubutz

ֻ
36 (9)
Reduced kamatz

ֳ
50 (5)
Reduced segol

ֱ

Sometimes the names of the vowels are spelled out and their gematria is calculated using standard methods.[10]

Methods[edit]

There are several methods used to calculate the numerical value for the individual words, phrases or whole sentences. More advanced methods are usually used for the most significant Biblical verses, prayers, names of God and angels etc.

Within the wider topic of Gematria are included the various alphabet transformations where one letter is substituted by another based on a logical scheme:

Most of the above mentioned methods and ciphers are listed by Rabbi Moshe Cordevero.[14]

Some authors provide lists of as many as 231 various replacement ciphers, related to the 231 mystical Gates of the Sefer Yetzirah.[15]

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.[16] Some known methods are recursive in nature and are reminiscent of the graph theory or use heavily 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 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 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, 2 + 1 + 1 + 1, 3 + 1 + 1, 4 + 1, 2 + 2 + 1 or 2 + 3, which adds up to 30. Sometimes combinations of repeating letters are not allowed (e.g. 2 + 3 is valid, but 3 + 1 + 1 is not). The original letter itself can also be viewed as a valid combination.[15]

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-Malchuth" by Rabbi David ha-Levi of Draa Valley, a Spanish-Moroccan Kabbalist of the 15–16th century.[10] 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 of her mother's name; the result is then divided by 7 and 12. The remainders signify a particular planet and Zodiac sign.[17]

Absolute value[edit]

The most common form of 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)‎.[18]

Use in other languages[edit]

The first attested use of gematria occurs in an inscription of Assyrian ruler Sargon II (727–705 BC) stating that the king built the wall of Khorsabad 16,283 cubits long to correspond with the numerical value of his name.[19] Gematria or isopsephy was borrowed into the Greek probably soon after their adoption of the Semitic writing system. The extant examples of use in Greek come primarily for the Christian literature and, unlike rabbinic sources, is always explicitly stated as being used.[20] It has been asserted[where?] that Plato (c. 427-347 BC) offers a discussion of gematria "in its simplest forms" in the Cratylus, where he is said to have claimed that "the 'essential force' of a thing's name is to be found in its numerical value, and that words and phrases of the same numerical value may be substituted in context without loss in meaning." A direct review of the Cratylus, however, shows that Plato made no such claim and that gematria is not discussed in it either explicitly or implicitly.[citation needed] What can be more accurately stated is that Plato's discussion in the Cratylus involves 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.[21][22]

The Latin-script languages exhibit borrowing of gematria methods dating from the early Middle Ages after the use lapsed following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century.

Many researchers connect the "Number of the Beast", referred to in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament, with either Greek or Hebrew gematria as used by the early Christians. According to such interpretations, the number in question, 666, was originally derived via gematria from the name of the Roman emperor of the time, Nero Caesar (נרונקסר Nero Qasr).[23]

Calculation tools[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Chabad.org Chani Benjaminson". 
  2. ^ "Gematria" at Dictionary.com
  3. ^ "gematria". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  Oxford English Dictionary
  4. ^ Benjamin Blech, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish Culture", p. 395 (2004)
  5. ^ e.g. Aish HaTorah, http://www.aish.com/spirituality/prayer/Prayer_6_-_Hear_O_Israel_Part_1.asp, which says "It is part of a Kabbalistic tradition ... Gematria is a Kabbalistic way of showing how two ideas are related on a conceptual level; it is using numerology as basis to confirm (not create) the connection."
  6. ^ Otzar Eden ha-Ganuz,
  7. ^ E.g. the rebbes of the Zhidichov dynasty noticed that the Yiddish word vaser (water) has the same value as Geshem (rain in Hebrew), and used this fact for theurgic meditations
  8. ^ astronomer and mathematician and knew geometry, Horayoth 10 a-b
  9. ^ Bunim, I (1964). "Ethics From Sinai", Feldheim
  10. ^ a b Sefer ha-Malchut, "Sifrei Chaim", Jerusalem, 2008
  11. ^ Toras Menachem - Tiferes Levi Yitzchok, Vol. I - Bereshis, p. 2, fn. 7
  12. ^ the spelling of the name of the number comes from the Talmud
  13. ^ The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 5. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co. 1904. p.589.
  14. ^ Moshe Cordevero, Sefer Pardes ha-Rimonim, שער האותיות
  15. ^ a b Elazar Rokeach, Sefer ha-Shem
  16. ^ Encyclopedia Judaica, 2007, vol. 7, 426
  17. ^ Commentary to Sefer Yetzirah, attributed to Saadia Gaon, 6:4; Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah, "WeiserBooks", Boston, 1997, pp. 220-221
  18. ^ Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 38a, see of Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2006), "'Etymythological Othering' and the Power of 'Lexical Engineering' in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. A Socio-Philo(sopho)logical Perspective", Explorations in the Sociology of Language and Religion, edited by Tope Omoniyi and Joshua A. Fishman, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 237-258.
  19. ^ p.197, Ratzan
  20. ^ p.164, Davies & Allison
  21. ^ Marc Hirshman, Theology and exegesis in midrashic literature, in Jon Whitman, Interpretation and allegory: antiquity to the modern period. Brill, 2003. pp. 113-114.
  22. ^ John Michell, The Dimensions of Paradise: Sacred Geometry, Ancient Science, and the Heavenly Order on Earth, 2008. pp.59-65 ff.
  23. ^ Sanders, H. A. "The Number of the Beast in Revelation." Journal of Biblical Literature 37.1 (1918): 97.

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