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Biblical Gematria was a system of formal mathematics.

# #9 The Letters of the Lord: the letter Zayin.

A Roman or Byzantine medallion with a menorah on it, dated somewhere between the third and sixth centuries CE. On display at the Jewish Museum London (JM 2). Author: Ethan Doyle White. Shared under wiki Creative Commons license.

In this special series of blog articles at the Times of Israel we’re analyzing the gematria of Bereshith (Genesis) 1-2. I’ve published all the calculations for the first two chapters on Shematria (click here), but in these articles we’re going to go through them letter by letter and we’re going to look more deeply at how the math was constructed with the ancient system.

The letter Zayin is thought by Petrovich and others to have come from the Hieroglyph of something that resembles an eyebrow (D13), or a line in a brow, or a plough, and it has the numerical value of 7.

The letter Zayin as a hieroglyph.

It was believed by Egyptologist Alan Gardiner in 1927 that this sign represented 1/8 ḥeqat measure of grain, and made up the eyebrow part of the Wadjet eye of Horus symbol that was a composite of fractions.

In recent years this interpretation of the eye as fractions has been called in question by Annette Imhausen and Jim Ritter, who point out that the shape under the eye changes as time passes. It makes a lot more sense to me for the wadjet eye to be made from whole numbers, and we may look to the values of the early alphabet to suggest those for us. If the eyebrow (zayin) is 7, and the eye (ayin) is 70, and the coiled rope takes its standard value of 100 as a hieroglyphic number, then perhaps in early hieroglphs the shape under the eye in this picture is of a column, or supporting pillar, like the gimel. If so, one eye would sum to 180 and two would be 360. It is my theory that the changes under the eye after this time may represent a change to the Egyptian understanding about the number of days in a year.

It should be noted that the early alphabetic sign isn’t written with any curvature at all, but as two straight lines like the =, which introduces a certain amount of doubt about D13 being the origin of the Zayin.

The verses which describe the theme of the Zayin are Genesis 1:24-25; the creation of living creatures, livestock, creeping things and beasts. It’s probably that bugs were associated with cattle, because insects tend to buzz around cattle. We can only speculate how an eyebrow, or the furrows of a brow, may have become connected to beasts and livestock. Cattle were used in pairs to plough furrows in fields, and perhaps there is some type of metaphor happening between the furrowed brow and the furrowed field. Although Petrovich suggests the word “sweat” for the original name of the letter (which is a great suggestion), I favor זיז (wild beasts), due to the duality of the ז in the word, reflecting the lines of the original letter, and also because it is in keeping with the theme of the Zayin in Genesis 1.

The association of the number seven with various Bull or Cow Gods of Canaan and Egypt (i.e. Hadad, the Seven Hathors, Horus) is far too prolific to detail here. A good analysis of the role of the number seven in Ugarit was written by Arvid S. Kapelrud in 1968. In early myths, cattle tend to accompany themes of fertility, with their droppings enriching the soil. The Apis Bull of Egypt was likely a fertility god at first, concerned with the propagation of grain and herds. Each year in ancient Egypt there was a seven day long festival in honor of the Apis Bull.

In the earlier verses of Genesis 1 we see that the word “seed” has a set value of 7 for the Zayin, which underlines the central theme of fertility. In these verses, the word הבהמה “cattle” has the set value of 7. Whatever the origins for the Zayin were in Egypt or Ugarit, when the scribe of the first Temple came to elaborate on the notes of Moses and settled to writing about the Zayin, he chose to make an obvious reference to the seven branched Temple Menorah, made of pure זהב gold with his gematria calculations, so let’s step right along to look at verses 1:24:

ויאמר אלהים תוצא הארץ נפש חיה למינה בהמה ורמש וחיתו ארץ למינה ויהי כן׃
And said Elohim “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”, and it was so.

The calculation:
ויאמר אלהים תוצא הארץ נפש חיה למינה בהמה ורמש וחיתו ארץ למינה ויהי כן = 1893 (b.g)
This calculation uses the entire line. We merely add the 7 of the Zayin to make 1900.

This calculation of 1900 is made in Exodus 25:31:
ועשית מנרת זהב טהור מקשה תעשה המנורה ירכה וקנה גביעיה כפתריה ופרחיה ממנה יהיו׃
And you shall make a lampstand of gold pure hammered will be made the lampstand, its base and its shaft cups like bulbs and flowers from their number shall be.

The calculation:
1900 = מנרת זהב זהב מקשה המנורה ירכה וקנה גביעיה כפתריה ופרחיה
The word טהור (pure) indicates a multiplication of the previous word by 2. The menorah of the Temple had seven branches, three at either side and one in the middle. King Solomon had ten of them in the Temple.

The theme of light is underlined by the next calculation which gives us the total of the large Aleph:
ויעש אלהים את חית הארץ למינה ואת הבהמה למינה ואת כל רמש האדמה למינהו וירא אלהים כי טוב׃
And made Elohim the beast of the earth after his kind and cattle after their kind and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind and saw Elohim that it was good.

The calculation:
אלהים חית הארץ ז רמש האדמה = 1000 (r.c)
On the Seven Palaces the position of the letter Zayin (7) is shared with the Heh (5) and the Gimel (3), making a total of 15. In connection with the Menorah, if we take the value of 1000 (the large aleph) from 1900 for the central candlestick, and divide 900 by 6 for the 6 remaining candlesticks, we have a total of 150 per candlestick.

In my next blog I’ll be discussing the letter Cheth and the creation of human beings so stay tuned for more numerical honey from the first Temple.