Real Gematria is a formal system of early mathematics. It might not fit modern ideas of mathematics, but for a scribe that was writing at the time of King Solomon, it was just the way math was done in those days.
I think Gematria was a marvelous achievement. With just 22 letters, the ancient scribes of the first Temple wove complex, beautiful, and highly informative calculations within their writings.
In Genesis 1:1, they used two different cyphers as well as notariqon (taking the first letter of each word).
בראשית + אלהים + השמים + הארץ = 700
— Genesis 18:9
In the beginning + Elohim + the Heavens + the Earth = 700.
ב + ב + א + א + ה + ו + ה = 800.
B + B + A + A + H + V + H = 800.
700 is a number that is associated with everything created, whereas 800 was associated with everything created and everything else. The ancients even used gematria to tell jokes.
ויאמרו אליו איה שרה אשתך ויאמר הנה באהל
— Genesis 18:9
And they said to him: “Where is Sarah your wife(111)?”
And he said: “Behold! In the tent(111)!”
— A Biblical Joke.
And when it came time to write of creation and the attributes of the holy alephbet, they pulled out all the stops to present us with a truly stunning arrangement of gematria, going through the alpehbet letter by letter to narrate the whole of creation both in word and in number – and what they had to say with number is highly interesting! There are things in the Bereshith that almost definitely instructed Pythagoras, and matters that weigh upon our understanding of the meaning of the writer. That’s what makes the gematria of the Bible so fascinating to study. Essentially, if you’re working out his gematria, you become part of the scribe’s intended audience. It is certain that he expected that his math work would be read and copied by his peers.
Gematria was an early type of math, but it was also an art form as surely as writing, painting, and architecture. It may have begun in the southern Levant as early as 1500 BCE. The exact details are lost to the historical record, but you find gematria in many biblical books written at different periods. In some, the gematria is spasmodic, as if the writer is rolling it out for a special event. But the gematria of Genesis 1-2 demonstrates a degree of sophistication that may only suggest it was the product of a school.
Formal gematria is constructed according to sets of conventions:
1. Only nouns are to be counted.
2. Some nouns have a set value.
3. Some nouns are flag words.
4. Some nouns are measures and are not counted.
5. Some verbs and prepositions indicate types of calculations.
6. Adjectives have no value.
Without a guide, it may take you a few years to work it all out for yourself. That’s why I wrote ‘Behold’ – as a guide to the Art and Practice of Gematria. I’ve put everything in it to help you practice the Art of Gematria for yourself. Details are available over at Shematria, and you are welcome to join my FB group: ‘Real Gematria’ to learn more.