The conventions of Biblical Gematria

Yesterday I called the biblical art of gematria ‘sophisticated’, and today I’d like to elaborate a little upon that theme.

You’ll all be familiar with the concept of written grammar, but have you ever paid mind to numerical grammar?  It is by convention to numerical grammar that we structure our mathematical calculations the way that we do.  For instance, understanding the sum [ 220 / 7 = 31.428571r ] requires us to know which elements of the sum are arranged where and for what reason.  And before we do any calculation we also need to be familiar with the signs for math functions (like +, -, *, /, $, %, !) .  Therefore, because we require knowledge of the conventions, we need some degree of formal education in order to do math, and the same is true for biblical gematria.  There are numerical conventions for biblical gematria; it has a type of numerical grammar.

A student who is learning biblical gematria needs to develop an eye for the text they are working with.  They should try to see the cues, the math functions, the indicators, the logic of the calculation, the results, and finally ~ the sum in context with the other gematria calculations in the text.

Most indicators have a logical relationship with their mathematical function, for instance:“et” = add, “not” = disregard, “on the head” = the first syllable of a word, “bruise” = put two words together, “the heel” = the end syllable of a word.  So we’re going to be taking you on a bit of a whirlwind tour around the Torah, to alight on some of the common conventions of biblical gematria.  As promised, today we’re going to look at an unusual bit of gematria in the story of Ephraim and Manasseh; Genesis 48:14.

This calculation has something of the feel of a cryptic crossword clue about it.  When we read it we should be looking for logical relationships between the words in the sentence:

וישלח ישראל את־ימינו וישת על־ראש אפרים והוא הצעיר ואת־שמאלו ‏על־ראש מנשה שכל את־ידיו כי מנשה הבכור

“But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn.”

The value of the names are exactly the same, until just ‘the head’ of the names are considered;

מְנַשֶּׁ֖ה הַבְּכֽוֹר ‘Manasseh the firstborn’ = 331
 אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ ‘Ephraim’ = 331

Israel is touching both Ephraim and Manasseh which indicates the sum of the three names are to be added, but the text specifies that he is only touching them  עַל רֹ֤אש “on the head” which by convention means we should add ‎‎‘the head’ or first parts from each name, therefore we take the Peh and Aleph from Ephraim and the Mem from Manasseh:

יִשְׂרָאֵ֨ל‎ ‘Israel’ (244) + (‎‏(81) אֶפְ‎ of  ‎‏(אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙‎ + (‎‏ (40) מְof ‎מְנַשֶּׁ֑ה‎) = 365 (days).

And now we may ask ourselves “Why is the number of days in a year relevant to the story of Manasseh and Ephraim?”   Much of the gematria in Genesis concerns the Solar and Lunar cycles, and we see the number 365 appearing many times in Genesis as the text discusses the cycles of the solar year.  It’s first seen in Genesis 1:2-3;

365 = פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם – וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ + אֽוֹר
“The Face of the Deep” – “and darkness” + “light” = 365

We see 365 again in Genesis 3:3;

ומפרי העץ אשר בתוך ־ הגן
“And the fruit of the tree which in the middle of the garden.

[In my experience of the calculating art, typically the use of the words such as בְּתוֹךְ ‘middle’ or ‘’between’ denotes the function of division by 2 of the following noun, which in this case is הגן ‘garden’ 58. Therefore: 58 / 2 = 29 and when we add this to ומפרי ‘and the fruit’ 336 results in 365 (days in a year).]

365 is central to the story of Jacob and Esau [Genesis 25:27];

עֵשָׂ֗ו + צַ֖יִד + יַעֲקֹב֙

Esau 79 + hunter 104 + Jacob 182 = 365

This story in particular has strong typological similarities to the 3rd millennium BCE Sumerian text The Debate between Winter and Summer.

365 is a significant number to the Seven Palaces.  When the sum of the middle column is calculated (282 if we do not ‎use gates) and then removed from the total number (1012 ‎for the entire wheel) this leaves 730 and also splits the ‎wheel into two sections.

730 = 365 days + 365 nights.

When the letters Yod and Ayin are doubled on their paths we find the total sum from the Palace of the Aleph to the Palace of the Daleth is 365;

Aleph (1) + (Yod x 2 (20)) + Resh (200) + (Ayin x 2 (140) + Daleth (4) = 365.

And we also find the same calculation with the opposite diagonal;

Aleph (1) + (Lamed x 2 (60)) + Resh (200) + (Nun x 2 (100) + Daleth (4) = 365.

Lastly, the Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Rosh Hashanah ‎‎2:5 says:

”The Holy One blessed be He created 365 windows that the world might use them:  182 in the east, and 182 in the west and one in the center of the firmament from which it came forth at the beginning of the Creation.”

That’s it for today.  Continuing on tomorrow I’ll be discussing how the ancients thought about light, as well looking into the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  So stay tuned for more numerical honey.

About the Author
Bethsheba Ashe is almost Scottish. She was born a Geordie in the North East of England but she currently lives 3 thousand miles away in Pennsylvania. She started writing and self-publishing in 1992, with a series of magazines. She is the author of several non-fiction titles such as "Chariot", and has recently published her first adventure/murder mystery novel. She also coded and runs the gematria calculator app "Shematria". Bethsheba is an inventor and her invention is 'Galay'; which is the worlds first dual logographic and alphabetical writing script. Currently she is coding an app for Galay messaging. She's a quiet but intensely curious human being who likes to keep busy and she loves animals.
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