The Lost Art of Gematria

Welcome to my blog.  With this blog I’ve elected to speak upon Biblical Gematria, the Merkabah, and the birth of the alephbet.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to express them in the comments section below.

“If I were asked to characterize the gematria of the Torah, I would call it a sophisticated, frequent, secret and very clever art form that is interwoven with the plain text.”

There is a great deal of gematria in the texts of the Tanakh. There is more than any one scholar could investigate in a lifetime of study.

The gematria of Genesis appears concerned with the planets and of those things spoken of in 1:14. The story of Adam and Eve is much clarified by the gematria; enabling us to see that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was light. The gematria of 1 Kings concerns the conformations of the Temple and how they are harmonized with the Seven Palaces. Ezekiel is also much concerned with the Temple and the Seven Palaces with his gematria, but he also has a bit of a dig at the ruler of Tyre… pulling his whiskers. Job… that’s a pure joy in terms of gematria; a real work of art both behind the scenes numerically as well as in plain composition.

Biblical gematria was a sophisticated practice that knew formal and informal conventions.  For instance, it is convention with some authors to signal the presence of gematria with a cue word like “Behold!”.  And since biblical gematria existed at a time before the Greeks or anyone else had thought to standardize mathematical notation, words stood in to do the job instead.  Touching something could signify addition (+), but eating from something is usually a sign of subtraction (-).  To magnify something is to multiply it by 10, but to get between two things expressed division by two.

Traditionally, biblical gematria has been something of a secret.  The same number set that appears on the Seven Palaces, is also the same one used in biblical gematria, and therefore it’s likely that the secrecy surrounding the Merkabah also wrapped around its gematria.

The Seven Palaces

Secrecy is also the reason why gematria is something of a lost art.

On its own, the word (any word) stands in a void of isolation; bearing no relationship to other actors. It is simply a word and a number. Most of the time there is no intrinsic relationship between words that share a common number, other than what you would expect through randomness and chance.  Happily, since ancient gematria was focused on presenting and preserving mathematics and not on numerology this poses us no issues at all.

All the number values for Biblical Gematria are the same as Standard Gematria except that the letter shin is counted as 3 (not 300), and the letter tav is counted as 4 (not 400).  The finals are counted with their small values (i.e. ץ  = 90, not 900).  I’ve encoded a gematria calculator for convenience which is available at shematria.com, but if you’re using a pen and paper, then the number values for biblical gematria are these;

א 1 ב 2 ג 3 ש 3 ד 4 ת 4 ה 5 ו 6 ז 7 ח 8 ט 9 י 10 כ 20
ל 30 מ 40 נ 50 ס 60 ע 70 פ 80 צ 90 ק 100 ר 200

To really understand how clever the art of biblical gematria is, we need to view a few examples firsthand.  So let’s start at the very beginning with Genesis 1:1;

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

“In the beginning (220) created (203) Elohim (86) ath (+) The Heavens (98) vath (and +) The Earth (296).”

et and v’et are excluded from this calculation because et almost always signifies addition.  The word bra is a verb and not of consequence to the calculations except to signify addition.

220 + 86 + 98 + 296 = 700.
יָמִ֖ים is the word for ‘days’ (100).

700 = 100 x 7 = The Seven Days of Creation.  But perhaps the 700 is also representative of the Seven Palaces themselves?  These palaces were considered to be the abode of God; each part under the governance of a letter of the alphabet, and each letter representing a quality of the heavenly and earthly life.

More instances of 700 that appear in the Tanakh are;

  • Abraham (248) + Isaac (208) + Israel (244) = 700.
  • Exodus 25:10-11 is as follows:אֲר֖וֹן = Ark = from ‘אָרָה’ meaning ‘to pick’ [fruit] or ‘to gather’ [myrrh].
    עֲצֵ֣י = wood 170
    שִׁטִּ֑ים = acacia 62
    זָהָ֣ב = Gold 14
    טָה֔וֹר = Pure 220.According to the text, the ‘pure gold’ is overlaid both inside and outside the Ark, therefore we use the sum for ‘pure gold’ twice:  Wood 170 + Acacia 62 + (Pure 220 x 2) + (Gold 14 x 2) = 700.Perhaps you know of more instances of 700?  Why not drop me a line and let me know.  If you’d like some homework, why not find out why 217 was a significant number to the ancients?

Thank you for reading my first blog post with the Times of Israel.  In my next blog post I’m going to be looking at a text that that does something very usual with the gematria when someone crosses his arms, so stay tuned for 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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