What is the difference between gematria and numerology?

Back in the 70s and early 80s, I used to hear people mixing up the terms astronomy with astrology, and that annoyed quite a few astronomers. It was so prevalent that Cornell University even has a page: “What’s the difference between astronomy and astrology?” It explains to the general public that astronomers are real scientists and astrology is pseudo-science and basically bunk.  Its parting words are “Don’t refer to an astronomer as an astrologer!”

I am similarly irritated when people confuse the terms gematria and numerology.  Here are the definitions according to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Numerology, use of numbers to interpret a person’s character or to divine the future. The theory behind numerology is based on the Pythagorean idea that all things can be expressed in numerical terms because they are ultimately reducible to numbers. Using a method analogous to that of the Greek and Hebrew alphabets (in which each letter also represented a number), modern numerology attaches a series of digits to an inquirer’s name and date of birth and from these purports to divine the person’s true nature and prospects.” ~ Encyclopedia Britannica.

Gematria, the substitution of numbers for letters of the Hebrew alphabet, a favourite method of exegesis used by medieval Kabbalists to derive mystical insights into sacred writings or obtain new interpretations of the texts. Some condemned its use as mere toying with numbers, but others considered it a useful tool, especially when difficult or ambiguous texts otherwise failed to yield satisfactory analysis. Genesis 28:12, for example, relates that in a dream Jacob saw a ladder (Hebrew sullam) stretching from earth to heaven. Since the numerical value of the word sullam is 130 (60 + 30 + 40)—the same numerical value of Sinai (60 + 10 + 50 + 10)—exegetes concluded that the Law revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai is man’s means of reaching heaven.” ~ Encyclopedia Britannica.

Now obviously, I have some issues with the definition given by this encyclopedia.  For sure, kabbalists have an embarrassment of different types of gematria, but they didn’t invent it.  It was (as I conclusively prove in my book ‘The Genesis Wheel’), a type of ancient math that was inherent and pervasive to the scribal practices and conventions of biblical authors.  I find the practice of gematria to be intellectually stimulating and exciting, offering an avenue of insight into the Torah that I could not get anywhere else.  It enables me to answer questions such as “What was the serpent in the garden of Eden?” or “What exactly was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?”  Ancient gematria is very different to modern practices which cherry pick out words with corresponding values and read meaning into them.  Ancient gematria had a fully developed system of mathematical notation that used words to indicate addition, subtraction, multiplication by 2, and multiplication by 10, words to include and to not include, etc.  Ancient scribes expected that their contemporaries would be able to read their gematria and arrive at the intended sum.  They had no time for cherry picking one word with another.

But, like back in the seventies when it was common to see the terms astronomy and astrology confused, there is obviously now a mix up by a section of the general public about the difference between gematria and numerology.  There is even a conspiracy theory channel on Youtube that deals with the numerology of mass shooters that calls itself “The Gematria Effect”, and a ghoulish enterprise it is too.  Within an hour of the El Paso shootings, there was a show about the numerology of the victims.  Unfortunately the channel is so popular among the feeble minded that I cannot type “gematria” into Google to see the latest articles and research in the field without coming across these debased charlatans.

Can you imagine the ire that astronomers might feel if a popular astrology channel started calling itself “The Astronomy Effect”?  Well, that’s how I feel about “The Gematria Effect”.  Zachary Hubbard, you ignorant little man, let me put this in terms you’ll understand: “you suck.”

About the Author
Bethsheba Ashe is an INTJ author, cryptographer, programmer and creator of the world’s first dual logographic and alphabetical writing script. She’s a bit of a geek and learned Python at age 47 so she could code the Shematria.com calculator. She is the author of six books and one screenplay, and is proud to be a weird woman. In 2019 she was ranked in the top 0.5% of authors by academia.edu.
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