There are about half a dozen kids (six?) in my class who are convinced the world will be ending today. They have been convinced by the monstrous billboards around their neighborhood that have been promising doom on 6/6/06 for the past several weeks. The local news channels have fed into this nicely, by shoe-horning "Da Vinci Code" in on top of "Omen" furor and creating an environment of unspeakable fear.
It's unspeakable mostly because no one really understands it. Iron Maiden is the place I first learned of the number of the Beast, but apparently it shows up in the Bible - Revelations, to be precise. After I told one of my students that there were a lot of stories in the Bible that weren't exactly literally true, he wanted to know why there were lies in the Bible. I could feel my safe zone shrinking, so I suggested that with daylight savings time and leap years and so on, there was no way to be completely sure of the exact date and time of Armageddon.
To be completely honest, I should confess (especially since it's good for the soul and I should be cleansed before the end days come anyway) that I first became aware of The Mark of The Beast thirty years ago (divisible by six?) when I was thirteen (don't get me started!). As was the case for most summer films, I read the novelization of "The Omen" before I ever saw the movie. I remember taking my questions to my own private Biblical scholar - my mother. As with so many investigations of this sort, she was very direct in her tutelage: Look it up yourself. So I read the book of Revelations. It made sense to me that a great many folks throughout history have used this relatively short piece of literature to fuel the imaginings of everyone from John Milton to Charles Manson and Keanu Reeves.
It has some very impressive imagery in it, and it lends itself to vast interpretation. The other thing I'm teaching my kids right now is probability. Is it possible that June sixth, 2006 will bring about the rapture? It's possible - but not likely. I've got tickets to see Springsteen tonight.