Gematria

Gematria

[guh-mey-tree-uh]
Gematria or gimatria (Rabbinic Hebrew גימטריה ), is a system of assigning numerical value to an alphabet. The word Gematria is believed to have been formed from a metathesis of the Greek word grammateia ("play upon letters"), from gramma (letter) and literally means 'that which is written'. It is extant in English since the 17th century from translations of works by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Although ostensibly derived from Greek, it is largely used in Jewish texts of Tanakh and Talmud, notably in those associated with the Kabbalah.

Some identify two forms of gematria: the "revealed" form, which is prevalent in many several hermeneutic methods found throughout Rabbinic literature, and the "mystical" form, a largely Kabbalistic practice

Textual sources

A Mishnaic textual source makes clear that the use of gematria is dated to at least the Tannaic period.

Pirkei Avot 3:18:

רבי אלעזר בן חסמא אומר, קנין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות. תקופות וגמטריאות פרפראות לחכמה.

Rabbi Eleazar Chisma said: the laws of mixed bird offerings and the key to the calculations of menstruation days—these, these are the body of the halakhah. The calculation of the equinoxes and gematria are the desserts of wisdom.

Values table

The Mispar gadol (see below) values are:

Decimal Hebrew Glyph
1 Aleph א
2 Bet ב
3 Gimel ג
4 Daled ד
5 He ה
6 Waw ו
7 Zayin ז
8 Heth ח
9 Teth ט
10 Yodh י
20 or 500 Kaph כ, ך
30 Lamed ל
40 or 600 Mem מ, ם
50 or 700 Nun נ, ן
60 Samekh ס
70 Ayin ע
80 or 800 Pe פ, ף
90 or 900 Tsadi צ, ץ
100 Qoph ק
200 Resh ר
300 Shin ש
400 Taw ת

Gematria methods

There are several methods used to calculate the numerical value for the individual words, and psukim (verses).

  • Mispar Hechrachi (absolute value) that uses full numerical value of the twenty-two letters.
  • Mispar Gadol counts the final forms (sofit) of the Hebrew letters as a continuation of the numerical sequence for the alphabet, with the final letters assigned values from 500 to 900.
  • Mispar Katan calculates the value of each letter, but truncates all of the zeros.
  • Mispar Siduri (ordinal value) with each of the 22 letters given a value from one to twenty-two.
  • At Bash uses letter (of a word or phrase) exchanges with its opposite letter and then the result is calculated. Opposite letters are determined by substituting the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph) with the last letter (Tav), the second letter (Bet) with the next to last (Shin), etc.
  • Mispar Kidmi (triangular value) uses each letter as the sum of the all the standard gematria letter values preceding it. Therefore, the value of Aleph is 1, the value of Bet is 1+2=3, the value of Gimmel is 1+2+3=6, etc.
  • Mispar P'rati calculates the value of each letter as the square of its standard gematria value. Therefore, the value of Aleph is 1*1=1, the value of Bet is 2*2=4, the value of gimmel is 3*3=9, etc.
  • Mispar Shemi (also Millui letter "filling"), uses the value of each letter as equal to the value of its name. For example, the value of the letter Aleph is (1+30+80) = 111, Bet is (2+10+400) = 412, etc.
  • Mispar Katan Mispari (integral reduced value) is used where the total numerical value of a word is reduced to a single digit. If the sum of the value exceeds 9, the integer values of the total are repeatedly added to produce a single-digit number. The same value will be arrived at regardless of whether it is the absolute values, the ordinal values, or the reduced values that are being counted by methods above.

Within the wider topic of Gematria are included the various alphabet transformations where one letter is substituted by another based on a logical scheme:

  • Albam the alphabet is divided in half, eleven letters in each section. The first letter of the first series is exchanged for the first letter of the second series, the second letter of the first series for the second letter of the second series and so forth.
  • Atbash the first letter (alef) of the alphabet is paired with the last letter of the alphabet (tav). The second letter (bet) is paired with the second to last (shin), and so on.
  • Achbi

Absolute value gematria

The most common form of gematria is used in the Talmud and Midrash, and elaborately by many post-Talmudic commentators. It involves reading words and sentences as numbers, assigning numerical instead of phonetic value to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. When read as numbers, they can be compared and contrasted with other words or phrases. A classic Biblical commentary incorporating a great deal of gematria is Baal ha-Turim by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher.

Gematria is often used by the Maharal of Prague and hasidic Torah commentators (such as the "Sefath Emmeth" from Gur).

Use in other languages

The first attested use of gematria occurs in an inscription of Sargon II (727–707 BCE) stating that the king built the wall of Khorsabad 16,283 cubits long to correspond with the numerical value of his name. Gematria was borrowed into the Greek probably soon after their adoption of the Semitic writing system. The extant examples of use in Greek come primarily for the Christian literature and, unlike rabbinic sources, is always explicitly stated as being used. Plato (c. 427-347 BCE) offers a discussion of gematria in its simplest forms in Cratylus, where he claims that the "essential force" of a thing's name is to be found in its numerical value, with words and phrases of the same numerical value may be substituted in context without loss in meaning.

The Latin-script languages exhibit borrowing of gematria methods dating from the early Middle Ages after the use lapsed following the collapse of Roman Empire in the 5th century.

See also

Citations and notes

References

  • Klein, Ernest, Dr., A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language: Dealing with the origin of words and their sense development thus illustrating the history and civilization of culture, Elsevier, Oxford, 7th ed., 2000
  • Davies, William David & Allison, Dale C., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004
  • Acres, Kevin, Data integrity patterns of the Torah: A tale of prime, perfect and transcendental numbers, Research Systems, Melbourne, 2004
  • Clawson, Calvin C., Mathematical Mysteries: The Beauty and Magic of Numbers, Perseus Books, 1999
  • Ratzan, Lee, Understanding Information Systems: What They Do and why We Need Them, ALA Editions, 2004
  • Genesis Rabbah 95:3. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Genesis. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. Volume II, London: The Soncino Press, 1983. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:25. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. Volume VII, London: The Soncino Press, 1983. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.

Further reading

  • Swiggers, Pierre, Transmission of the Phoenician Script to the West, in Daniels and Bright, The World's Writing Systems, 1996
  • Bernal, Martin. Cadmean Letters: The Transmission of the Alphabet to the Aegean and Further West before 1400 B.C. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990.
  • Cajori, Florian. A History of Mathematical Notations (2 vv.). Chicago: Open Court, 1928-9.
  • Contenau, Georges. Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1954.
  • Diringer, David. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind (2 vv.). New York, Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.
  • Diringer, David. The Story of the Aleph Beth. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1960; World Jewish Congress, 1958.
  • Fideler, David. Jesus Christ: Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism. Quest Books, 1993.
  • Ifrah, Georges. From One to Zero: A Universal History of Numbers, Viking, 1985.
  • Menninger, Karl. Number Words and Number Symbols: A Cultural History of Numbers. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969.
  • Naveh, Joseph. Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Paleography. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1987.
  • Parpola, Simo. "The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy." Journ. Near Eastern Studies 52, 3 (July 1993), 161-208.

External links

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