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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 December 2007, 06:41 GMT
US town escapes 666 phone prefix
Red telephone (archive)
The reference to 666 is taken from the Biblical book of Revelation
A town in the US state of Louisiana is to be allowed to change its telephone prefix so that residents can avoid a number many associate with the Devil.

Christians in Reeves have been unhappy since the early 1960s about being given the prefix, 666 - traditionally known as the Biblical "number of the beast".

For the next three months, households will be able to change the first three digits of their phone numbers to 749.

Mayor Scott Walker said CenturyTel's decision was "divine intervention".

However, he admitted it helped that Louisiana's two senators had also lobbied for the change with the phone company and the state Public Service Commission.

It's been a black eye for our town, a stigma
Scott Walker
Mayor of Reeves

"It's been a black eye for our town, a stigma," he said.

"I don't think it's anything bad on us, just an image," he added. "We're good Christian people."

Mayor Walker said he had already made the switch to using the 749 prefix and expected about 80% of the town's 450 homeowners to do the same.

'Number of the beast'

The reference to 666 is taken from translations of the Biblical book of Revelation, which talks about the events leading to the end of the world.

Revelation 13:18 states: "If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666."

Although in recent years scholars at Oxford University said that they had discovered a 3rd Century papyrus, from Oxyrhynchus, which gives the Number of the Beast as 616.

And a manuscript fragment from the 11th Century lists the number as 665.

The traditional number, 666, has fascinated and puzzled Christians for centuries and led to a great deal of speculation about its meaning.

Many scholars believe it is a reference to the Roman emperor at the time Revelation was written - either Nero or Domitian. Both men put Christians to death.

Using the Jewish system of Gematria, in which each letter is given a number, either name can be made to add up to 666.

The fear of the number 666 is known as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.

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