Three hundred eighteen.
Contemporaries said about Srinivasa Ramanujan, the legendary Indian mathematician, that "every number was his friend". In an often-told anecdote, the prominent English mathematician G. H. Hardy presented Ramanujan with the "rather dull number" of his taxi cab: 1729. '"No, Hardy,' said Ramanujan, 'it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways'" ([1.sup.3] + [1.sup.23] and [9.sup.3] + [10.sup.3]; Snow, 1993, p. 37). Had someone asked him about 318, he probably would have said that it, too, had some interesting mathematical properties: As a sphenic number, it equals the product of three distinct primes (2 X 3 X 53); it also equals the sum of all the 12 prime numbers between 7 and [7.sup.2]. (The latter fact appears in Gevirtz, 1969.) This has prompted the Calvinist theologian Jordan (2000) to observe, "Certainly, then, 318 is an interesting number, incorporating both 7 and 12." Yet 318 has another remarkable feature: both Gevirtz and Jordan singled it out because of its appearance in Genesis 14:14 (referring to the number of Abram's men) and its equaling the numerical value (in gematria) of Eliezer's name in the following chapter (Genesis 15; Jewish commentators have noted this correspondence, as in Nedarim 32a, as well as in Rashi).
The appearance of such an unusual number in the Hebrew Bible and the further hint to it in Genesis 15 have initiated endless speculation throughout the ages. Let me start with the Council of Nicaea, sometimes called the Assembly of the Three Hundred and Eighteen. Held in 325, the first ecumenical council of the Christian church convened to deal with what subsequently became known as the Arian heresy. How many clerics actually attended the council remains unknown:
* According to an often-told story, 232 bishops attended the meeting, or 318 with the inclusion of priests and monks. [See, for example, Mileant (2003) who identifies one of the bishops who attended the meeting as Saint Nicholas, aka Santa Claus.]
* Having consulted several sources, the Wikipedia article on the First Council of Nicaea reports that the Roman Emperor Constantine had invited all 1, 800 bishops of the Christian church, but a lesser and unknown number attended. Eusebius of Caesarea counted 250, Athanasius of Alexandria counted 318, and Eustathius of Antioch counted 270 (all three attended the council). Later, and probably influenced by these sources, Socrates Scholasticus reported more than 300 and Evagrius, Hilarius, Jerome, and Rufinus reported 318 (Wikipedia, 2010b).
* Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace (2006) report the numbers of the bishops appearing in various sources as 218, 250, 250 or more, 270, 318, 320, and 2000 or more (pp. 316, 317). These authors (see also Riviere, 1934) regard the number 318 as a probable invention because it "corresponds to the number of Abram's troops reported in Genesis 14:14."
All this uncertainty did not prevent St. Ambrose (a bishop of Milan who lived between about 337 and 397 and became known for his enthusiastic support for the destruction of the synagogue at Mesopotamian Callinicum in 388) from drawing an explicit analogy between Abram's miraculous victory over four kings and the Nicaean council's similar victory over a dangerous heresy (Riviere, 1934).
This forcing of historical facts to confirm a preconceived idea does not end with the above-mentioned council. (I have shown an identical process with regard to the numbers 17 in Moore, 2005b and 40 in Moore, 2005a.) Thus, Riviere also documents the further mystical significance of 318 for Ambrose and his contemporaries, for 318 contains 300 (tau) and 18 (iota and eta, in Greek numerology). The first of these signifies the cross, while the second contains the first two letters of Jesus (see also Gaunt, 1999). Several Biblical references served to establish the significance of "tau," from Noah's three hundred-cubit-long ark (Genesis 6: 15), through Gideon's three-hundred men (Judges 7), to the mark ("tav" in Hebrew) placed on foreheads in Ezekiel (9: 11). Yet one wonders how Ambrose justified the reliance on Greek numerology in Genesis. ...
Early Christians shared their enthusiasm for the symbolic significance of numbers with the followers of many other beliefs, as the following instances of the appearance of 318 show:
* In his discussion of the Maya Long Count, Berg (2006) writes as follows: "We can make an 'analogy' with the Greek letter values of Hermes and Helios. If a circle has the circumference 353 units (Hermes), then the perimeter of a square inscribed in the circle will measure 318 units. 318 is the numerical Greek value for Helios. In antiquity Hermes was regarded as the higher aspect of Helios (the Sun)." Actually, the perimeter equals 317.81. Shirts (undated) also draws our attention to n[LAMBDA]ios (hlios) = 318.
Madame Blavatsky (1888/1993), a founder of Theosophy, also found mystical significance in 318. She quoted the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, whose description of an Aztec pyramid includes a reference to 318 niches, which "allude to the 318 simple and compound signs of the days of their civil calendar." Then she goes on to say: "318 is the Gnostic value of Christ, and the famous number of the trained or circumcised servants of Abraham. When it is considered that 318 is an abstract value, and universal, as expressive of a diameter value to a circumference of unity, its use in the composition of the civil calendar becomes manifest" (Vol. 1, p. 323). But the Aztec calendar does not have "318 simple and compound signs of the days." The Aztec religious calendar has 20 single and 13*20 or 260 compound ones, whereas the Aztec civil calendar has 18*20 or 360 named days and 5 unnamed ones.
* Wilson (1856) throws some light on the above, having read the 1811 publication by von Humboldt more carefully: "The number of theses niches in the body of the pyramid is three hundred and sixty-six, and there are twelve in the stairs toward the east. The Abbe Marquez supposes that this number of three hundred and seventy-eight niches has some allusion to a calendar of the Mexicans, and he even believes that in each of them one of the twenty figures was repeated, which ... served as a symbol for marking the days of the common year." So it seems that someone has misread 378 for 318. ...
* The Kebra Nagast, or the Book of the Glory of Kings (written in Ge'ez and translated by the English Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge in 1932), serves as an account of the origins of the Solomonic line of the Emperors of Ethiopia. This about 700-year-old Ethiopian national epic and founding text of the Rastafarian religion contains an imaginary debate by the 318 orthodox fathers of the First Council of Nicaea.
Throughout the years, many other enthusiasts have tried to find some profound meaning in 318 by attaching it to significant historical and cosmological events. The flawed character of these "findings" becomes easily discernible:
* Rosenbaum (2002, pp. 104, 105) writes that in the 13th c BCE a retinue of 318 persons accompanied princess Gilukhipa of Hatti on her way to marry a son of Pharaoh (probably Amenhotep III). However, according to the commemorative scarabs issued by the Pharaoh for the occasion, only 317 women accompanied the bride (Dodson & Hilton, 2004, p. 154).
* Searching for further proof of his theory, Rosenbaum then adds: "In a lunar year of 354 days, the moon is visible on 318 days. Another coincidence? I don't think so ..." (p. 105). Other sources have commented on this possible property of the moon (e. g., Orr, Nuelsen, Mullins, Evans, & Kyle, 1915, citing Bruno Baensch's 1906 volume on monotheism), without indicating its relevance to the matter at hand.
* An anonymous author (2008) provides an especially illuminating instance of forcing history to comply with one's preconceptions. This source wrote, naturally, on the 18th of the 3rd month (3/18/2008), about "the battle between two ships, Kormoran and Sydney. The latter sank with all hands, after it had sunk the former, from whose crew exactly 318 survived. Can all this be a coincidence?" This battle between a German and an Australian ship took place in 1941. Similar to the case of the Council of Nicaea, the exact number of survivors remains either doubtful or different from 318. Several online encyclopedias (e. g., Wikipedia, 2010a) report 320-324 persons saved from the Kormoran, including its captain Detmers. According to Olson (2000), the Kormoran lost 80 of its crew of 400 (320 saved). An official report by the Royal Australian Navy (Gill, 1957, pp. 450 460) has 315 saved.
Many sources promoting the supposedly symbolic meaning of 318 mention that the mass of Jupiter equals 318 times that of Earth. While the significance of this remains unclear, one should probably mention that the actual factor equals 317.83.
* A similar slight discrepancy enters the multiplicative inverse or reciprocal of 318 ([318.sup.-l]), which when multiplied by 10,000 equals 3.145. The latter, many point out, serves as a good approximation of pi ... (another number often endowed with mystical properties).
It would appear then that the author of Genesis 14 had no hidden motive for using 318, and that its equaling the numerical value of Eliezer constitutes a coincidence (along with the other instances enumerated above). Bar-Ilan (2003, p. 61) certainly thinks so. On one hand, he claims that nowhere else in the Pentateuch can one find gematria-based messages. On the other hand, he finds a good reason for what he calls a "historical number": three divisions of 100, each with one chief (named in Genesis 14: 13) and five lieutenants over each 20, or 3 x (l00+1+5) = 318.
Anonymous (2008). http://zahlwort.blogger.de/stories/1076916/. (Accessed April 12,2011).
Bar-Ilan, M. (2003). Genesis' numerology. Rehovot, Israel: Association for Jewish Astrology & Numerology (in Hebrew).
Berg, V. (2006). The code behind the Maya Long Count, Part II. http://www.earthmatrix.com/forum/pentagram/code_behind.pdf. (Accessed April 12,2011).
Blavatsky, H. P. (1993). The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1. Adyar, India: Theosophical University Press. (Original work published 1888).
Budge, W. E. A. (translator) (1932). The Queen of Sheha and her only son Menyelek (I) or, The Kehra Nagast. London: Oxford University Press.
Dodson, A., & Hilton, D. (2004). The complete royal families of ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson.
Gaunt, B. (1999). The coming of Jesus--The real message of the Bible codes! Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press.
Gevirtz, S. (1969). Abram's 318. Israel Exploration Journal, 19, 110-113.
Gill, G. H. (1957). Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Series 2 (Navy), Vol. I--Royal Australian Navy, 1939-1942. Canberra: Australian War Memorial.
Jordan, J. B. (2000). Abram's 318 men. Biblical Horizons Newsletter, No. 133, September, http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-horizons/no-133-abrams-318-men/. (Accessed April 12, 2011).
Komoszewski, J. E., Sawyer, M. J., & Wallace, D. B. (2006). Reinventing Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.
Mileant, A. (Ed.) (2003). Selected lives of orthodox saints. Missionary Leaflet # EA25. La Canada, CA: Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission.
Moore, M. (2005a). The myth of 40. Shaanan Religious Teachers' College Annual, Haifa, Israel, 10, E7-E18.
Moore, M. (2005b). The number 17 in Thomas Mann's Holy Sinner. Notes on Contemporary Literature, 35(2), 9-11.
Olson, W. (2000). Bitter victory, the death of H.M.A.S. Sydney. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia.
Orr, J., Nuelsen, J., Mullins, E., Evans, ML, & Kyle, M. G. (Eds). (1915). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Riviere, J. (1934). Trois cent dix-huit. Recherches de Theologie Ancienne et Medievale, 6, 349-367.
Rosenbaum, S. N. (2002). Understanding Biblical Israel: A reexamination of the origins of monotheism. Macon GA: Mercer University Press.
Shirts, K. A. (undated). Honi the Circle Drawer, Jesus Christ, and the Greek Gods Apollo, Zeus, and Hermes: The evidence of gematria and sacred geometry in late Judaism, early Christianity and into medieval times. http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/honithe.htm. (Accessed April 12, 2011).
Snow, C. P. (1993). Foreword to Hardy, G. H. A Mathematician's apology, reprinted with a foreword by C P. Snow. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wikipedia (2010a). Battle between HMAS Sydney and German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_between_HMAS_Sydney_and_HSK_Kormoran. (Accessed April 12, 2011).
Wikipedia (2010b). First council of Nicaea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea. (Accessed April 12, 2011).
Wilson, R. A. (1856). Mexico and its religion with incidents of travel in that country during parts of the years 1851-52-53-54, and historical notices of events connected with places visited. London: S. Low.
Michael Moore is an Associate Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Education in Science and Technology, Technion--Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.