Anna Was Seven Times Twelve Equals Eighty Four
And there was Anna, a prophetess, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in many days, having lived seven years with a husband from her virginity; and she was a widow of eighty four years, who did not depart from the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. (Luke 2:36-37, J.P. Green Literal Version)
We take note of prophetess Anna, who appears in Luke 2 and is among the first persons to recognize the annointed Christ in baby Jesus. Luke points out that Anna is from the northern tribe of Asher, part of the earlier kingdom of Israel which, with its tribes, is lost and would be an irrelevant detail if this were secular history and not part of Luke’s Christian fulfillment of Israel gospel. Luke tells us Anna is 84 years old, or depending on how we intepret the Greek, Anna has been a widow for 84 years. Here are samples of verses 36 and 37 in different English translations:
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four…. (NABRE)
… having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four….. (ESV)
… and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years… (BRG)
… having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years…. (Holman CSB)
… She was now very old. Her husband had died seven years after they were married, and she had been a widow for 84 years…. (GWT)
Some Biblical researchers suggest that the proper interpretation is that Anna had been a widow for 84 years, and speculate further that she was married at fourteen, became a widow at 21, and is now 105 years old. This view is followed by some translators.
But our Bible Bit is not concerned with the issue of 84 versus 105, but with the mention of the number 84 itself. This number is the product of symbolic numbers seven and twelve.
84 = 7 x 12
This means something, yes?
The ancients were fascinated by numbers, with all early civilizations from Sumeria to Mesopotamia to Egypt deplying them for cultic, mystical, symbolic, and otherwise meaningful reasons outside of their everyday use in mathematical function. The Jewish writers of the Hebrew and, later, Greek Biblical books followed this practice with numbers.
Throughout our scripture, the number seven carries an almost sacred weight, and symbolic special significance is attached to the numbers three, twelve, forty, and to some extent, ten.
The placement of numbers in the Bible by ancient writers and copyists gives translators special challenges. When numbers appear in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, they are written out alphabetically as words, and not with the numeral figures. The word “twelve” is written and never the numeral “12.”
The development of alphabets (after cuniform) and alphabetic words proceeded more rapidly than the development of figured numerals in Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Akkadian, Egyptian and Hebrew writing. Even in the 2nd century BC, we find not numeral figures on Maccabbean era coins but instead Hebrew letters used to represent numbers. In some contexts, numbers are represented by figures made with little strokes representing ones and other strokes representing fives or tens. But in narrative writing of our Hebrew and Greek, numbers were spelled out using alphabetic words and word-appendages.
Interpretation of the Biblical text by scholars has been especially difficult when dealing with these written representations of numbers for a variety of reasons, including the discrepency from copy to copy and version to version of our primary surviving sources.
The versions at times do not agree on numbers. This suggests that lost, earlier manuscripts may have held primitive (moreso than the alphabet at the time) figuring elements used for numeral representation which were misinterpreted and variously interpreted by copyists and editors.
But all this and many other curiosities and difficulties about Biblical numbers are topics for other Bible Bits.
Is 84 a special number for Luke?
Commentary on the verse and the number 84 tends to focus on whether Anna has currently 84 years old or whether she has been a widow for 84 years. Most analysts are silent on the 7 x 12 observation.
In Luke’s Greek, verses 36 and 37 appear as follows:
36Καὶ ἦν Ἅννα προφῆτις, θυγάτηρ Φανουήλ, ἐκ φυλῆς Ἀσήρ· αὕτη προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ἡμέραις πολλαῖς, ζήσασα μετὰ ἀνδρὸς ἔτη ἑπτὰ ἀπὸ τῆς παρθενίας αὐτῆς
37καὶ αὐτὴ χήρα ἕως ἐτῶν ὀγδοήκοντα τεσσάρων, ἣ οὐκ ἀφίστατο τοῦ ἱεροῦ νηστείαις καὶ δεήσεσιν λατρεύουσα νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν. (Nestle-Aland 28)
Depending on the early manuscripts, modern versions of the Greek have “84” written out in Greek words as either:
ὀγδοήκοντα τεσσάρων (NA-28, mGNT)
or “stuck” together:
ὀγδοηκοντατεσσάρων (Textus Receptus).
Otherwise, the various manuscripts are clean.
The strict, klutzy meaning of these two words is something like
eight-tens plus four
which of course means eighty-four or, in numeral form, 84.
Other ancient writers of Greek, such as the historian Thucidydes, used these words.
Our question in this Bible Bits is this: Does this 84 mean anything other than, well, 84? Does Anna’s age carry symbolic meaning? Is Luke giving her age symbolic meaning? Is she the sacred seven multipled twelve tribe or twelve disciple times? Or is she simply 84 and that is that?
Please comment with what your commentary has to say. Does it weigh-in on the meaning of eighty-four?
Thanks to our trusty old dictionaries: Unger’s Bible Dictionary (1966), Interpeter’s Dictionary of the Bible (1962), and Westminster Dictionary of the Bible (1944). Also to the NET Bible and its zillions of translator notes, plus the excellent Greek manuscript reference at LaParola.net.
May God bless you! We pray that you read the actual Bible for yourself!