Our next entry in this series features a popular attempt to "name that beast." Throughout history we have had all sorts of persons designated the bearer of the conspicuous 666; it has ranged from Nero (my own view) to Hitler to Prince Charles, and here, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Like Edgar Whisenant, Robert Faid was a scientist -- a nuclear engineer, specifically. I have used the past tense for him as it seems (per the ever-reliable Wikipedia) that he died just this past year (2008). He also authored other books of a seemingly apologetic nature that apparently argued for Christianity based on scientific principles, but our report here will be on an item titled Gorbachev! Has the Real Antichrist Come? that was issued in that fateful year of 1988 which also spawned out last two entries in this series.
I remember this book very well from its day, and was surprised to find on reading it again just how little of it is consumed with actual argument for Faid's identification of Gorbachev as Antichrist. Indeed, only the first chapter lays out the case for this; the remainder -- the bulk of the book -- consists of Faid's predictions based on this identification, combined with midrashic readings of Biblical texts. Many of the predictions Faid offered were terrifying, with pictures of Christian children starving because their parents would not take the Mark of the Beast; the vision was especially grim from Faid as an adherent to a "post-Tribulation" Rapture thesis.
As is my normal practice, I'll divide my commentary into thematic sections which illustrate Faid's methodology (and mistakes).
The Case for Gorbachev. By what means did Faid identify Gorbachev with the Antichrist? His case involved sixteen clues which devolved to two categories of arguments:
- Midrashic readings of Biblical texts. Faid attempts to pair Gorbachev with descriptions of the Antichrist derived from Revelation. For example:
- Rev. 13:1 speaks of the beast "rising out of the sea." Faid legitimately reads the sea in terms of humanity, but arrives at Gorbachev by saying that like the beast, he "burst upon the world scene in the same way as John's beast arose from the sea."  This is something of a vague description; Gorbachev's biography (see here) reveals a slow and steady rise through the ranks, of the sort that might as well reflect that of any American Presidential figure as well. In short, Faid's application is so vague that it is not unique enough to be meaningful -- and there's not much reason to say that "Satan was responsible"  for Gorbachev's gradual rise to power.
- Faid gives Gorbachev the likeness of a leopard, the feet of a bear, and the mouth of a lion (Rev. 13) based, respectively, on the "cunning and cruelty" of Soviet ideology, the Russian use of a bear as a symbol, and that when a Soviet leader talks, people pay attention as they would to a roaring lion.  These are again rather too vague; over time, the three beasts here have also variously been read in terms of, for example, Britain's symbolism with the lion, Germany with the leopard (because of its rise from a group of smaller nations), and Russia as the bear. It is simply not hard to find associative characteristics with these animals -- especially if we expand our range of possible applications to the entire world, named persons, and social organizations. (This speaks well, incidentally, for limiting the applications to a specific time period, as is required by my own preterist views...but I'll keep that for another time!)
- Numeric equivalencies. Faid employs the standard practice of computing Gorbachev's name with letter-number equivalencies. There is a tad of fudging involved in doing so, however.
- He decides not to use all of Gorbachev's name; he only uses first name, middle initial, and last name when making his computations. Obviously, this permitted a certain degree of flexibility in what he could calculate.
- He employs principles from a system called theomatics which sought similar numeric values throughout the NT text. It is not our place here to fully evaluate that system (pubished some time ago in a 1977 book, and still promoted today), but it can be seen that theomatics helps increase its odds for success by use of a "clustering" concept -- essentially, a phrase need not have the exact numeric value you are looking for; it can miss by one or two, and still be in a "cluster," or perhaps it can be a multiple of the number you want, or within a "cluster" for that.
So, for example, Faid calculates Gorbachev's name in Russian to be numerically 666 x 2 -- though off by three.
Perhaps it may be argued that this isn't too bad; it's still very close, isn't it? I'd like to say so, but I have not been able to verify Faid's attempts  to establish numeric values for the Russian alphabet. Indeed, the one source I could find for it here substantially disagrees with several of his assigned values for letters used in Gorbachev's name. Since Faid does not cite a source for the numeric values he assigned, it is difficult to assess his accuracy on this point.
- Faid also attempted numeric equivalences to Gorbachev's name in Hebrew and Greek. For Hebrew, he admits that an expert in Hebrew found "a number of equally correct transliterations" of Gorbachev's name (how many is not said), but he found one, apparently, that came out to a value of 666 x 2. How many other transliterations were rejected would seem to be important, but we are not told how many there were.
In Greek, Faid had an expert in Greek transliterate Gorbachev's name for him and reached a multiple of 888 (which is also the numeric value of the name "Jesus"), with a deviation of one (1777 = 888 x 2, +1). The values do add up, but there seems to be some fudging; there's no equivalent to "v" in ancient Greek, so a "b" was used at the end, and there are two letters that seem to not make sense, so that Gorbachev's last name would seem to be "Gormbachob".
- The reader may say at this point, "Well, this is still pretty amazing, isn't it?" Perhaps, but not for an equation of Gorbachev with the antichrist. Let us put it this way: Revelation says that the number of the beast is 666 -- not, "a multiple of 666, with a deviation of 2 or 3." If John had meant that the beast's number was 1329 (666 x 2, minus 3) then there is no reason why he should not have said 1329 was the beast's number. Faid's application of the theomatic principles ignores this plain fact.
Related to matching Gorbachev with the "sea" prophecy of Rev. 13:1, Faid noted that the numeric value of "Satan" was 276, and that at the time Gorbachev was put into power, the population of the Soviet Union was "276 million." Was it? Maybe....for a few seconds. I have found estimates of the population of the Soviet Union for that year ranging from 272 million to 280 million.
A Cracked Crystal Ball. As persuasive as Faid's case for Gorbachev may have seemed in 1988, it may well have been added to by the dire predictions he made for how the rest of Revelation would be fulfilled in the months to come. As is often the case with the Ghosts of End Times Past, hindsight makes the wisdom of the author seem less stellar than it was when the threat was originally hanging. Among the events predicted by Faid within the next few years:
- A communist revolution in Mexico, leading to enormous waves of illegal immigration to the US
- The complete takeover of the African continent by the Soviets
- Revolutions in Central and South America
- The economic collapse of the West -- due to defualts on loans to the Third World
- Oil reaching an "astronomical" price of $50 per barrel, resulting in a worldwide depression
- The predicted "big one" earthquake in California -- probably in 1992 or 1999
Needless to say, Faid's skills at prognostication would not have set him in good stead under the Deuteronomic prophet test.
- Reflecting Cold War fears, Faid makes much of the Soviet Union's imperial ambitions by pointing out the Russian word for "peace" also means "world" so that "When Gorbachev says, 'I want peace,' he is really saying, 'I want the world!' "  Unfortunately for those who see some conspiracy in this, it appears that this synonymity came about somewhat coincidentally, due to a reform of the Russian alphabet in 1918. It seems rather convenient than linguistic evolution accommodated Soviet imperial ambitions and their expression so far ahead of time.
- Faid needed a ten nation block to fulfill Rev. 17:12, and found two potential fulfillments. The first was in a list of nations dominated by the Soviet Union [30-1]. Here though, the counting procedure is a bit fudged. Faid counts formerly independent states to get up to nine: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, East Germany, and Bulgaria; then adds Afghanistan to get #10. Of course, we may all smile now, knowing what has happened to these nations since; but if we wish to be this liberal with definitions, why didn't Faid also count other dominated nations -- Belarus, the Ukraine, Moldova, or even Kazakhstan or Cuba?
Faid's second option for the ten elements comes from a time when, under Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's Politburo had, apparently, exactly ten members. Unfortunately, the Politburo ceased to exist three years after Faid wrote his book -- and at the time, it had 24 members, and at the time of Gorbachev's actual rise to power, the number of Politburo members was 10 including Gorbachev, and the number of members swayed year by year after that (see here). Additionally, it seems that Faid fudged a bit by not counting what were called "candidate" members.
Faid has a little more success identifying the seven heads of the beast with the seven nations of the Warsaw Pact.  That identification was at least numerically plausible until that organization fell apart in 1991. Likewise, the identification of Gorbachev with the eighth "king" of Revelation (17:10-11) looked just fine until 1991, as he was indeed the Soviet Union's eighth leader.
- And of course, there were the standard midrashic applications so common in modern end times literature; e.g., fire brought from heaven (Rev. 13:13) might be a nuclear holocaust  and the image of the beast (13:15) might refer to television broadcasts. And yes, wars, famine, increasing crime, AIDS, and earthquakes -- wherever they were -- were signs of the imminent end, though Faid fudges a bit to get what he wants regarding the severity of earthquakes increasing; rather than appeal to geological measures, he points to number of deaths caused by quakes as follows :
- 500 AD to 1900 AD -- 2,315,000 deaths
- 1901 AD to 1985 -- 1,522,00 deaths
Of course, that world population also increased from around 250 million in 500 AD, to 1.6 billion in 1900, and then to 4.8 billion in 1985 -- to say nothing of the increase in earthquake hazards for death (e.g., buildings), does not seem to occur to Faid as a factor in the relative increase in deaths over time. (As a NASA page here notes, "Earthquakes almost never kill people directly. Instead, many deaths and injuries result from falling objects and the collapse of buildings, bridges, and other structures. Fire resulting from broken gas or power lines is another major danger during a quake. Spills of hazardous chemicals are also a concern during an earthquake.")
Most ironic is Faid's ominous prediction that the Challenger diaster was "the beginning of the fall of the United States."  He pointed to the failure of NASA to successfully launch anything since that time up until May 1986, as several launches of other rockets failed. One wonders what Faid made of successful shuttle launches resuming in September 1988.
- Citation of sources often seems a difficult task for Faid. Many critical claims are not documented. For example, he refers to a "team of archeologists from a university in Texas" who joined with Israeli archeologists to locate the remains of King David's Feast of Tabernacles booth.  It would be nice to know what university in Texas this was; or the name of some of these archaeologists, or what journal this was reported in. On the other hand, we may not want to know what Faid's source was, as he also uses the Weekly World News as a reputable source  for a report of Russian cosmonauts seeing an angel. (In fact, you can see that story commented on here.)
Faid's prognostication record seems to have been somewhat unsuccessful, to say the least. Is there any hope for it? Not much. Gorbachev is still alive as of this writing, and as reported here, the 77-year old former leader of the Soviet Union is looking to re-enter Russian politics in 2011. Could Gorbachev be distributing the mark as part of a program for the entire world by his mid-80s? Will he overcome Vladimir Putin's 88 percent approval rating, and his own status as a "widely reviled" person, to once again assume control?
Somehow, I doubt it.
But at least we can say this for Faid: He didn't take Gorbachev's noticeable birthmark as evidence that he bore "the mark of the beast."