In modern times we have one set of characters to form numbers (the digits ‘0’ through ‘9’) and another set for letters to form words (the alphabet ‘A’ through ‘Z’). In ancient Greek and Hebrew and other ancient languages this was not so – the letters of their alphabet were used for both numbers and words. So their numbers looked like weird words, and their words looked like weird numbers. Regardless, every word had a numeric value, and the ancients put this to use: the name ‘Apollo’ has the numeric value of 1061, and Zeus 612 – funny how these are two dimensions of the Parthenon.

This idea that the numeric value of an ancient word has significance (because the letters are also numbers) is called ‘gematria’ (geh-MAY-tree-uh). Gematria was rather popular in the ancient world. This included the early Christians, and gematria arguably appears in the New Testament. For example, the Book of Revelation says that the number of ‘The Beast’ is 666 – which also happens to be the gematria value of ‘Nero’. (Hmm…) Interestingly, the gematria value of ‘Jesus’ is 888. (Hmm…). And gematria shows up in Church history over the millennia as a fringe but recurring idea – some have even suggested that gematria explains the dimensions of European cathedrals. (Hmm…)

In essence gematria provides a way of relating numbers and words. Various encoding systems have been proposed for relating numbers and musical notes, but none I've found results in useful musical phrases (that is, musical phrases that remotely lend themselves to common Western music practice). So I've invented/discovered a system that works rather well IMHO, which I call 'musical gematria'. See my book Musical Gematria.

Gematria particularly came into its own with Medieval Jewish Mysticism, in which the numeric values of the names of God (for example) were used as a tools for spiritual insight.