Fear, Paranoia, and Superstition: Friday the 13th

friday the thirteenth

Last week, Janice Williams, a writer for Newsweek, churned out a bit of irrational nonsense about Friday the 13th. This nonsense made it into the newsletter sent out weekly by a local school near where I live. In this short post, I plan to dismantle Williams’ notion that the superstition surrounding the day stems from certain Christian beliefs; beliefs that I had never heard of until I read Williams’ article:

However, reasons why and how Friday the 13th got its unlucky association remain a mystery. But some do believe the superstitions and fear surrounding the date stem from religious beliefs and Christianity specifically.

It was the 13th guest at the Last Supper, Judas, who betrayed Jesus Christ, which led to Christ’s crucifixion, held on a Friday. Some biblical scholars also believe it was a Friday when Eve convinced Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, and it was Friday the 13th when Cain committed the first murder, killing his brother Abel.

“Because Friday was the day of the crucifixion, Fridays were always regarded as a day of penance and abstinence,” Steve Roud, author of The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland, told BBC news Friday. “This religious belief spilled over into a general dislike of starting anything or doing anything important on a Friday.”

….

First, Williams suggests that the one of the reasons Friday the 13th being is an unlucky day is that Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was the thirteenth guest at the Last Supper. This one is easy to debunk. Judas was numbered among the twelve disciples. Thus, it was Jesus, and not Judas, who was the thirteenth guest. And even if people can’t bear the thought of Jesus being associated with the unlucky number thirteen, why was Judas the thirteenth guest, and not Peter, James, John, or any of the other eight disciples? Second, I wonder if Williams is aware of the fact that some Biblical scholars believe that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, and not Friday? I doubt it. Had she done even the slightest bit of research for this filler article, she would have learned that more than a few scholars dispute the Friday-crucifixion-to-Sunday-resurrection timeline because the Bible says Jesus was in the grave for three days. It’s hard to get three days and nights out of Friday to Sunday, especially when you consider that Jesus, according to the Bible, had already risen from the dead by the time the women arrived to his tomb early Sunday morning.

Third, Williams says that some Biblical scholars believe that “it was a Friday when Eve convinced Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, and it was Friday the 13th when Cain committed the first murder, killing his brother Abel.”  Really? I spent fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring churches. I spent tens of thousands of hours studying the Bible and reading theological tomes, yet I never read one word about Cain killing Abel on Friday the 13th, nor did I read anything about Adam eating the forbidden fruit on a Friday. I searched the Internet in vain for SOURCE materials — you know ancients texts — that made this claim. All I found were unsupported mentions similar to those “revealed” in Williams’ article.

My first response is this: who makes this shit up? Really? What historical or textual evidence do they have for such claims? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is little to none. I can’t wait for Bart Ehrman’s newest blockbuster book to come out — Numerology, The Hidden Secrets of the Bible Revealed! This thirteen-chapter, six-hundred-sixty-six-page book of blank pages is sure to blow the minds of superstitious Christians and unbelievers alike. Ehrman reveals that Lucifer had thirteen toes, along with other astounding, almost unbelievable, truths. Order it today from Amazon! Price? $13.00.

My second response is that I was unaware that Adam and Eve, along with every other fictional person in the Old Testament used Rolex watches and the Gregorian — or Julian for that matter — calendar to keep track of time and dates. The Julian calendar took effect on January 1, 45 BCE, and the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian in the sixteenth century, well after the mythical events records in Genesis. Now before a “smart” Christian suggests that Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel used the Jewish Calendar, I should let readers know that the Hebrew calendar was not widely used until the Christian era. If you want to kill a bunch of brain cells, spend time reading about how religion can screw up something as simple as a calendar.

I have no doubt that there are Christians who believe this nonsense about Friday the 13th. One of the books that collected dust in my study during my preaching days was E.W. Bullinger’s book, Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance. I tried numerous times to read this book — a preacher friend recommended I purchase this eye-opening, life-changing book — but alas! I found it to be hundreds of pages of delusional nonsense. For example, Bullinger spends twenty-seven pages detailing the importance of the number thirteen (and its connection to the number eight) in the Bible. Here’s a small faux-gold nugget of what he said:

EIGHT AND THIRTEEN TOGETHER, that we may afterwards compare and contrast the two. For this purpose we must consider the number thirteen here, and out of its otherwise proper order.

As to the significance of thirteen, all are aware that it has come down to us as a number of ill-omen. Many superstitions cluster around it, and various explanations are current concerning them.

Unfortunately, those who go backwards to find a reason seldom go back far enough. The popular explanations do not, so far as we are aware, go further back than the Apostles. But we must go back to the first occurrence of the number thirteen in order to discover the key to its significance. It occurs first in Gen 14:4, where we read “Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and the thirteenth year they REBELLED.”

Hence every occurrence of the number thirteen, and likewise of every multiple of it, stamps that with which it stands in connection with rebellion, apostasy, defection, corruption, disintegration, revolution, or some kindred idea.

The second mention of thirteen is in connection with Ishmael, Gen 17:25. He was thirteen years old when Abraham circumcised him and admitted him into the covenant to which he was a stranger in heart, and which ended in his rebellion and rejection.

We see it stamped upon the very fore-front of Revelation. For while the opening statement of Gen 1:1 is composed of seven words and twenty-eight letters (4×7), the second verse consists of fourteen words, but fifty-two letters; fifty-two being 4×13 tells of some apostasy or rebellion which caused the ruin of which that verse speaks.

….

The Scriptures concerning Judas Iscariot

  • Luke 22:3: “Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve” = 8359 (13×643)
  • Luke 22:47, “And he that was called Judas, one of the twelve” = 3458 (13×266)
  • John 12:4: “Judas Iscariot, he that should betray Him” = 4511 (13×347)
  • John 13:26: “Jesus answered, He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon” = 19435 (13×1495) The last clause (“when,” etc.) = 7371 (13×567)
  • Matt 26:48: “Now he that betrayed Him gave them a sign, saying Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; hold Him fast” = 9867 (13×759)
    So with Acts 1:16; Mark 14:44,45, and all the corresponding passages.

….

It is surely impossible to explain all this evidence on the doctrine of chances. There must be design. And design so perfect, so uniform, so significant can only be Divine. And being Divine is an unanswerable argument in favour of the verbal and even literal inspiration of the Scriptures of Truth.

Got all that? Don’t you feel “enlightened” now?

Bullinger was a nineteenth century Anglican clergyman. This numeral-obsessed preacher was also a dispensationalist — people who believe that history is divided into seven periods of time (dispensations), with each period except the last one ending in sin/failure/defeat. In some Evangelical circles, Bullinger is considered an ultra- or hyperdispensationalist due to his belief that the beginning of the Christian church traces back to Paul, and not the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 as “normal” dispensationalists believe.

For you who are not familiar with dispensationalism, here’s a chart detailing Bullinger’s seven dispensations:

According to Wikipedia, Bullinger had several other “interesting” beliefs:

Bullinger was a supporter of the theory of the Gospel in the Stars, according to which the constellations are pre-Christian expressions of Christian doctrine. He strongly opposed the theory of evolution [24] and held that Adam was created in 4004 B.C.[25] He was also a member of the Universal Zetetic Society, a group dedicated to believing and promoting the idea that the earth is flat.

Certainly, nonsensical beliefs about numerals (and the stars) is not the domain of Christian Fundamentalists alone. More than a few non-Christians over the centuries have believed numbers have meaning or significance outside of their use in mathematics. (Please check out the Mystical Numbers website for more information.) Professional sports players are known for believing that certain jersey numbers are lucky, and countless gamblers play their lucky numbers every day in hopes of hitting the jackpot.

We humans, in general, are attracted to patterns, including numerical ones. As someone who is afflicted with Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), I have spent countless hours in waiting rooms counting ceiling and floor tiles as I search for order. While such obsession is often harmless, the numerology nonsense put forth by Bullinger and the school newsletter mentioned above can cause people to behave irrationally. I have no doubt that many Westerners avoided doing certain things or going certain places on the latest Friday the 13th. I sure hope they didn’t see any black cats or walk under any ladders. Doing so would court certain disaster — or so some people believe, anyway.

Did you grow up in a home or attend a church that believed certain numbers had some sort of supernatural significance? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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6 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    The significance of numbers,was touched upon in by some preachers at our Southeen Baptist church. Others were not interested in that. 3, 7, 6, 12 were the big ones discussed. I think I recall what they supposedly meant. 3 was perfect, as in the trinity. 6 was the number of man (and 666 was the beast). 7 was the number of completion, as in 7 days of creation plus rest, the sabbath, I think there were supposed to be 7 years of something significant in eschatology. 12 was significant but I don’t know the label used – 12 tribes, 12 apostles.

    Yes humans search for patterns, even in places where they don’t exist.

    Reply
  2. dave

    My Bible says Cain killed Abel, not the other way around…

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks for catching my mistake. I fixed the article.

      Reply
  3. Trenton

    I cant figure out whether the excerpt from the book or Jersey Shore killed more brain cells. That being said when he was talking about numbers of letters and words was he specifically talking about the english translation or the original documants, does he know when the bible was divided into chapters and verses and more importantly who did that. Questions that probably are more interesting than any of the drivel he wrote about

    Reply
  4. Steve

    Lol, well said, my friend! I’ve thought the same thing 🙂

    (For those of you interested in batshit crazy number guys, check out William Tapley on YouTube; he has to be seen to be believed)

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Steve is a Tapleyite. 🙂

      Reply

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