Unlucky thirteen or lucky, depending on how you look at it. The number thirteen is the sixth prime number but the first compound number in Germanic languages (English, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic). This means it is a number whose name is made up of two stems, i.e. three (thir) and teen. Although numbers eleven and twelve have two digits, their names are unique to them.
So, why is the number thirteen considered to be unlucky? The fear of the number thirteen is called Triskaidekaphobia and those who suffer from it will go to great lengths to avoid anything named or labelled with the number: Friday 13th, thirteen people sat around a table, the thirteenth floor of a building etc.
There are a number of theories as to why the number thirteen became associated with bad luck. The most common is that there were thirteen people around the table at Jesus’ Last Supper (more on that later); however, I have discovered some other ideas. On Friday 13thOctober 1307, many people were tortured and killed when King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar. Whenever a year contained a thirteenth full moon as opposed to the usual twelve, it caused problems for the monks in charge of the calendar. This also upset the regular arrangement of church festivals.
In ancient cultures, the number thirteen represented women because it corresponded to the number of menstrual cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364). At that time, menstruation was considered evil and, therefore, the number thirteen was also considered evil.
Another theory, and possibly the oldest reference to thirteen being unlucky is in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1780 BC), in which the thirteenth law is said to be omitted. This, however, may have been something that was added years or even centuries later because it is now believed the original manuscripts contained no numbers.
On the other hand, if you are in Italy, the number thirteen is very lucky. The Italian phrase fare tredici(“to do 13”) means to hit the jackpot.
There are thirteen ranks in each suit in a standard pack of playing cards. A baker’s dozen means thirteen rather than twelve. The United States of America was originally formed of thirteen states. Age thirteen is when a child becomes an adolescent and, in Judaism, thirteen is the age a boy matures and becomes Bar Mitzvah.
In the Bible, the number thirteen is thought to symbolically represent rebellion and lawlessness. Theologians have taken a handful of examples from scripture to develop this theory:
As well as being a reason the number thirteen is believed to be unlucky, one of the biggest reasons the number is considered a symbol of rebellion and lawlessness is because there were thirteen people around the table, including Christ, at the Last Supper. The event is recorded in all four Gospels:
There are not many instances when the number thirteen is actually written in scripture, in fact, I have only been able to find two:
There may well be other occasions the number thirteen is mentioned; let me know if you find any. For now, I leave you with my final Bible related fact about the number thirteen: the longest name of a book is Thessalonians, which is thirteen letters long.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon