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What is the earliest source that mentions Gematria?

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    Are you asking for the earliest source to use the word גימטריא to refer to literal-numerical calculations based on the spellings of words or the earliest source to refer to גימטריא, which is almost certainly a transliteration of the Greek word for geometry? (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geometry) – WAF Mar 16 '11 at 2:51
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    Also, are you asking for earliest use of the technique or use of the term? – Seth J Mar 16 '11 at 3:08
  • Was asking for earliest source to refer to the word Gematria. However would also be interested in the earliest source of use. – Gershon Gold Mar 16 '11 at 3:36
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    See Discovering Gematria: Foundational Exegesis and Primary Dictionary from Gematria Publishing. It answers both aspects and then some. It's on Amazon.com and they have their own forum on gematria too. – user356 Mar 16 '11 at 21:52
  • What is the earliest source that mentions Gematria? – Double AA Sep 4 '14 at 6:01
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I would say the MISHNAH in Pirkie avos Ch. 3, Mishnah 23

  • Which mishnah, please? – Barry Mar 17 '11 at 17:52
  • Ch. 3, Mishnah 23 – jake Mar 17 '11 at 19:47
  • How do you know גימטריאות there means calculating numerical values of words? – WAF Mar 17 '11 at 23:19
  • @WAF, see the asker's comment on his question: he's "asking for earliest source to refer to the word Gematria" only. – msh210 Nov 23 '11 at 22:23
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    I'm pretty sure some interpret it as "mathematics." – AEML Feb 1 '13 at 19:19
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SimchasTorah is correct; the earliest source to use the word "gematria" is the Mishnah, Avos 3 (some editions print it as Mishnah 23 others print it as 18, but all agree it's the concluding be Mishnah of the chapter): "Says R' El(i)ezer (ben) Chisma, '[calculations of] Niddah cycles and bird offerings are the main areas of Halacha; astronomy and Gematria are parparos of wisdom." Parparos is some gastronomic metaphor, either appetizers, spices, or dessert. Gematria is either geometry or our classic letter to number expounding.

The earliest source that clearly refers to this form of numerology appears several times in the Gemara, such as the fact that yayin, wine, and sod, secret, both have a Gematria of 70, leading to the teaching that when wine goes in, secrets go out.

EDIT: I have found an even earlier source that uses Gematria in the latter sense - the last Mishnah in all of Shas, Uktzin 3:12, which says that the tzaddikim will inherit 310 worlds in the future, the gematria of "yeish" in "to bequeath to those who love Me 'yeish' (Mishlei 8:21)."

  • Your Gemara of Yayn is in Eruvin 65a "אמר רבי חייא כל המתיישב ביינו - יש בו דעת שבעים זקנים, יין ניתן בשבעים אותיות, וסוד ניתן בשבעים אותיות, נכנס יין יצא סוד." But the word Gematria is not used the gemara said 70 letters "שבעים אותיות" – kouty Jul 27 '16 at 15:14
  • yayn = 70 sod = 70 70 zkenim and the Gematria is called 70 letters – kouty Jul 27 '16 at 15:29
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    I chose my wording carefully. "The earliest source that refers to this form of numerology" - not the earliest source that uses the word, which was the Mishnah. – DonielF Jul 27 '16 at 20:35
  • Right, the OP may be understood in 2 ways. BTW I remember a machloket bar Peda and an other Amora/Tana in nazir Ki Yhye gematria 30 or minyan nazir, nexirut Hakatuv Batora. TheWine...out teaching is that if someone is able to make that the secret doesn go out, he is equivalent to 70 wises of Sanhedrin, according to Rashi comment – kouty Jul 27 '16 at 21:50
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While there are Chazals that use gimatriya in an aggadic sense (as was brought regrardic יין = סוד), there is a source for gimatriya being used in a halachic sense, as well. This is in Nazir 5a, where the Gemara derives the halacha that a default Nezirus is 30 days from the word "יהיה", which has a numeric value of 30.

But the plot thickens: The Rambam in his peirush on the Mishna says that this is not an absolute d'rasha but an asmachta. Many of the mefarshei haMishna cite this view. However, see Tosafos Nazir 6b s.v Shomea. The Torah Temima (B'midbar 6,5) understands Tosafos as essentially agreeing to the Rambam, and that the d'rasha is no more than an asmachta. (Although I'm not sure why he's certain in Tosafos's words that it's merely an asmachta.)

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