Riddle (חַידָה, chidah'; lit. complication, Jg 14; Eze 17:2; Sept. αἴνιγμα, πρόβλημα; Vulg. problema, propositio; A.V. elsewhere "dark saying," dark speech," "dark sentence," "hard question;" once [Hab 2:6] "proverb"). The Hebrew word is derived from a root cognate to an Arabic one meaning "to bend off," "to twist," and is used for artifice (Da 8:23), a proverb (Pr 1:6), a song (Ps 49:4; Ps 78:2), an oracle (Nu 12:8), a parable (Eze 17:2), and in general any wise or intricate sentence (Ps 94:4; Hab 2:6, etc.), as well as a riddle in our sense of the word (Jg 14:12-19). In these senses we may compare the phrases στροφὴ λόγων, στροφαὶ παραβολῶν (Wisd. 8, 8; Ecclesiastes 39:2), and περιπλοκὴ λόγων (Eurip. Phacn. 497), and the Latin scirpus, which appears to have been similarly used (Aul. Gell. Noct. Att. 12, 6). Augustine defines an enigma to be any "obscura allegoria" (De Trin. 15, 9), and points out, as an instance, the passage about the daughter of the horseleech in Pr 30:15, which has been elaborately explained by Bellermann in a monograph on the subject (AEnigmata Hebraica [Erf. 1798]). Many passages, although not definitely propounded as riddles, may be regarded as such — e.g. Pr 26:10, a verse in the rendering of which every version differs from all others. The riddles which the queen of Sheba came to ask of Solomon (1Ki 10:1; 2Ch 9:1) were rather "hard questions" referring to profound inquiries. Solomon is said, however, to have been very fond of the riddle proper, for Josephus (Ant. 8, 5, 3) quotes two profane historians (Menander of Ephesus, and Dius) to authenticate a story that Solomon proposed numerous riddles to Hiram, for the non- solution of which Hiram was obliged to pay a large fine, until he summoned to his assistance a Tyrian named Abdemon, who not only solved the riddles, but propounded others which Solomon was himself unable to answer, and consequently in his turn incurred the penalty. The word αἴνιγμα occurs only once in the New Test. (1Co 13:12, "darkly," ἐν αἰνίγματι; comp. Nu 12:8; Wettstein, N.T. 2, 158); but, in the wider meaning of the word, many instances of it occur in our Lord's discourses. Thus Erasmus applies the term to Mt 12:43-45. In the Apocrypha we find (Wisd. 47, 15) παραβολαῖς αἰνιγμάτων. The object of such implicated meanings is obvious, and is well explained by Augustine: "Manifestis pascimur, obscuris exercenmur" (De Doct. Christ. 2, 6). The word αἴνιγμα, taken in the extensive meaning of its root, αινος, certainly applies to an immense portion of the sacred writings — viz. as a narrative or tale, having an application to present circumstances; Odyss. (14, 508), a fable, bearing moral instruction; Hesiod, Oper. (p. 202), which nearly approaches to the nature of a parable, SEE PARABLE ; a pointed sentence, saying, or proverb (Theocritus, 14, 13). SEE PROPHECY; SEE PROVERB. According to Lennep, the word αἴνιγμα, taken substantively, means "anything obscure." We know that all ancient nations, especially Orientals, have been fond of riddles (Rosenmüller, Morgenl. 3, 68). We find traces of the custom among the Arabs (Koran, 25, 35), and, indeed, several Arabic books of riddles exist — as Ketab el-Algaz in 1469, and a book of riddles solved, called Akd el-Themin. But these are rather emblems and devices than what we call riddles, although they are very ingenious. The Persians call them
Algaz and Maamma (D'Herbelot, s.v. "Algaz"). They were also known to the ancient Egyptians (Jablonski, Pantheon AEgypt. p. 48). They were especially used in banquets both by Greeks and Romans (Müller, Dor. 2, 392; Athen. 10, 457; Pollux, 6, 107; Gell. 18, 2), and the kind of witticisms adopted may be seen in the literary dinners described by Plato, Xenophon, Athenseus, Plutarch, and Macrobius (see Zorn, De Enigmatibus Nuptialibus [Lips. 1724]). Some have groundlessly supposed that the proverbs of Solomon, Lemuel, and Agur were propounded at feasts, like the parables spoken by our Lord on similar occasions (Lu 14:7, etc.).
Riddles were generally proposed in verse, like the celebrated riddle of Samson, which, however, was properly (as Voss points out, Instt. Oratt. 4, 11) no riddle at all, because the Philistines did not possess the only clue on which the solution could depend. For this reason Samson had carefully concealed the fact, even from his parents (Jg 14:14, etc.). Other ancient riddles in verse are that of the Sphinx, and that which is said to have caused the death of Homer by his mortification at being unable to solve it (Plutarch, Vit. Hom.).
The pleasure of the propounder is derived from perplexing his hearers, and theirs from overcoming the difficulty, which is usually renewed by their proposing another enigma. This kind of amusement seems to have been resorted to, especially at entertainments, in all ages among different nations, and has even been treated as an art and reduced to rules. The chief writers on this curious subject are Nic. Reusner (AEnigmatograph.) and F. Menestrier. The principal rules laid down for the construction of an enigma are the following: that it must be obscure, and the more obscure the better, provided that the description of the thing, however covered and abstract, and in whatever remote or uncommon terms, be really correct; and it is essential that the thing thus described be well known. Sometimes, and especially in a witty enigma, the amusement consists in describing a thing by a set of truisms, which tell their own meaning, but which confound the hearer through his expectation of some deep and difficult meaning.
Franc. Junius distinguishes between the greater enigma, where the allegory or obscure intimation is continuous throughout the passage (as in Eze 17:2, and in such poems as the Syrinx attributed to Theocritus), and the lesser enigma or ὑπαίνιγμα, where the difficulty is concentrated in the peculiar use of some one word. As specimens of the enigmatical style of the former kind in the Old Test., Winer points out Pr 30:12-
19; Isa 21:12. The speech of Lamech to his wives Adah and Zillah (Ge 4:23-24) is possibly an enigmatic mode of communicating some painful intelligence. In the New Test. we may adduce our Lord's discourse with Nicodemus (Joh 3:3), and with the Jews (6:51, etc.), where the enigmatical style is adopted for the purpose of engaging attention in an unrivalled manner (Stuck, Antiq. Conviv. 3, 17). It maybe useful to refer to one or two instances of the latter kind, since they are very frequently to be found in the Bible, and especially in the prophets. Such is the play on the word שׁכֶם ("a portion," and "Shechem," the town of Ephraim), in Ge 48:22; on מָצוֹר (matzor, "a fortified city") and מַצרִיַם (Mizraim, Egypt), in Mic 7:12; on שָׁקֵד (Shaked, "an almond tree") and שָׁקִד (shakad, "to hasten"), in Jer 1:11; on דּוּמָה (Dumah, meaning "Edom" and "the land of death"), in Isa 21:11; on שֵׁשִׁך, Sheshach (meaning "Babylon," and perhaps "arrogance"), in Jer 25:26; Jer 51:41. The description of the Messiah under the name of the "Branch" (נֶזֶר, nezer), when considered in regard to the occasion and context, may be taken as a specimen of the lesser enigma (see Lowth upon the passage). SEE NAZARITE.
It only remains to notice the single instance of a riddle occurring in the New Test. — viz. the number of the beast. This belongs to a class of riddles very common among Egyptian mystics, the Gnostics, some of the fathers, and the Jewish Cabalists. The latter called it Gematria (i.e. γεωμετρία), of which instances may be found in Carpzov (App. Crit. p. 542), Reland (Ant. Hebr. 1, 25), and some of the commentators on Re 13:16-18. Thus נָחָשׁ (nachash), "serpent," is made by the Jews one of the names of the Messiah, because its numerical value is equivalent to מָשַׁיחִ; and the names Shushan and Esther are connected together because the numerical value of the letters composing them is 661. Thus the Marcosians regarded the number 24 as sacred from its being the sum of numerical values in the names of two quaternions of their eons, and the Gnostics used the name Abraxas as an amulet because its letters amount numerically to 365. Such idle fancies are not infrequent in some of the fathers. Instances occur in the mystic explanation by Clem. Alexandrinus of the number 318 in Ge 14:14, and by Tertullian of the number 300 (represented by the letter T or a cross) in Jg 7:6, and similar instances are supplied by the Testimonia of the Pseudo- Cyprian. The most exact analogies, however, to the enigma on the name of the beast are to be found in the so-called Sibylline verses. We quote one which is exactly similar to it, the answer being found in the name Ι᾿ησοῦς =888, thus: Ι =10+ η = 8+ σ =200+ ο =70+ υ =400+ ς =200=888. It is as follows, and is extremely curious:
ἣξει σαρκοφόρος θνητοῖς ὁμοιούμενος ἐν γῇ τέσσερα φωνήεντα φέρει, τὰ δ᾿ ἄφωνα δύ᾿ αὐτῷ δίσσων ἀστραγάλων (·), ἀριθμὸν δ᾿ ὅλον ἐξονομήνω ὄκτω γὰρ μονάδας, ὅσσας δεκάδας ἐπὶ τούτοις, ἤδ᾿ ἑκατοντάδας ὄκτω ἀπιστοτέροις ἀνθρώποις οὔνομα δηλώσει. With examples like this before us, it would be absurd to doubt that John (not greatly removed in time from the Christian forgers of the Sibylline verses) intended some name as an answer to the number 666. The true answer must be settled by the Apocalyptic commentators. Most of the fathers supposed, even as far back as Irenaeus, the name Λάτεινος to be indicated. A list of the other very numerous solutions, proposed in different ages, may be found in Elliott's Horoe Apocalypticoe (3, 222-234), from which we have quoted several of these instances. SEE NUMBER OF THE BEAST.