"Dig," the new action-thriller series from the USA Network, is starting to add up — at least in terms of its religious content.
The third episode, broadcast March 19, advanced plot lines involving an apocalyptic sect of Jews, a desert-dwelling Christian cult, a stolen Torah breastplate rumored to be a telephone to God and a really cute baby cow named "Red" who is having a less-than-excellent adventure.
Tossed like a ball of spices into that potboiler of a story is a difficult biblical text, a secretive society dedicated to restoring the Jewish temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and what may be a nod to Jewish numerology.
"It’s all about XIX," or the number 19, FBI agent Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) reads in a journal swiped from a murdered archaeologist.
Here — with spoiler alerts — is what’s behind the newly introduced religious elements to the "Dig" storyline.
Ever notice how in the Bible there are always 12 of this (Tribes of Israel, disciples) and 40 of that (days of rain, years in the desert)? It’s never eight or 11 or — heaven forbid — 17?
That’s because ancient cultures, especially biblical-era Jews, practiced numerology — the belief that numbers have specific religious or spiritual significance. There is a whole branch of study in Judaism called "gematria" by which letters of the Hebrew alphabet are given numerical values and scholars add them up in a search for meaning. The creators of "Dig" seem to be aware of this and are having some fun.
Twice in episode three, the number of Peter Connelly’s hotel room — seven — is pointedly shown. In numerology, seven is considered a perfect number, a "divine" number, the number of God. It represents holiness and sanctification — two themes that pop up over and over again in the search for the "pure" red heifer and the apparent need to keep the boy Joshua’s feet "unsoiled."
And when Peter has a bad dream, his bedside clock reads 11 p.m. In the Bible, 11 represents chaos, disorder, even impurity.
Then there’s that pesky number 19, which is behind much of the episode’s action. In biblical numerology, one is considered the number of God and nine is the number of his judgment. That sounds ominous enough for a thriller-conspiracy-action series like "Dig."
And here’s something that may mean all or nothing at all — in Islam, the 19th verse of the 19th chapter of the Quran announces Jesus’ birth — "a pure boy." And there’s something very Jesus-y going on in "Dig" surrounding the character of Joshua — the boy who has to be kept "unsoiled."
Spoiler alert — read on at your peril!
The Book of Numbers:
Peter’s quest to decipher the meaning of dead (young, hot, haunting) archaeologist Emma Wilson (Alison Sudol) leads him to a courtyard in Jerusalem’s Old City where an open book sits on a podium. Lo, it is open to Numbers, the fourth book of the Jewish Bible. And what chapter is it open to? Behold: Chapter 19.
This is the chapter that refers to a pure red heifer as something required to purify the Israelites before they can restore the Temple, the home of God, or Yahweh, in Jerusalem: "Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee a red cow of full age, in which there is no blemish, and which hath not carried the yoke."
Numbers 19 has occupied Jews and Christians for millennia. Some scholars say the color of the heifer refers to the sins of humanity. The requirement that it not have carried a yoke may symbolize that it obeys no man, only God.
Whatever it means, it bodes nothing good for poor little Red, who spends all of episode three hungry and crying in the hold of a ship bound for Croatia.
"Welcome to The Jerusalem Heritage Center"
That’s the greeting of a (young, hot, beautiful) woman as Peter and Israeli detective Golan Cohen (Ori Pfeffer) read the Book of Numbers in the ancient courtyard. She gives them a tour of what seems to be a museum or cultural center dedicated to the Old Testament, with videos of the Ark of the Covenant and a priestly figure in a golden breastplate.
Jerusalem has a Heichal Shlomo Jewish Heritage Center, but it is in a modern building. And maybe it has a mysterious basement with electronic locks and menacing rabbis who sneak up on snooping FBI agents. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI visited there in 2009, but he didn’t mention any.
Perhaps the creators of "Dig" are referring to the Temple Institute, a private organization that promotes the re-establishment of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount — a controversial endeavor as the Temple Mount is now home to the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine.
And as for that sneaky, scheming Rabbi Lev (Shmil Ben Ari), could he be a not-so-veiled reference to Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the current leader of the Temple Institute?
It might add up.
Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She covers atheism and freethought for RNS. Via RNS.