Leithart wants the best of both worlds by reconciling Jim Jordan and Richard Bauckham. In my estimation, he succeeds:
666 is the numerical value of Neron Caesar, spelled in Hebrew letters. It’s the number of a man. As Richard Bauckham points out (Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation), 666 is also the numerical value of therion (beast), spelled in Hebrew letters. It is the number of the beast. Thus, Bauckham suggests, “The gematria does not merely assert that Nero is the beast: it demonstrates that he is. Nero’s very name identifies him by its numerical value as the apocalyptic beast of Daniel’s prophecy.”
James Jordan argues that the number has “nothing” to do with Nero, and that its source should be traced back to the number of talents of gold imported to Solomon’s kingdom every year – 666, according to 1 Kings 10. This accumulation marked the beginning of Solomon’s downfall, as he began to multiply gold, and later girls and guns. For Jordan, the number indicates that the Jewish leaders had become Solomonic, specifically, it seems, in their greed for gold (plug in Nick Perrin’s recent Jesus the Temple here).
Bauckham’s suggestion is elegant; Jordan’s has inner-biblical intertextuality going for it. Can we split the difference? It seems that Jordan’s rejection of the Neronic connection is hyperbolic, since the land beast urges everyone to worship the sea beast, identified with Rome and Rome’s current ruler is Nero. The number is a tensive symbol: It is Solomonic, indicting the temple leaders who worship the sea beast to keep the gold flowing in, and it is the number of a man, Nero, who is also the head of the beast, Rome.