Does the number 12 matter to Christians?

Magical New Year? The secret of the 12th

Numbers are something for office stallions and accountants, for dry statistics, for mathematicians who are generally regarded as sober people. Numbers are the opposite of sensuality and pleasure, of blaze of color and euphoria. Who really wants to know how many grams of sugar are in a praline or how big are its dimensions? Motorcyclists sometimes appreciate loud engine noise, but would hardly illustrate the rich sound of their vehicle with decibel figures. And has a lover ever beguiled his beloved by praising the angle of her nose or by whispering complex arithmetic problems in his holden's ear?

Numbers make beautiful shapes

Sun with signs of the zodiac - twelve of course

Numbers are not terms that express themselves. But is that why they don't have any meaning? Oh but! The list of chocolates, motorcycle volume and wooing already just mentioned corresponds to an iron law of rhetoric: three elements listed achieve the best speech effect. Two would be too little, four too much, because more than three examples tend to dilute the effect and destroy the arc of suspense. Form is content. And this form is often tied to an order that is based on numbers, in rhetoric as in poetry.

The twelve sticks out

Twelve men in Olympus: Cornelis van Poelenburgh's "Festival of the Gods" (around 1630)

In addition, numbers are also connected with feelings and images: the darned seventh year, all good things come in threes and the bad, bad Friday the 13th. Idioms reflect popular beliefs that no one seriously believes today, but they do have left their mark on thinking and feeling.

The twelve clearly stands out from the crowd of meaningful numbers: The Greek Olympus is occupied by twelve main gods from Aphrodite to Zeus, twelve signs of the zodiac adorn the firmament, two times twelve hours make up one day. An entire arithmetic system that has been used for centuries is based on the twelve, in addition to the one we use today, which is based on the ten.

Nature shows us how

Cheaper in dozens? Twelve eggs, one like the other ...

The duodecimal system is still clearly recognizable in our everyday lives, a dozen eggs are a size that everyone can understand. If you are a specialized dealer, you try to differentiate yourself from the "dozen goods", i.e. the inferior mass product of the major suppliers, with quality and originality.

The fact that the twelve has established itself as an essential measure model is mostly attributed to the twelve phases of the moon, which mark the course of a year. To divide the calendar into twelve months according to the moons was an obvious choice. So the number twelve gives the impression that it has a special natural meaning - or if one is a believer - with a divine power.

The twelve of the believers

12 Apostles - Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper"

In the Bible, the number twelve is practically a leitmotif: Twelve apostles were sent as messengers to spread the teaching of Jesus in the world. Twelve tribes of Israel made up the chosen people. Twelve psalms were sung during the night. The Holy Spirit produces twelve virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, mildness, goodness, long-suffering, meekness, loyalty, modesty, celibacy and chastity. The Christian Christmas feast comprised (formerly) twelve days and nights.

The holy city of Jerusalem is also completely determined by the twelve. It has twelve gates with twelve angels standing on them. Also, almost all of the city's dimensions are based on the number twelve. Kabbalah, the mystical tradition of Judaism, goes far beyond these vivid meanings. In the doctrine popular with many esotericists, all numbers, far beyond their practical application, have an inner meaning and represent their own beings.

Film and music

Arnold Schönberg on a painting by Richard Gerstl

But there are also plenty of spectacular examples far away from religion and belief that highlight the number twelve as something special from the numerical diversity. Arnold Schönberg's compositional technique went down in music history as twelve-tone music. He used all twelve notes of the tonal system equally. What came out of it required an extremely trained hearing. For most of the others with less listening experience, Schönberg's pieces therefore sound rather weird.

Far less artistic, but extremely memorable, the number twelve was immortalized in a popular work in film history. It is hard to imagine that Gary Cooper as the heroic Marshall Will Kane confronts the bandit and villain Frank Miller at a different time than at noon: "High Noon" is one of the most famous westerns ever made.

And the others?

"High Noon" with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

In view of the moon phases and sound harmonies, it is surprising that not even more social institutions take the twelve as a role model. The bowlers, for example, traditionally still throw "all nine". And also the footballers diligently ignore the power of religion and the tradition of the ancient world of gods. Fans and FIFA stubbornly hold on to the eleven squad, where it would be much easier to create a kind of kicker Olympus with the twelve. But maybe that will change in time for 2012.

Author: Günther Birkenstock
Editor: Aya Bach