Georges Contenau (p. 166) cites evidence that isopsephia (the Greek word for gematria, which he uses) was widely used in Mesopotamia. In this case numerical values were assigned to the characters in their syllabary, and the numerical values of names were computed. (This also fits in with the general Mesopotamian reverence for numbers: all the Gods had numbers, which Simo Parpola has shown to be numerically related by the Assyrian Tree of Life.) For example, Sargon (d.705 BCE) states that the perimeter of his palace at Khorsabad (16283 cubits) was equal to his name.
The next datable source for gematria I know about comes from David Fideler's Jesus Christ: Sun of God. He argues that the standard spellings of the Gods' names were formulated according to isopsephic principles under the influence of the Pythagorean League c. 500 BCE (p. 75). So for example, Zeus is the Geometric Mean of Hermes and Apollo (p. 72). He further argues (pp. 216-9) that many Greek temples, such as the Parthenon (447 BCE) and Apollo's temple at Didyma (300 BCE), were constructed isopsephically.
This use of gematria in temples and other official buildings agrees with its only known etymology, from Greek geometria (earth-measures).
Given the early use of gematria in Babylonia (by the eigth century) and its apparent use in Greece (by the fifth), the general idea must have been widely known around the Mediterranean from an early date.
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