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NHNE Special Report
Frontline's "Apocalypse!" (& Related Links)
Monday, December 27, 1999



"One of the things I find most interesting about prophetic belief viewed historically is how in every time period of history there have been groups, there have been individuals who have looked at the events of their day and concluded: This is it. This is the moment. And you can trace that from the medieval period -- from Joachim of Fiore and Hildegard of Bingen -- through the Reformation period, the incredible crisis, the sense of crisis that the Reformation brought to Europe. Seventeenth century Puritans in England were convinced that the corruption of the Catholic Church and the corruption of the Church of England were signs of the end times. Right down through the crisis of World War I and the crisis of World War II, the Cold War period, each generation somehow has found circumstances that are convincing to them that the end times are upon us."

--- Paul Boyer, Merle Curti Professor of History at the UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, Madison



APOCALYPSE NOW (or Maybe Tomorrow, or the Next Day)


- Apocalyptic Belief Thrives In Oppression
- What Tends To Trigger Apocalyptic Movements?
- A System Of Thought That Has A 100 Percent Failure Rate
- Apocalyptic Belief Systems Are Remarkably Resilent
- Millennialism Has Played A Special Role In Anerica
- "We Sent Them To America"
- The Media Has Fundamentally Altered Apocalyptic Discourse
- An Apocalyptic Spotlight
- Do You Think You Will Recognize The Antichrist?
- Apocalyptic Blaming & Scapegoating
- A Secular Apocalyptic Sensibility
- The Age Of Biblical Apocalypticism



A FEW OF NHNE'S BEST REPORTS (Apocalyptic-Oriented & Otherwise)


APOCALYPSE NOW (Or Maybe Tomorrow, Or The Next Day)

By David Sunfellow

There are few things that have created more pain, disillusionment and suffering than failed apocalyptic predictions. There are also few things that have instilled more hope or produced more change. Indeed, many of humanities greatest and most important historical figures believed the end of the world was just around the corner.

The New Testament, for example, is built around the idea that the world is about to end. From John the Baptist and Jesus to Christ's disciples and the Apostle Paul, we are told that the world teeters on the brink of destruction. And when the world doesn't end (and Jesus doesn't return) as expected, the early Christians are thrown into chaos: Was Jesus wrong? Did they misunderstand what he said? What should they do now?

Their solution, like a host of other apocalyptic movements that came before and after, was simple: try to understand what went wrong and, in the meantime, reconstruct the prophetic timeline; instead of expecting the world to end "in their generation" as Jesus predicted it would, predictions of imminent doom were pushed into the future.

And so it has gone, from one generation to the next: old prophetic figures are replaced with new ones; ancient prophecies are repackaged and attached to new leaders and world events; new masses of people become convinced the end is near; the predictions (and prophets) fail; chaos descends; and the next wave of apocalyptic fervor emerges in the world.

If we step back far enough, it is an embarrassing spectacle. And it's not simply a case of ignorant masses of humanity falling into the same apocalyptic holes that swallowed up previous generations. It's also a question of educated people -- people who are intimately acquainted with the repeating patterns of history -- making the same mistakes previous believers did. As Paula Fredriksen, a William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture at BOSTON UNIVERSITY, reports:

"I was giving a lecture on... Christian apocalyptic, to a pastors college. We were together for four days, and I was talking to these churchmen... about apocalyptic and I did this liberal arts, comparative, secular review of the Book of Daniel, the Book of the Apocalypse, and he was wrong and these people and Montanus, they were wrong, on and on and on and on; four days of listening to these wrong prophecies that described the history of Christian apocalypticism. I should add that I was doing this during Operation Desert Storm. When I took questions, the first one was from a pastor in the back of the room who said,'Yes, Professor Fredriksen, but now that Saddam Hussein is raining nerve gas down on Israel, now that he's the power from the north raining fire from the sky on God's elect, isn't it clear that now is the time of the Second Coming?' Nothing I had said touched his belief. The amazing thing about apocalyptic thought is that a specific prophecy can be disconfirmed, but the idea can never be discredited. You just recalculate."

Will we ever learn?

Many of you may remember reading about a movie called "The Omega Code" in Smorgasbord 12 (http://www.nhne.com/smorgasbord/smorgasbord0012.html). The $7 million movie unabashedly champions the apocalyptic view of many traditional Christians. As fate would have it, the movie came to Sedona and I went and saw it with a few good friends. When it was over, we all laughed at how shallow, simplistic, and predictable the movie was.

And then we laughed at how most of us used to believe all this stuff with abandon (me with more gusto than most).

And later on, after I had time to think things through more deeply, I stopped laughing. For while I no longer believed most of the apocalyptic scenarios I had embraced so zealously in the past, a new set of apocalyptic possibilities had taken their place: Y2K upheavals. Ozone holes. Nuclear accidents. Biological warfare. Ecological disasters. Impending ice ages. Asteroid strikes. Microchips that can control human beings far more effectively than bar codes tattooed on foreheads.

Are these apocalyptic concerns cut from the same cloth my earlier ones were? Am I, and other human beings like me, hardwired to believe the world is about to end? And if so, why? Where do these apocalyptic tendencies come from?

Recently, PBS announced a remarkable FRONTLINE program that is scheduled to air tomorrow night. Called, "Apocalypse!", the two-hour program "traces the evolution of apocalyptic belief throughout the ages -- from its origin in the Jewish experience after the Babylonian exile to its diverse and often tumultuous expression in modern times." Like most PBS programs, Apocalypse! also has its own website (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/) which is packed with thought-provoking material.

Those of you who are regular readers of NHNE, know that we have been exploring apocalyptic themes ever since we published our first report in October of 1994. And we've been doing it on two fronts:

Outwardly, we've tracked psychic predictions, reported on archeological discoveries and modern biblical research, challenged messianic claims, investigated unexplained phenomenon, and pondered the mysteries of our world; and inwardly, we've systematically dismantled many of our own cherished convictions in full view of our readers (see the end of this report for links to some of our best reports).

Where it will all end? I don't know. What I do know is that everything needs to be examined with much more care than most human beings are accustomed to.

Along with seeking a deeper understanding of our bodies, minds, emotions, relationships, and the physical universe, we also need to know how valid humanity's great religious traditions are? Who wrote the scriptures our religions are based on and what were the beliefs and personal agendas of the authors? Are the characters and stories in these books supported by archeological facts? Are the masters, saints, and sages they talk about real historical figures, composites of real and imaginary figures, or complete fabrications? And how does human psychology fit into all of this? How much of what we believe has been passed down to us from God/Spirit versus from and through human minds with all manner of human blindspots, imperfections and agendas?

Amazingly, most human beings continue to accept what they are told by the authorities of their particular culture and then pass it down to their children as fact. But since the things we believe motivate our actions and determine the way we treat the Earth and our fellow human beings, it is a dangerous business to build our lives on unquestioned assumptions -- no matter where they come from, or how infallible they appear to be.

Take Columbus, for example. One of the things I learned while reading the Apocalypse! Website was that Columbus wanted to fund apocalyptic crusades to the Holy Land with gold from the New World. Writes Paul Boyer, the Merle Curti Professor of History at the UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, Madison:

"Columbus was... a man who took apocalyptic teachings, who took biblical passages very, very literally. And in fact, we have in his own autobiographical writings, toward the end of his life, and in his messages to Ferdinand and Isabella, proposing yet another great enterprise. This time it will be... to restore the Holy Land as a fulfillment of prophecies in the Book of Isaiah and elsewhere of the end time events. He believed that gold from the New World could be used to finance this great crusade to the Middle East to regain Jerusalem.

"So in addition to everything else, Christopher Columbus is very much a prominent figure in the history of apocalyptic belief in Europe. I think Columbus very much did have a sense of millennial fulfillment, that from his voyages, from his discoveries, and what he saw as the capstone event of his career, which would be the final expedition to the Middle East, as a fulfillment of biblical prophecies that would lead to the millennium."

Bernard McGinn, a professor of Historical Theology and the History of Christianity at the Divinity School at the UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO adds:

"Christopher Columbus is often viewed as the hard-headed navigator, a kind of modern man breaking with the past. But if we look at the history of Columbus and some of his writings, particularly his letters and in the Book of Prophecies that he put together, we can see that Columbus thought of himself very much in terms of the apocalyptic tradition. And he felt that his voyages of discovery were ushering in a millennial age, an age of a Last World Emperor, a Spanish Last World Emperor, who would recapture the holy apocalyptic city of Jerusalem and initiate a messianic period. And he had studied prophecies very, very carefully as he put together this Book of Prophecies, in order to sell his program to Ferdinand and Isabella. And it's not that he was using this. He believed it. And he felt that they should believe it as well."

Adding this information to what we already know about the barbaric exploits of Columbus and company in the New World, we can see that the savage treatment the native peoples of the New World received at the hands of Columbus (and other European explorers) can be partially traced back to apocalyptic beliefs. If Columbus knew more about how the Bible had been written, and by whom, perhaps he would have been less sure of his convictions and less likely to treat the inhabitants of the New World so self-righteously. Perhaps his desire to capture Jerusalem might also have been tempered, along with the need to squeeze the funds for such a trip out of the New World.

And then there are people like Thomas Muentzer who took the apocalyptic themes of the Old and New Testament to mean the time had come for the peasants of Europe to rise up against their wealthy masters. Writes Paul Boyer again:

"Thomas Muentzer is an example of what can happen when apocalyptic scriptures become widely accessible. Muentzer took the images of the apocalypse, the images of a desperate struggle between the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil, and applied it to the peasantry of Europe in his own day. And he preached to the peasants that the wealthy people of the day are in fact the evil ones whose destruction is foretold in the Book of Revelation. And thousands of peasants followed him, and in fact there was a tremendous slaughter. Thomas Muentzer had assured his followers that their struggle against the landowners, against the rulers and the leaders of the day, was a divinely ordained struggle, and that in the war that would follow, they would be spared, that God would intervene.

"When the final showdown comes in 1525, the peasants are arrayed against the German princes and their army, and Thomas Muentzer continues to assure them, even at the last moment, that Christ will intervene on their side. This is the apocalyptic moment foretold in the Revelation. They're singing hymns. They literally are awaiting a glorious triumph. Muentzer assures them that he will catch the cannonballs in his shirthhsleeves. Of course, it turned into a slaughter. Five thousand ill-equipped peasants were slaughtered. The Peasants' Revolt was utterly destroyed. It was one of those incredible explosions of apocalypticism that arise in history."

Mark Edwards, Jr., President of ST. OLAF COLLEGE, adds a few more details:

"Thomas Muentzer was the leader of a band of peasants. And for those peasants, he was taking the Old Testament images and bringing them to life, and telling them that just as all Christians were supposed to be free spiritually, they also were all to be equal and free economically and politically. This was the rallying cry that galvanized his supporters. This was the rallying cry that brought the princes together to oppose it.

"One of the most famous battles in the Peasants' War occurred at Frankenhausen, where the armies of the princes in the cities met the peasants' bands led by Thomas Muentzer. The princes, by one report, attempted to find an end to the fight. The peasants, however, saw a rainbow in the sky, and Muentzer's flag had a rainbow on it, harkening back to the rainbow that Noah was given, the covenant with God. And so as the princes load their cannons and the cavalry gets ready to charge, the peasants are singing, 'Come, Holy Spirit,' believing that this battle is the final battle of Armageddon, and that God was going to break in and stop it right there. But instead, the cannons fired. The knights charged. Of about 8,000 peasants, about 5,000 lost their lives. And Muentzer himself was captured, cowering under a bed; tortured, executed. That was the end of Muentzer's apocalyptic vision."

But not, of course, the end of other apocalyptic visions or messengers. On the Apocalypse! Website we read how early Christians, Medieval monks, Christian reformers like Martin Luther, the Puritans, evangelical preachers before, during, and after the American Revolution, the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, Marxists, Nazis, and other fire-and-brimstone prophets expected, one after the other, that their particular vision would end one world and begin another.

How can so many people be so gravely deluded? How can you and I protect ourselves, our children, and future generations from the same mistakes?

As we prepare to enter a new millennium -- a time that is supercharged with prophetic figures and visions -- these are questions that need to be answered.

Perhaps, as some of the Frontline scholars suggest, there is no final answer: apocalyptic visions and visionaries will continue to rise and fall as naturally and irresistibly as the sun.

And then again, perhaps as more and more of us notice that something fishy is going on, we'll break the bonds that have caused so many of us to fly into apocalyptic flames without question...




"Apocalyptic beliefs feed, I think, partly on social-economic circumstances. So we have the most recent example of 1930s Germany, where Nazism and its prophecy of the Thousand Year Reich flourished in economic collapse. We get similar instances in the Middle Ages...

"Apocalyptic belief thrives in oppression. For oppressed people, a prophecy of the end of the world offers relief from their suffering and hope that their suffering will come to an end. So the Book of Daniel was written to encourage the Jews in their revolt against the Greeks. Christianity, which is the apocalyptic religion par excellence, actually developed out of Judaism partly as a result of the Roman conquest of Palestine. And then we can move down through Reformation, when the German peasants flocked to the reformers' standards in order to try and release themselves from feudalism. And then to the 20th century, where we have Marxism explicitly appealing to the oppressed of the world, and the great classic slogan: Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. And then finally the success of Nazism taking root in the economic and social collapse of Germany between the wars."

--- Nicholas Campion, professor at History at QUEENS' COLLEGE in Cambridge and History and Politics at the SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES, London



"A culture clash in which an operating culture is thrown into turmoil by a more powerful one, whose impact is to allow systematic defections from the value systems and commitments of the weaker culture. Crises, rapid and disorienting social change, signs and wonders in the air (like a solar eclipse followed by a devastating earthquake), and charismatic apocalyptic prophets capable of arousing the apocalyptic energy of his or her audiences."

--- Richard Landes, Director and co-founder of the CENTER FOR MILLENNIAL STUDIES



"What I would characterize as the problem of apocalypticism is something just absolutely astounding when you think about it. It's a system of thought that has a 100 percent failure rate; that would be one way to put it. That is, you think of all the vast range of history and which scenarios have been put forth: This is the Antichrist; this is this; or this is that; this is going to happen. None of those things have turned out to be the case. And yet the pieces get picked up again. People open the Bible again. They read it in a new way, in a new situation. And I think that has to do fundamentally with the dynamics of the Biblical text itself, that these set pieces can move on through history, and the Bible and the place that it has in our culture ensures that this will go on indefinitely, I think.

"...So the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein is going to invade Jerusalem, take over, and become the Antichrist. But instead, he's defeated. So he's not the one. In World War II, Adolf Hitler. What a perfect Antichrist, even a persecutor of the Jewish people. But he commits suicide and is defeated by the Allies. So again and again, we have this crescendo of possibilities that then become falsified by the reality of history. And that's the pattern that we've faced throughout the ages. And yet the texts are still there, predicting (if they're read literally) that this is the way that things will wind up, this is the way the end will come."

--- James Tabor, professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA at Charlotte



"Apocalyptic belief systems are remarkably resilent and enduring, I think, because they speak to such basic human needs: for a sense of meaning and order in history, for the promise of a better world, for the drama and excitement they can add to life. Also, apocalyptic texts almost be definition wrap their prophetic message in symbolic or metaphorical language, that by its very amorphousness can be adapted to many different situations, and interpreted in many different ways.

"Apocalyptic movements tend to be triggered by a charismatic figure who has absolute confidence in his or her particular prophetic scheme, and who comes up with an interpretive system that seems to address some of the central concerns of a particular time period. William Miller, for example, in upstate New York in the 1830s, came up with a complex mathematical scheme based on the Book of Daniel, which foretold Jesus' return in 1843 or 1844.
Miller conducted his revival services at a time of great revival fervor, when Charles G. Finney and other famous evangelists were in their prime, so the northern public was already familiar with this form of proselytizing.

"His detailed interpretations of difficult scriptural passages and his complex mathematical calculations appealed to Americans at a time when the spread of the public-school system was making the basic skills of literacy and mathematics widely available. His followers used the latest means of mass communication: charts and graphs, newpapers and periodicals printed on the new high-speed printing presses of the day. And he brought his message to America at a time of intense reform activity, when a new and more righteous world order did indeed seem within grasp. The Millerite movement is a classic example of a leader with a message in perfect synchronicity with his era.

"Hal Lindsey, publishing 'The Late Great Planet Earth' in 1970 is another example. Lindsey used the popular language of the day, even slang, to address such issues as the Cold War, fears of nuclear war, the rise of the European Common Market, and conflict in the Middle East that were of intense concern to millions of people, and place them within a particular framework of prophetic interpretation."

--- Paul Boyer, Merle Curti Professor of History at the UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, Madison



"Americans tend to study American history as if the U.S. is the only place in the world. If we look at other places in the world, I suspect we will find millennialism rampant there also. But millennialism has played a special role in the discovery of this continent (Christopher Columbus believed God had chosen him to find the new heaven and new earth predicted in the Book of Revelation), and in the founding of the American colonies and the United States. Daniel Wojcik's book, 'The End of the World As We Know It', provides a good summary of how millennialism has influenced the United States, and still does. The United States has been predominantly a Christian country, and millennialism is part of Christian scripture and tradition. The freedom of religion in the U.S. provides plenty of scope for millennial experiments."

--- Catherine Wessinger, professor of the History of Religions and Women's Studies at LOYOLA UNIVERSITY



"Are Americans uniquely apocalyptic (different in kind), or more apocalyptic (in degree) than other cultures?

"My answer is yes to both these questions, for a variety of historical reasons. Other panelists have already commented on the sense of millennial destiny that originates with the Puritans, so I needn't stress that point here. But we need to recognize that there are many currents of dissident religion that have fed the American stream -- the Puritans are only part of the story. In short, one of the global functions of the American experiment is to serve as a safety valve for the release of pressures that, in other times and places, might have produced millennial movements. Example: think of the Irish potato famine, a catastrophe by any measure, complete with all the ingredients for an explosive millennial uprising: millions of deaths, a colonial oppressor, a religion that promises future salvation.... Why didn't these ingredients produce radically millennial Catholic resistance movements? In part, at least, because the Irish had somewhere to go to escape. My sister is married to a Frenchman, and I once asked him about the current state of millennial expectations in European society. His reply was: 'We don't have these people in Europe, or not so many of them, because we sent them to America.'

"Imagine a cosmic hand reaching down and shaking the European continent, jarring loose all of the misfits and oddballs and folks who are dissatisfied with the religious/political status quo so that they, or their children, drift westward, coming to America to work or to join religious groups and voluntary associations, sometimes to ponder the prophecies and invent new religions -- such as Mormonism, a quintessentially American religious group. (The westward drift still holds; I live in California, which seems to be the last stop and end-of-the-line for many of these folks.) It seems to me that we have focused a lot on the notion of apocalyptic time in our study of millennialism, but that in understanding American movements of this ilk, we need to pay attention as well to apocalyptic space, or millennial geography because of the simple fact that we, uniquely among Western cultures, had the room to expand (once the natives were killed off or subjugated) and places for these groups to set themselves up without disturbance."

--- Stephen O'Leary, Director and co-founder of the CENTER FOR MILLENNIAL STUDIES



"What's unique about our current time period, and how are millennial expectations different from those of the past?

"The media are crucial to answering this question. Both broadcast media and cyber-communication have fundamentally altered the cultural and social situation for apocalyptic discourse, by 1) increasing both the amount and the types of information available for millennialists to construct their webs of meaning; 2) standardizing calendar and clock time to an unprecedented degree, and habituating us to measuring time in smaller and smaller units, thereby increasing our awareness of time's passage; and 3) making possible the formation of new types of communities united not by geography but by shared interests and media access.

"Consider two of the traditional signs that have always been supposed to accompany the apocalypse: 'wars and rumors of wars' and earthquakes. Human nature being what it is, there have always been ongoing conflicts taking place around the globe at any one point in time.

"But now we have CNN to be there with the television cameras, and images of death and destruction appear in everyone's living room; and Internet users may log on and be treated to live or nearly instantaneous personal reports of such events as a coup in Russia, or bombing attacks in Israel. Likewise, in the natural flow of geologic time, we see that earthquakes have always been a daily occurrence around the world, and that their frequency may ebb and flow according to natural processes, such as plate tectonics, that we dimly understand. But major tremors that once would have gone unreported, or about which we might previously not have learned for months, if not years, are now reported on the nightly news; and geological data from around the world are now posted to Internet sites and monitored carefully by millennialists anticipating both 'Earth Changes' and the return of Jesus.

"The unique capability of Internet users to simultaneously monitor multiple events and processes in the global theater creates a new awareness of time and of the weight of historical action. This experience of time and the associated expectation of a moment of singularity is sharply manifested in the contemporary apocalyptic mood. For example, there is now a web site that offers a continuous video image of Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, placed strategically so that believers will be able to view the Second Coming of Jesus via live Webcast when the proper moment arrives. A prominent mass-media platform for apocalyptic preaching of a more New Age flavor is provided by radio talk show host Art Bell. His programs 'Coast to Coast' and 'Dreamland,' which focus on millennial predictions and psychic phenomena, are broadcast over more than four hundred radio stations; these programs incessantly promote his published books and web site, around which a dedicated Internet fan community has arisen.

"Through the links on the Art Bell site and other related pages, one can find hundreds of communities of apocalyptic believers, devoted to the prophecies of Nostradamus, Christian fundamentalism, the so-called Mayan prophecy, the return of the aliens, or various mixtures of these and other traditions, engaging in dialogues that move freely between Web pages, Internet chat rooms, obscure magazines and newsletters, and talk radio programs. Many of these have focused on the so-called 'millennium bug,' or Y2K computer crisis, as the objective manifestation of apocalyptic anticipation. Regardless of the actual consequences of the problem -- the inability of computer systems to process four-digit dates -- the dire predictions of both religious prophets and technical experts have converged on January 1, 2000, a millennial moment that is a direct consequence of the global standardization of computer time.

"What's going to happen?

"I think that the millennium as a marketing opportunity is going to be a huge flop. A lot of people who invested in the production of millennial souvenirs and tchotchkes will lose their shirts. There is a pervasive cynicism about the whole topic among those who are not inclined to view the millennium in religious terms or as some type of spiritual event; it seems like nothing but hype to these folks, and they will actively resist the hype. For those who are inclined to view the year 2000 in religious terms, well, I expect that there will be a variety of resolutions. Some will keep on making predictions and postponing the date, in classic millennial fashion: we can already see some groups setting their sights on 2003, 2007, 2012, and I'm sure we will see 2033 as another major apocalyptic deadline. Others will be more inclined to take matters into their own hands, and we have already seen how this can spin out: terrorism (a la Aum Shinrikyo and Oklahoma City), reform and revitalization movements, cult suicides given human ingenuity and the wide array of options that our culture makes available, the number of possible responses to apocalyptic disappointment seems unlimited.

"We don't know how the Y2K problem will play out or how bad it will be (I remain a cautiously optimistic agnostic on this question), and we also can't predict the timing and location of natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Barring serious Y2K breakdowns and any ill-timed catastrophes that could fan the flames of millennial fever, I expect that we will go through 2000 with a lot of cynicism and irony about millennial marketing hype, and some joking (perhaps with a nervous edge) about oddball cult hysteria. The really interesting part of this for me is the aftermath: what will people do after we've come through 2000 unscathed, what will they make of the millennium after we're actually in it and no longer anticipating it? This is the most creative period of millennial ferment, and I think it will be exciting to watch in the decades to come."

--- Stephen O'Leary, Director and co-founder of the CENTER FOR MILLENNIAL STUDIES



"I tend to think that what characterizes this apocalyptic moment is more the general public's awareness of the moment, than the rate or sheer number of apocalyptic movements. I think that apocalypticism has been one of the most powerful streams of thinking in western history, and it has rarely been absent in any decade for twenty-five hundred years or so. But that the government's and general public's attention to apocalyptic movements has ebbed and flowed. So what I think characterises this moment, now, is that more people are paying attention to it. Not necessarily that more people are doing it. What's happening is that we have an apocalyptic spotlight being turned onto groups that have previously acted in the shadows. Now the question becomes whether that inflames the groups and drives them to more apocalyptic fervour, or whether it simply just brings them to our attention. And that's something that we won't know until things play themselves out. I expect that there will be certain prominent apocalyptic incidents in the next year or two. I certainly hope they don't involve any loss of life, either through groups turning against themselves, or through less carefully thought out responses by law enforcement and governments. But I think that when the year 2000 starts to fade into the distance behind us, that doesn't mean at all that millennial groups will do the same. They'll still be there. The general public might not be paying as much attention to them, but they'll definitely still be there. They're not gonna go away."

--- Eugene Gallagher, Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies at CONNECTICUT COLLEGE



"On New Year's Day in 1987, and I was picking up a friend in Los Angeles at the airport. And being a good academic, I had taken along some research to do. And I happened to be reading a paperback called 'How To Recognize the Antichrist'. I went into the lounge to wait, and there was a couple at the bar, having a drink, laughing, talking, not paying any attention to me, so far as I could tell. As they left, the man approached me, saw what I was reading, and said very seriously, 'Do you think you will recognize the Antichrist? And I said, 'Well, I'm not sure. I haven't finished the book yet.' And he continued in a very serious vein, and said, 'Well, I think he's coming very soon, and so far as I'm concerned, the sooner the better,' and disappeared into the crowd. It was one of those moments when, you know, all the research I had been doing sort of suddenly connected with the real world. And I realized, yes, there are millions of people who take this belief system very, very seriously.

"I think there are probably people who believed that Bible prophecy belief was going to gradually fade out, particularly with the end of the Cold War. I don't see it. As I sort of sense contemporary trends in our culture, it strikes me that if anything, it's gaining momentum. Certainly the fact that the year 2000 is nearly upon us, the fact that there's so much attention to the Y2K issue, has added to the general sense of apprehension, the general sense of edginess in our culture. Assuming we get safely past the year 2000, it may be that there will be a slackening off. But at present, it seems to me, the level of intensity associated with apocalyptic belief is really almost at an all time high in our culture."

--- Paul Boyer, Merle Curti Professor of History at the UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, Madison



"Millennialism has traditionally been a very volatile belief, and it can, shall we say, go toxic. In particular, apocalyptic movements tend to get violent, not in the initial upswing of enthusiasm, then some of these people are very sweet, they tend to be very open hearted, they love their enemies, they turn the other cheek. I mean, it's easy to be generous when you think God's about to intervene on your side. Ok, but when God doesn't intervene, and you've burned bridges and you've made a fool of yourself, and you've committed yourself, then, one of the possibilities is to get frustrated and angry, and aggressive. That aggression can be turned against the self, and you get suicides. Or it can be turned against others, and you get what I call apocalyptic blaming, apocalyptic scapegoating, and traditionally that's been one of the patterns for Christianity. It's philo-Judaic in the upswing, and then in the downswing it's bitter and it says if only the Jews had converted, Jesus would have come. It's their fault he didn't come. So in the Middle Ages when you get like in the Crusades a movement where Jews are given the choice of conversion or death, I would say, dig here and you'll find apocalyptic expectations.

"The authorities in Jerusalem actually want to know whether they should be alarmed or concerned. They're certainly aware, they're alert to it, they've been attending conferences in which these kinds of things are discussed. Whether they figured out exactly how to deal with it, is another question. There's a tremendously thin line that has to be walked here between religious freedom on the one hand, and keeping track of the possibility of a group going toxic. And of course you know this is the first time in the history of Christianity, that you've had a great moment like this. A millennial moment, when the Jews have sovereignty over Jerusalem, this is total anomalous situation. Right now most of the apocalyptic enthusiasts in Christianity, at least the ones who are interested in Israel, are philo-Judaic, but, if we get disappointment, if we get bitterness, if they turn and blame the secular Israeli government for all sorts of things, if there's a peace accord that gives some of Jerusalem back, all of those things can turn the tide and things can get, shall we say, unpleasant."

--- Richard Landes, Director and co-founder of the CENTER FOR MILLENNIAL STUDIES



"A kind of secular apocalyptic sensibility pervades much contemporary writing about our current world. Many books about environmental dangers, whether it be the ozone layer, or global warming, or pollution of the air or water, or a population explosion, are cast in an apocalyptic mold. That is, a crisis is looming. We're on the verge of some horrendous catastrophe and we must do something. That's the secular apocalypse, apart from the religious apocalypse, because the religious apocalyptic writers say disaster is looming but there's not much we can do except see to our own personal salvation. These other writers propose strategies for avoiding the crisis that lies ahead. But they have in common, I think, an apocalyptic sensibility."

--- Paul Boyer, Merle Curti Professor of History at the UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, Madison



"A hundred years ago, 200 years ago, really, throughout modern history, people have had the same Bible, they've had the same texts, they've read them, they've wondered what they might mean. But in the 20th century, particularly, the last half of the 20th century, everything has changed. This is really the age of Biblical apocalypticism. The 20th century, and particularly the last half of the 20th century, has opened up a whole new range of apocalyptic possibilities. And that has to do with the possible literal interpretation of the words of the prophets. For example, there is a state of Israel. Israel is in control of Jerusalem. There's a possibility perhaps of a Temple being built some day. And so people are able to read these texts of scripture that anciently might have been seen as symbolic, as not literal, in the most literal way.

"One of the things that is required for a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation is the kind of global economic network, both communications and finances and political alliances, that could only be possible now in the late 20th century. And when you read in the Book of Revelation about a worldwide power that causes every person on earth to be marked with a certain mark, clearly interpreters in the late 20th century think of things like computer chips and bar codes and that sort of thing. That would have been completely unimaginable 100 years ago, and the texts were read in a more symbolic way, not a literal way.

"The Book of Revelation is somewhat like a downhill slide. Once you have an identification of your main characters, the two beasts and the two witnesses in Jerusalem and some military power controlling the Middle East and finally the whole world, then it moves very rapidly. But presently on the world scene, none of those things exist and so the interpretation of Revelation becomes very speculative. That is, there are not many events that people can point to and say, 'See -- here actually is the beginning the end.' So it's almost the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of the end. It's this speculative possibility. Saddam Hussein. Maybe he will rise up and be the one to march on Jerusalem. But the fact is he hasn't, and he was utterly defeated in the Gulf War, and maybe we'll never hear from him again.

"And so that's the kind of problem that interpreters have. So to put an actual time on it, is very difficult, and most of them don't do that. Date setting has pretty well passed from the Evangelical fundamentalist Christian scene. I don't think you're gonna find many preachers, or even avid interpreters of Revelation for our time, willing to put any kind of dates. You hear them talking in terms of 'in the next few years,' 'over the next few decades,' or 'perhaps we're entering into a time when some of these things might take place.'"

--- James Tabor is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA at Charlotte



This two-part special begins December 28, 1999. Check local listings for the time in your particular area.

PBS Home Page (where you can find local stations and viewing times):

Apocalypse! Home Page:

As the third millennium nears, "APOCALYPSE!" traces the evolution of apocalyptic belief throughout the ages -- from its origin in the Jewish experience after the Babylonian exile to its diverse and often tumultuous expression in modern times. Drawing on engaging interviews with historians and biblical scholars, and vivid imagery and historical pictures, this two-hour special chronicles the fascinating history of where our ideas of the End Time and doomsday and destruction come from, and how they have shaped our world.

Frontline's "Apocalypse!" concludes with a look at how fundamentalist Jews and fundamentalist Christians are joined in their belief that Jerusalem is now ground zero for apocalyptic expectation as the year 2000 nears. For these believers, the return of the Jews to Israel, and their capture of Jersusalem in 1967, are prelude to the final event needed to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah: the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Some are preparing for it with steadfast certainty. On a cattle ranch in Nebraska, Pentecostal preacher Clyde Lott believes a specially-bred herd of Red Angus may yield a "Red Heifer" like the one described in Numbers 19 in the Old Testament. By breeding a pure specimen, Lott hopes to help Jewish priests facilitate the rebuilding and rededication of their Temple. For Lott and others, this will be the final sign that the end is near. As Frontline's program "Apocalypse!" airs, Lott is preparing to send two planeloads full of pregnant Red Angus cows to Israel.



Chris Nelson has created a unique website that tracks hundreds of failed doomsday predictions -- both ancient and modern. Thanks to Sherry Stultz for locating this interesting website. Here's how Nelson introduces it:

"As the new millennium nears, we keep hearing prophets of doom declaring that the end of the world is upon us. Is the idea that the End is near a recent phenomenon? Far from it. Indeed, Chicken Littles have crying doom since ancient times.

"The aim of this page is to debunk end-time prophecy by listing hundreds of failed doomsday predictions, allay the fears spread by end-time preachers, and demonstrate that doomcrying is nothing new. I also hope you will derive amusement from some of the more bizarre prophecies.

"I have strived for accuracy through careful cross-referencing among source materials. I'm constantly adding new information and correcting mistakes, yet there may still be some errors.

"Please journey with me through the wild, wacky and wonderful world of failed doomsday prophecy!"

A Brief History of the Apocalypse Home Page:

A Brief History of the Apocalypse: 2800BC-1700:

A Brief History of the Apocalypse: 1701-1970:

A Brief History of the Apocalypse: 1971-1997:

A Brief History of the Apocalypse: 1998-Now:

A Brief History of the Apocalypse: The Future:

A Brief History of the Apocalypse: Soon:


A FEW OF NHNE'S BEST REPORTS (Apocalyptic-Oriented & Otherwise)

Earth Changes & Millennium Fever:

Emissary of Light:

Crop Circles:

The Best of The NHNE News Brief:

Consumer Protection for Spiritual Seekers:



The mission of NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE) is to answer humankind's oldest, most perplexing questions: Who are we? Where are we from? What is the origin and purpose of life? Instead of relying on ancient or contemporary wisdom, or the knowledge of isolated experts, we are building a global network of seekers from all walks of life, from all parts of the world, lay people and professionals alike, that can pool talents, experience, and resources to unravel life's great mysteries.

We also believe that our planet is passing through a time of profound change and are seeking to create a global community of like-minded people that can safely pass through whatever changes may come our way and help give birth to a new way of life on our planet.


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