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Armageddon and American Politics

As I indicated at the beginning of this thread, I am in the process of thinking my way into the next trade book, which I think will be on the book of Revelation and how it has been read by modern fundamentalists, who think it is predicting what is going to happen in our own world very soon, and how that reading has immigrated into, and even infested, the wider culture, the actual secular world, both socially and politically.

I said a few words about the social impact of apocalyptic thinking since 1945, and the advent of the nuclear age (the End really *is* near!), and now, as it has transmorgrified (a word we ought to use more often) in the post-Soviet era to issues connected with climate change, etc.  One of my theses is that the social concerns have come to affect the political landscape in America, particularly starting in the 1980s.

My ideas on this are not based on wild speculation, but on very interesting scholarship produced by American cultural and political historians, in such books (in case you’re interested in pursuing the matters), as Jonathan Kirsch, A History of the End of the World; Stephen D. O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse;  and Daniel Wojcik, The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America.  There are lots of other studies, by experts.  What I have to say will not be “news” to these people, but I will explain what they have found to a broader readership, in light of a scholarly analysis of what the book of Revelation is really all about.

Here is how I’m thinking of a couple of issues, as expressed in my self-write up that I’ve done to crystalize where I am at this point:



Relatedly, in the political realm more widely, the apocalyptic sense that our structures are falling apart with massive apocalyptic chaos very much around the corner connects closely with debates over the Second Amendment.   No one is …

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The Odd Modern Way of Reading the Book of Revelation
Secular Versions of the Coming Apocalypse



  1. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  March 25, 2019

    I wish this article was one of the free ones. I have so many Fundamentalists I’d like to share this with.

  2. Avatar
    falter  March 25, 2019

    Question for a future blog:

    Frederick Baltz asserts that the Lazarus identification, the evidence suggesting that the Beloved Disciple was a priest, and the ancient John tradition are all correct. Baltz says the family of the children of Boethus, known from Josephus and rabbinic literature, is the same family we meet in the 11th chapter of the Gospel: Lazarus, Martha, and Mary of Bethany. This is a beloved family, according to John 11:5. The historical Lazarus was Eleazar son of Boethus, who was once Israel’s high priest, and from a clan that produced several high priests. The Gospel’s author, John, was not a member of the Twelve, but the son of Martha (Sukkah 52b). He closely matches the description given by Bishop Polycrates in his letter, a sacrificing priest who wore the petalon (i.e., emblem of the high priest). This John “the Elder” was a follower of Jesus referred to by Papias of Hierapolis, and an eyewitness to his ministry. He was the right age to have lived until the time of Trajan (according to Irenaeus). Baltz says John is probably the disciple ον ηγαπα ο Ιησους, and Eleazar is the disciple ον εφιλει ο Ιησους in the Gospel.

    Can you think of anything which would tell against the proposal that the beloved disciple was in fact Lazarus, and that this Lazarus was the son of a former high priest?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      Wow. Now *that’s* creative. But highly speculative, some of it not at all based on anything in the text itself. Lazarus (found only in John) is never mentioned as being one of the Twelve, but the Beloved Disciple is. They are talked about, regularly, as different people. And there is zero indication in the text that Lazarus came from a priestly family or had any connection with priests.

      • Avatar
        MaryPetra  March 26, 2019

        Dear Dr. Ehrman,
        this is meant to be for you personally only!
        I can tell from your answer that you haven’t even read Richard Carrier’s book “On the Historicity of Jesus”.
        Please do!! I mean well!! It won’t get any less embarrassing the longer you wait!
        Please trust me that I send these words *because* I appreciate you and your work so very, very much!
        With best regards,
        Yours Petra Kamps

        • Bart
          Bart  March 27, 2019

          I’ve read parts of it, but none that has persuaded me of anything. There are just too many holes in his arguments, and it’s not clear if he just doesn’t see them or if he doesn’t think they’re important. I know he sounds convincing to some people.

  3. Avatar
    James  March 25, 2019

    Here is another book to add to your pile for this research, just published last week: Zack Hunt, “Unraptured: How End Times Theology Gets It Wrong” (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2019). Hunt grew up in churches that took End Times theology very seriously and he eventually found himself questioning it and largely abandoning it. He also points to ways End Times theology has been weaponized to guide public policy. Hunt writes for a lay audience, but his argument is rooted in pertinent scholarship and a close reading of scripture.

  4. Avatar
    jwesenbe  March 25, 2019

    If there were no Isreal, or at least no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, there would be no Armageddon? Seems like we have backed ourselves into a no-win situation. Why would we support a political doctrine that would allow for this to happen?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      Because many good Christians *want* the world to end!

    • Avatar
      flcombs  March 26, 2019

      I believe the Bible also said it wouldn’t happen until the gospel was preached “to all the world”. So I suppose literally as long as there are people isolated in the jungle or elsewhere Armageddon can’t happen. Of course if you want to save the world, you just have to isolate a small group of people and not let them hear the gospel! Sounds like a government project somewhere!

  5. Avatar
    flshrP  March 25, 2019

    These apocalyptic fantasies concocted by two of the three desert religions have been threatening Western civilization for at least 1500 years. We have fundamentalist, fanatical Christians striving to rebuild the Jerusalem temple and the Jewish state in order to bring on their version of Armageddon based on goofy interpretations of Revelation. And we have fundamentalist, fanatical Muslims (ISIS) trying to restore the Baghdad caliphate and bring on its version of the Final Battle in Dabiq, Syria, the prophesied location of the Muslim ultimate victory over the infidels, based on goofy interpretations of the Koran. And we have a nuclear-armed Israel in the middle of all this fanaticism and the possibility of the appearance of some fantasy-driven leader of that state with an itchy trigger finger on WMDs pointed at a half-dozen Muslim states.

    Makes one appreciate the relative stability of the old Ottoman Empire, which was able to keep the lid on that part of the World for over 700 years until it disappeared in 1918. If you’re looking for the source of today’s increased occurrence of end times fantasies in the Western World, World War I and its aftermath would be a good place to start.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 25, 2019

    I did not fully appreciate why evangelicals are often not interested in the environment. Your explanation makes sense in that they think the world will soon end so there is no need to take care of it.

    I also did not fully appreciate that the Jewish temple must be rebuilt, and, hence, Israel supported in order for the end times to come nor that this argument starts with 2 Thessalonians 2. Very interesting..

    • Avatar
      flshrP  March 26, 2019

      Isn’t that the same reason why Jesus did not spend time during his brief ministry organizing a church? His constant message apparently was “Repent. The End is near”. He expected his Father in Heaven to materialize within the lifetime of some his followers. No need for a church since the New World Order was coming soon.

  7. Avatar
    michael_kelemen  March 25, 2019

    Not all Christian Zionism was or is messianic. Here’s Wikipedia:

    Late-19th-century non-Messianic Restorationism was largely driven by concern over the fate of the Jews of the Russian Empire, beset by poverty and by deadly, government-inspired pogroms.

    It was widely accepted that western nations did not wish to receive Jewish immigrants.

    Restorationism was a way for charitable individuals to assist oppressed Jews without actually accepting them as neighbors and fellow-citizens.

    In this, Restorationism was not unlike the efforts of the American Colonization Society to send blacks to Liberia and the efforts of British abolitionists to create Sierra Leone.

    Winston Churchill endorsed Restoration because he recognized that Jews fleeing Russian pogroms required a refuge, and preferred Palestine for sentimental reasons.

    [Lord] Balfour, who had known Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann since 1906, opposed Russian mistreatment of Jews and increasingly supported Zionism as a program for European Jews to settle in Palestine.

    However, in 1905 he supported stringent anti-immigration legislation, meant primarily to prevent Jewish immigrants fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe from entering Britain.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      Yes, there were lots of reasons for Zionism. I was referring to *Christian* Zionism, by which I mean those Christians who had religious reasons to advocate for the founding of the state of Israel — a rather surprising phenomenon when you think about it. There were, of course, even more prominent political and humanitarian concerns (among outsiders; Jewish Zionists had very clear and certain concerns completely unrelated to the Christian ones).

  8. Avatar
    fishician  March 25, 2019

    To me there is nothing scarier than a politician who thinks he is doing God’s work, because they can justify anything they do, as God’s will trumps everything else. No pun intended. I suspect our current president does not have deep religious convictions about the end times but he is very serious about pleasing his religious supporters.

  9. Avatar
    Apocryphile  March 25, 2019

    I’m getting more excited by the minute! Here I think you have an idea for a book that almost writes itself, and has the added attraction of being highly relevant to our present American culture and therefore of potential interest to a diverse readership. In a time when even basic truths are up for grabs, a book like this takes on even greater importance and significance.

  10. Avatar
    Hormiga  March 25, 2019

    > The temple mount – the only place where the structure can be rebuilt – is not in Israel’s hands. And so Israel needs to have complete control of Jerusalem, and in particular the Temple Mount.

    So the idea would be to demolish the Dome of the Rock in order to build the Third Temple? Sounds like a good way to get at least a local version of Armageddon going.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      Yup, that would probably do it. And it woudln’t be localized!

  11. Avatar
    brenmcg  March 25, 2019

    Slightly off topic but if the antichrist can’t arise until there’s a temple in Jerusalem for him to enter does this not suggest Revelation was written before the destruction of the second temple?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      That’s actually from 2 Thessalonians, rather Revelation. But no, it could simply be a prediction of what would happen in the future.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  March 27, 2019

        ok sorry yes – maybe it suggests 2 Thess is written before 70 then 🙂

        Isn’t it a strange prediction to make after the destruction of the temple though? Wouldn’t christian theology of the time say there was no need for the temple to ever be rebuilt (in this age at least)?

  12. Avatar
    seeker19  March 25, 2019

    I’m not a defender of James Watt, but he didn’t say that famous quote that gets attributed to him. I won’t put any links on the site, but there are many that explain the misquoting. I’ll quote one.

    From jewishpolicycenter.org
    Never mind, too, that James Watt never uttered any nonsense about being indifferent to nature because Jesus was coming soon. To the contrary, he avowed that anyone who said such a thing was unfit for public office. Environmentalists go on repeating this chestnut anyway.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      Interesting. I’ll have to dig out the interview (it wasn’t quoted in the writing of an environmentalist). Do any of these sources you mention give a reference to what they say he avowed — i.e. a published interview of some kind?

  13. Avatar
    dennislk1  March 25, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    “Jesus before the Gospels” has been ordered.

    Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:17 (NRSV) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

    I am not convinced that 2 Thessalonians 2 refers to the end times. Paul seemed to believe that the second coming of Jesus was close at hand. It seems to me that Paul may have believed this because of the prophecy/vision of the destruction of the 2nd Temple which seemed to have been made known to him. And perhaps Paul thought that Jesus would come again to destroy the destroyer of the Temple. Since (according to Josephus) the future Ceasar Titus was apparently inside the Temple during the fire that destroyed it, Titus may very well have “taken his seat in the Temple of God” and may very well have been the one of whom Paul spoke? That is, 2 Thessalonians 2 refers to the destruction of the 2nd Temple a few years after Paul’s death, in which Jerusalem is surrounded by armies because of a rebellion (but a rebellion of the Jews and not a rebellion against God) and not to an event that takes place in the end times.

    I do not see the need for a 3rd Temple in Jerusalem in terms of the prophecies of the 2nd coming of Jesus.

    But where do you stand concerning futuristic visions and prophecies of the prophets and greats of the Bible? Do you believe they are inspired, and if not, do you have an explanation/opinion for their existence throughout the Bible, especially the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament that match the life of Jesus?

    Thank you,

    Dennis Keister

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      1 Cor. 3 needs to be read in its own literary context. Read v. 16. It is not referring to the temple in Jerusalem.

  14. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  March 25, 2019

    There are nonreligious people who support Israel for what they believe are economic reasons. Or they support Israel out of tradition. Although, I don’t know how many that would be. Could be a small number, but it would be interesting to know.

    Will you be addressing how television influences the public mindset regarding Doomsday? The History Channel has several shows that would make us believe The End is near. They love to use thriller-type music while displaying a very large scripture from Revelation. It’s always in bold print with an accompanying visual of an archangel or God himself who pronounces our doom with a loud, thundering voice.

    I should not have commented this late at night. 😳

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      Oh yes, there are lots and lots of reasons for people supporting Israel!

  15. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 25, 2019

    This book cannot come out fast enough…

    Will you reference any of Dr Metzger’s book on the symbolism in Revelation?

    Another favorite piece of apocalyptic trivia from the Bible Belt – what is the mark of the beast, without which one cannot buy or sell? Credit cards. Learned that from my high school geometry teacher. What a Capital One commercial that would make! What’s in your wallet? Oh, just my new platinum sign of the Antichrist…

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2019

      I may do. It doesn’t hold many surprises, but is an accessible book for layfolk.

    • Avatar
      chixter  March 26, 2019

      It will be a microchip, similar to what we do with pets. There is a commercial out recently on how Scotty or whomever gets through airports, rents cars, etc. Simply because his data is encoded in his hand……I could see this as a mark of the beast, unable to buy or sell, 10 horned beasts, bowls of wrath, and lots of broccoli. End times indeed.

  16. Avatar
    jeffmd90  March 26, 2019

    A shame Isaiah didn’t say anything about the elephant dwelling with the donkey.

  17. Avatar
    Brittonp  March 26, 2019

    “It is no accident that fundamentalists of today are almost to a person climate change deniers, and that the policies of one of our political parties are driven by the voting power of conservative evangelicals.”
    I absolutely agree with your statement and much more. I am amazed at some of the beliefs that are circulating in fundamentalist churches. I also believe one could also make a similar claim for another one of our parties that is becoming heavily influenced by what has been referred to as the new eco-religion.

  18. Avatar
    ddorner  March 26, 2019

    I found this post disappointing. I think it feeds a negative stereotype of Christians and lumps a collection of views together and labels them “fundamentalist Christian” and thus irrational, and ridiculous. I see a tremendous double standard in what views and ideologies intellectuals deem socially acceptable to criticize. I’m surprised Christians haven’t yet coined a term like “Christaphobic” or some such.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, there are a huge number of people who support Israel for non “christian fundamentalist” reasons, and a huge number of people who support gun rights who aren’t the least bit religious. And MANY atheists who don’t care for the environment at all.

    As a child raised as a fundamentalist Christian I would ask my mom “…but shouldn’t we want the world to end?” and she would reply “No, we must always pray for peace.”

    And citing some world leaders religious justification for their actions seems also to be illiogical, because they lie about pretty much everything, and especially when appealing to their religious convictions.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2019

      Sorry — I must have misstated something. I was definitely not saying that the only reason people support Israel is because of fundamentalist theology!! What I was saying is that one of the dominant reasons conservative Christians originally started supporting Israel back during the days of Zionism was because of theological reasons having to do with end times, and that this support then continued on into the modern period, among the religious descendant from these Christian Zionists, most of whom don’t realize where their views originally came from. Of course most Christians simply want peace. Would everyone did…

      • Avatar
        DoubtingTom  June 15, 2020

        I think you may have started on the wrong foot discussing the second amendment and climate change. The other content, as nearly always in your work was excellent.

        The second amendment reflects the founding fathers’ valid concerns about government oppressing it’s citizens rather than serving them. The US is constitutionally prohibited from having a standing army too, but that’s been cast aside.

        I don’t at all support the violent protestors confiscating and destroying other’s property. However, US troops invading one of the US states and attacking US citizens is much worse! Carrying personal firearms would surely be a much preferred deterrent, in my opinion.

        As for climate change doomsdayers, the first question I ask is, what percent of the atmosphere is CO2, without using google? I still haven’t met someone who knows, even within 2 orders of magnitude! They also obviously never know what level of CO2 is good, or any idea of the effectiveness of various corrective measures. Sounds religious faith based instead of science and reason based.

  19. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  March 27, 2019

    All we need for Peace On Earth is for Christians to believe their Christ and disbelieve their preachers and politicians.
    And it aint gonna happen.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2019

      I think Jesus would be flabbergasted by what some of his most devoted followers say and think about him….

      • Avatar
        dankoh  March 29, 2019

        Jesus IS flabbergasted! Why do you think he hasn’t come back? 🙂

  20. Avatar
    Ophiuchus  March 28, 2019

    Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light (1985)

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