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Expecting the Apocalypse: My Idea for the Book

Instead of one long (and possibly laborious) thread on my current research for my scholarly monograph on Otherworldly Journeys, I’ve decided to talk about that work sporadically, here and there on the blog, over the course of the next couple of months.   I would like to give a greater focus on the books I’m working on for a general audience.

As I have mentioned, I have two in view just now and am in the process of planning them.  I don’t have a contract for either one yet, but hope to present the possibilities to my publisher soon.   One, as I have indicated, would be on the expectation that the end is coming soon, both among many Christians but also in the secular culture at large, all based on a certain reading of the book of Revelation (the secularists usually don’t realize this!) that scholars have long found untenable.   That is the one I’ll start in on here on the blog.

My normal process for coming up with a proposal for a publisher is to 1) Get the idea; 2) Do a bunch or reading on it; 3) Draft a statement for myself about how I’m imagining it; and 4) (When I’m sure how I want to propose it) Come up with an actual Prospectus for the publisher.

I have now drafted my statement for myself and would like to share it with you.  It is longer than normal, since the whole idea is a bit involved.  It will take probably six posts or so to present it all.

My tentative title for the book (this will certainly change) (unless the End comes first) is Expecting the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation and Imminent End of the World.   This is how I start in my self- statement (if you’ve read my book on Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet, this part will sound familiar, though none of the rest of the book will).

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Toward the end of the 20th century the millennia-long fascination with the imminent end of the world grew to a fevered pitch in parts of American culture, not just among the many millions of conservative Christians who expected Jesus to return in judgment during their lifetime, but also in secular popular culture and its perennial obsession with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic film and literature.

The widespread conviction that the end may indeed be coming soon is not simply …

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Fundamentalist Visions of the End of the World
An Early Otherworldly Journey

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  March 19, 2019

    Reminds me of Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages.

    Have you come across it? I have a copy. Never read it, but it’s often brought up in these types of discussions.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Oh yes, a very important book, all about millenial movements in the Middle Ages (11th-16th centuries).

  2. Avatar
    AstaKask  March 19, 2019

    You should check out William Tapeley, “Third Eagle of the Apocalypse and co-prophet of the End Times”, a grade-A YouTube looney who believes that the Book of Revelation has a secret broken-timeline cypher that only mr. Tapeley is able to decode. He has also told us that Obama is the leopard from the book of Daniel and that the Gangnam Style video is full of Satanic imagery. Definitely worth watching.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Yikes.

      • Avatar
        AstaKask  March 20, 2019

        Sorry, Tapley, not Tapeley. He’s interesting in that he’s a Catholic apocalypticist – my impression is that most of them are Protestants. He also predicted that Donald Trump would convert to Catholicism on September 23 2017, and since that didn’t happen he is now holding prayer vigil for Donald to pick up the rosary. He also makes frequent use of what I call the Jonah clause: If your prophecy of doom fails, pretend it was because enough people prayed for the disaster to be averted.

        Oh, and he insists that Psy (Gangnam style) is a prophet of God.

    • Avatar
      The Agnostic Christian  March 25, 2019

      This is the very definition of all that is wrong with American Christian Fundamentalism.

  3. Avatar
    dennislk1  March 19, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    If the New Testament would have told the truth, that it would be over 2000 years before Jesus returned again, Christianity would have probably died in its tracks. It was in Christianity’s interest that the New Testament implies that Jesus would return soon. Therefore I believe words like “generation” were used because they would be misinterpreted. And yet, it is a very good word in the context of the correct interpretation. But just as it would have been unproductive to tell early Christians that Jesus won’t come again for over 2000 years, it would nonetheless be very productive if the year of Jesus second coming was revealed far enough in advance. This would then allow the young people time to change the course of their lives so that they can be satisfied when Jesus arrives but also allow the older people (who cannot change their lives but would worry) to die of old age before that time arrives. A win-win. I believe the year of Jesus second coming is explainable with four New Testament scriptures. This became known to me 20 years ago. But understanding, for example, how “this generation will not pass away” is true when one interprets the Bible using a more modern point of view are the real gold nuggets. Seeing the Bible from a futuristic point of view reveals the platinum nuggets. It’s all quite interesting.

    It is a curious thing that a Jewish scholar like Saul was killing Christians and then became their most ardent supporter. All because he was given understanding.

    Dennis Keister

    • Avatar
      HawksJ  March 22, 2019

      “I believe the year of Jesus second coming is explainable with four New Testament scriptures. This became known to me 20 years ago. “

      Do tell, Dennis.

  4. Avatar
    nbraith1975  March 19, 2019

    Bart –

    While it’s clear that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, it’s also clear that he was completely wrong.

    Interestingly, this fact doesn’t stop constant pseudo-apocalyptic messages from current Christian preachers; where they like to point to apocalyptic “signs” that include everything from persecution to politics and all things catastrophic weather related to show that Jesus is coming very soon.

    Why do you think this is?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      For some reason everyone wants to think history has climaxed now with *them*!!

  5. Avatar
    Seeker1952  March 19, 2019

    I’m especially interested in the scholarly interpretation of the Book of Revelation in relation to (or in contrast with) its use in predicting Armageddon.

  6. Avatar
    Seeker1952  March 19, 2019

    I can understand a tiny percentage of people taking these predictions as absolutely certain. But it seems like a large enough percentage of citizens take them seriously enough to have decisive effects on public policy–as you describe below. That totally amazes me. And it seems incredibly theologically arrogant. I think it would be extremely interesting to see an in-depth discussion of what happens to people’s mental constructs “When Prophecy Fails”– which I think is the title of a book that looks at that phenomenon.

    “The widespread conviction that the end may indeed be coming soon is not simply a rather innocuous mental construct. It has serious social, cultural, and political implications, as expectations of coming Armageddon have influenced American social movements (not just religious) as well as foreign and domestic policy in such areas as military support for Israel; legislation involving conservation, environment, and fossil fuels (vis-à-vis climate change denial); and debates about the second Amendment.”

  7. Avatar
    ksgm34  March 19, 2019

    This sounds great! I’m already impatient at having to wait a year for the Afterlife book! I’ve been reading with great interest your old blog posts on your journey out of faith. Your warmth and humanity shine so clearly through your blog, books (I’m thinking particularly of God’s Problem), interviews and what I recently heard about your personal correspondence with somebody who had emailed you some years ago. You’re definitely in the Top 5 People I’d Love To Meet, but in lieu of that, and I’m sure you’ve been asked this many times but I’m after the up to date response – do you think you’ll ever publish an autobiography?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Nah, I doubt it. It’d be fun, but it seems a bit self-important….

      • Avatar
        ksgm34  March 20, 2019

        I can understand that but those of us who follow the blog know you aren’t… maybe you’ll reconsider in another ten years’ time!!

        • Bart
          Bart  March 22, 2019

          I do a lot of auto-biography here! Probably more than I should…

          • Avatar
            Judith  March 22, 2019

            You could put those posts together for an autobiography that I would enjoy reading!

    • Avatar
      Nexus  March 24, 2019

      There *is* a book that is so sorely needed from you: “NSRV – The Bart Ehrman translation”.

      Just go through and make LORD into Yahweh and fix all the translations errors arising from religious motivations that you mention on this blog. No problem, right? Just a weekend’s work, n’est pas? 😉

      Joking aside, it truly is needed. Without your work on this blog, us laypersons would have no access to what other translators choose to keep hidden.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  March 19, 2019

    In your book will you suggest that Jesus himself was wrong about when the end was coming? 2 Peter 3:4 suggests that some believers were falling away because the first generation had passed and the end had not come. Of course, prophets of doom and their followers always have clever ways to recover from their failed predictions, 2 Peter 3 being an early example of this.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      That was the thesis of my book Jesus: Apoclayptic Propeht of the New Millennium. I don’t know if I’ll be restating that again or not for this one.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 19, 2019

    Wow! Your work production is incredible. Do you have a different clock than the one I use? I am still raking up my autumn leaves and trying to get them out of my azaleas.

  10. Avatar
    cbauer13  March 19, 2019

    You have made reference to this story of the student and his family “selling the farm” several times. My natural curiosity makes me ask, “what happened to that student/family, in the aftermath (or lack thereof) the predicted rapture? Do you know?

  11. Avatar
    flshrP  March 19, 2019

    If you haven’t done so already, reading Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire–A 500-Year History”, (Random House), 2017 might be of value to you. He has quite a bit to say about the end-times fantasies have been around in the U.S. for hundreds of years, about Christian Fundamentalism in all its various shades, and about just plain weirdness that comes and goes in our society.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Thanks!

    • Avatar
      FocusMyView  August 20, 2019

      It is a fun read. It claims America is specifically wired different, then gives profuse examples of us borrowing our insanity from British and German culture.

  12. fefferdan
    fefferdan  March 19, 2019

    Bart: Are the ‘features of modern American’ unique in terms of their appeal to apocalyptic preachers and writers? So many generations have expected the End in their lifetime after all, and most of them point to the Book of Revelation for certain proof. They didn’t have the establishment of modern Israel to point to, but they did have their own historical evidence, numerologies, and best of all, Antichrists! I found a list here, and it doesn’t even mention early Christians like Hermas and the Montanists:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictions_and_claims_for_the_Second_Coming_of_Christ
    I know a little about Joachim of Fiore, who is mentioned in the list. His ideas spawned several distinct movements who shared the idea that the End was coming soon. When I studied his influence, I felt that his age was similar to ours in terms of apocalyptic expectations.
    So I wonder if some of these earlier apocalyptic preachers had printing presses and the Internet, whether their ages would have been just as fertile as our age is, in terms of the proliferation successful “The End is Coming” books.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Nope, not unique!! The American fundamentalist views formed in the 19th c., e.g., were actually brought over from England.

  13. Avatar
    doug  March 19, 2019

    That’s sad that those people sold their farm in anticipation of the imminent return of Jesus. Do you know if Whisenant sold or gave away any of his property before the return time he predicted?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Ha! I’m not sure. Maybe he just went to the bank. That’s apparently what Hal Lindsey did!

  14. Avatar
    chixter  March 19, 2019

    Sold the farm. I’ve heard this story in one of your lectures and I believe it. As Tommy Lee Jones said to Will Smith in Men In Black….A person is smart, people are stupid…When humans succumb to group thought almost anything is possible. Study the details of actions during Well’s War of the Worlds broadcast ( much of the insanity happening here in NJ) for a relatively recent example. Or even more recently, politics of the past few years. Indeed without our group thought susceptibility, religions would not have flourished in the first place.

  15. Avatar
    Joel Smith  March 19, 2019

    The apocalypse is about a New Jerusalem, all things being made new and the revealing of the Christ’s new name… not the end of the world.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      I would say it’s the end of hte world as we know it — but yes, not the actual explosion into nothingness of the globe.

  16. Avatar
    forthfading  March 19, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Would a trade book of this topic appeal to a wider audience than your previous works in your opinion because of the focus on end events?

    Thanks, Jay

  17. Avatar
    Actual_Wolfman  March 19, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What do you think of Jordan Peterson and the recent interest in interpreting Christian doctrine through a more pyschological sense?

    Thanks!

  18. Avatar
    whubbla1  March 19, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I would be interested in a book on this topic. I am curious to know how much you think we can learn about the immediate origins of Christianity from some of these other, more recent (last couple centuries) episodes of apocalyptic disappointment or unmet apocalyptic expectations, e.g., the Millerites. That is, even though many of these later apocalyptic movements were Christian, would comparing them to one another and to Jesus’s own apocalyptic movement shed any additional light on the latter?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      It’s hard to retroject with any confidence, but there have been interesting attempts, including John Gager’s intriguing analysis, Kingdom and Community, which uses psychological theories of “cognitive dissonance,” derived from the study of modern UFO cults to speculate about the sociological forces behind the development of the Christian mission and community. Very interesting!

  19. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 19, 2019

    As a relocated southerner, I completely agree about how those outside the Bible Belt are clueless about the hold that Revelation has on the culture (much like your example of the Civil War). It’s always fun(ny) the reactions east/west-coasters have when they naively ask “why are southern evangelicals so seemingly pro-Israel?” – only to learn that, amongst other things, it’s all prelude to Armageddon.

    Dr Ehrman – as you trace the history of apocalyptic expectations, are you thinking about laying out some of the representative end-time theories (of each era) of how it’s all going to go down? And do you have a favorite? I’m kinda partial to the newly re-imagined version of Russian fighter planes converging on Meghiddo as Iran also invades, but maybe that’s just me…

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Yup, I’ll be dealing with some of that!

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  March 20, 2019

        This is gonna be awesome! If only it were possible to pre-order before you’ve written it / before a publisher has picked it up, because count me in…

  20. Avatar
    Dawg  March 19, 2019

    Cannot wait. Get this published b4 the next election! How bout.. Apocalypse Now? The book of revelation…
    Bit of wordplay..

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Yes, I’ve played with that title over the years. I sometimes teach an undergraduate course called “Apocalypse Now and Then”

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