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The Coming Armageddon: I Need Some Suggestions!

As many of you know, my next trade book is tentatively titled: Expecting Armageddon: The book of Revelation and the Imminent End of the World, to be published by Simon & Schuster.  I would like some help from interested lay folk in the reading public with a certain aspect of it, and would love to hear your suggestions.

First let me say that I have not begun any serious research for it yet.  My plan is to get going in a hard-hitting, all-out kind of way in the early summer, depending on how quickly the book I’m working on now (the scholarly monograph on otherworldly journeys) gets written.   I simply have too many things on my research-plate just now.   Plus, that was the schedule I had originally planned: start on Armageddon in the summer and crunch as hard and for as long as I can and need to before getting down to writing it.  Usually it takes me about a year to do the research on these things.

BUT, what I always like to do – and this is why I like to get an advanced contract on my trade books – is to think about it, well in advance of when I actually start doing the research.  That way, when I can start plowing in, I know exactly where I want to start and what I anticipate the hot spots to be to go to first.   My ideas always develop (and change) in the course of doing the serious reading and thinking, of course.  But I never, ever want to jump in feet first without putting a lot of thought into it even before starting.

The original idea for the book was to explain why in some conservative religious circles now, and for well over a century, there has been an avid expectation that the world was going to end soon in fulfilment of biblical prophecies, especially as found in the book of Revelation.  I myself was deeply committed to this view as a late-teenager and into my twenties.

I eventually came to realize that this was a complete misinterpretation of Revelation and the Bible as a whole.  I also came to reflect on the fact that just about every generation of Christians since the time of Paul till today has had stalwart interpreters of the Bible who were convinced, and could prove (!), that the prophecies were all coming true in their own day and were soon to be fulfilled.  The end is near.  The Final Battle approaches.  Armageddon is about to strike.

And so I had to ask myself: were all the millions of people thinking this in every generation demonstrably wrong, but we in our generation just happen to be right?   Well, aren’t we grand?!

In any event, the book was going to trace the history of the interpretation of Revelation that took it to be a prediction of the end coming soon (in the lifetime of the interpreter), and then show how this view has been debunked by scholars of Revelation, who for a long time have known that actually that’s not what the book is about.

That strikes me as unusually interesting.  And it strikes a lot of religious people as interesting.  And it strikes a lot of used-to-be-religious people as interesting.  But I’m not sure that it strikes *most* of the human beings in the universe as particularly interesting.  Maybe marginally interesting?  But not, well, really interesting.

And so then as I was thinking about it I suddenly thought back – duh – to …

To see the rest of this post, all you need do is join the blog.  Won’t cost much at all, and every nickel you pay goes to charities helping those in need.  You get tons for your money and you do some good for the world.  So why not?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ophiuchus  November 12, 2019

    I suggest By the Bomb’s Early Light and When Time Shall be No More by the late historian Paul Boyer. The idea of the end of the world became more plausible after Hiroshima.

  2. djfusilier
    djfusilier  November 12, 2019

    The first film I always think of when someone brings up nuclear threats is “The Day After” (1983). I’ve seen it as both a child and when I was older. It still affects my thinking on the horror of nuclear warfare. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any others that come close to it whether about nuclear threat or climate change.

  3. Avatar
    flshrP  November 12, 2019

    “If you believe in Forever
    Life is just a one-night stand.
    If there’s a rock and roll Heaven
    Well you know they got a hell of a band, band, band.”
    The Righteous Brothers, single, 1973

    Armageddon. The Rapture. Belief in the invisible, immaterial, immortal human soul and an eternal afterlife. These fantasies are all intertwined and have been so for nearly 2000 years. The belief that the end times are imminent retarded the advance of Western Civilization for 1500 years. It took the invention of printing, a Reformation and an Enlightenment to flush this nonsense out of European thought and open the door to modern civilization. However, the fear of non-existence, which all humans face, keeps this fantasy alive in our time and likely will continue to infect a huge number of individuals until the giant bolide wipes us all off the surface of the Earth and humanity goes the way of the dinosaurs.

    The lyrics above refer to a particularly nasty mode of thought in which believers in this fantasy justify doing nothing to address important social problems (nuclear weapons proliferation, climate change, human-produced global temperature increase, ethnic cleansing, etc.). because the end is near (life is but a one-night stand). Of course, these believers are just following the teachings of John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, all of the Church Fathers, and every Christian clergyman since then who all preach the gospel of prepare because the end is near.

  4. Avatar
    Sixtus  November 12, 2019

    To the nuclear threat and climate change I would add the potential threat that artifical intelligence poses lives, ethics and many other aspects of society. At the rate at which the technology is progressing, it may become a monstrous problem relatively soon, as compared to, say, climate change. Other technologies holding apocalyptic potential include gene editing (CRISPR) and lifespan-lengthing procedures. As for post apocalyptic media, I recommend the superb Hyperion series of sci-fi novels by Dan Simmons, set in a deep future in which the Catholic Church is a major force in interplanetary and alien societies.

  5. Avatar
    Matt2239  November 12, 2019

    The one take on Revelations that no one except me has observed is its unique role as the last book in a codex when the bound book was new media. No longer was it necessary to scroll through a scroll to get to the exciting end part. With Christianity, you could open your bound bible and begin with the gospels, leaf through the epistles, or go straight to the salacious end times in the back pages. The human base urge for instant gratification found its early beginnings in bible’s last book.

  6. Avatar
    craig@corbettlaw.org  November 12, 2019

    For years I’ve thought that Augustine’s City of God reinterpreted Revelation in light of the new status of the church in the Roman Empire. Is that correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 13, 2019

      It was common by his day (or maybe starting then?) to interpret the history of the church in light of Revelation (and vice versa). But I’m not well-read yet on the history of interpretation once the empire had been Christianized.

  7. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  November 12, 2019

    What made me start to doubt eschatology was reading about the Anabaptists during the time of the Reformation. Some of them were convinced that State infant baptism was the Mark of the Beast. Baptism was how a person became a member of the State in those days. So you literally could not buy or sell without it as you essentially had no identity.

    • Avatar
      VaulDogWarrior  November 13, 2019

      Post Apocalyptic movies that immediately come to mind are:

      Water World starring Kevin Costner (climate disaster)

      The Matrix starring Keanu Reeves (singularity/technocalypse)

      The Terminator films play on the technocalypse scenario too).

  8. Avatar
    mannix  November 12, 2019

    I will let the more erudite blog members help you, but I just got finished with Metzger’s “Breaking the Code”…written for the general audience. I look at Revelation now in a whole different way. Anticipating your final product.

  9. Avatar
    darren  November 12, 2019

    This may not be what you had in mind, but modern apocalyptic scenarios are centred on the idea of computer artificial intelligence becoming sentient and attacking humans. It really seems to have replaced religious apocalyptic ideas in the west since it feels a lot more plausible to a growing secular society than a religious apocalypse. Terminator, War Games, the Matrix. Thing I find fascinating about it is that it flips Revalation on its head — rather than the god who created everything imposing punishment, it is the god we created punishing us. And its extra terrifying because of the cold logic of AI, contrasted with the unpredictable god of the Bible, who could show mercy, or, as in Job, radomly impose punishments.

  10. Avatar
    sashko123  November 12, 2019

    Depending on your angle, Asimov’s I, ROBOT; Stephen King’s THE STAND or THE DARK TOWER; Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK are all anxious about existential consequences of technology. The Tower of Nabel is one of these stories, isn’t it? The gods worry that man with his technology, including the invention of cities and architecture, and one language can become like a god, and so they go down to scatter them and confuse their languages — that seems rather apocalyptic.

  11. Avatar
    mikezamjara  November 12, 2019

    “Without warning” really scared me, it is not about climate change, but from alien invasion and asteroids. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89u81khMVyc

    In the 80s and nineties we were afraid of robots of the future and techonologcal wars like in terminator

    from the last decade there are a lot of films about virus tha cause Zombie Apocalipse, such as “I m legend”, “resident evil”, z war, 28 days, Rec etc.

    I have a question about the book of Revelation, I have heard that in papyrus 115 the number of the beast is 616, not 666. So which is it and why? Should we kill the antichrist if we find him or just let him be?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 13, 2019

      Yeah, you won’t be able to kill him. It was originally 666. If you add up the numerical equivalents of the letters in the title Caesar Nero, it adds up to 666. But the final letter in Greek can be left off resulting in 616.

      • Avatar
        mikezamjara  November 14, 2019

        thank you for your response Dr. Ehrman.

        but, if p115 is earlier than other manuscripts of revelation, why is it that scholars hold to 666 and not 616 if it means the same about Nero.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 15, 2019

          Because it’s not just about the date of a manuscript. These decisions get made on numerous grounds. I’ve been planning on posting on that but got side tracked. I’ll get back to it when a couple of my other threads are completed.

          • Avatar
            mikezamjara  November 16, 2019

            fine, thank you Dr.

  12. Avatar
    SeptimusHM  November 12, 2019

    I hope you allow links in the comments apologies if you don’t. Anyways, so if you want someone who is saying that we should be very optimistic about the world you should read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. It talks about all the reasons we should be optimistic about the world in general and not just climate change (It does have a whole sections on climate change and nuclear weapons)
    If you want to hear the argument for why the world won’t end due to climate change by someone who is not a climate denier and is scientifically accurate (at least as far as I can tell) there’s this:
    http://progressandperil.com/2018/02/23/the-conquest-of-climate/
    For more information on this optimistic stuff here’s a link:
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/should-we-chill-out-about-global-warming/
    If you want the negative side of things (in terms of climate change) you should read David Wallace-Well’s The Uninhabitable Earth, this book is about worst case scenario, it’s pretty scary.
    If you just want all the unbiased facts (at least as much as anyone can be) about climate change you should read Robert Henson’s The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change, 2nd Edition. It was published this year by the American Meteorological Society (which is like how the SBL is for Biblical scholars but for Meteorologists and Climate scientists). I’m not 100% if you’re interested in this as you seem more interested in how culture deals with climate change and not necessarily the science behind it, but it does talk about culture and I found it very informative so I’ll just mention it.
    Honestly I am often stuck between freaking out about climate change and not being worried about it and thinking that people are over reacting about it, it depends on the day. Anyways, I hope you enjoy doing the research for your new book, I look forward to reading it when it comes out!

  13. Avatar
    lawecon  November 12, 2019

    Let me suggest that you start “from the other end” if you are interested in “contemporary” secular apocalyptic notions. By that I mean, start from the debunkers and work to the apocalyptics. One of the principal debunkers of the past 50 years has been Paul Simon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Simon Simon only dealt with “respectable” forecasts of doom. There are other, less respectable, theories: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_conspiracy_theories#Anti-semitic_conspiracy_theories

  14. Avatar
    robbeasley  November 12, 2019

    • The Book of Revelations, I say, emerges after 136 AD following the third Jewish /Roman conflict (woe)known as the Bar Kokhba revolt .

    The following quote comes from the book of revelations followed by a quote from the Jewish Talmud. Both relate to a third woe or War.

    Revelations 14:20 – The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle.

    The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the number of dead in Betar was enormous, that the Romans “went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils.”[52]

    The Talmud entry was made about Betar, a factor in the Bar Kokhba revolt. The Bar Kokhba revolt was the third of three “Woes” or wars. The three woes are another parallel to the book of revelations.

    The target audience would have been the Jewish populations and possibly the Christians, reminding them how powerful their God is.

    Dating the Book of Revelations shortly after the Bar Kokhba revolt satisfies a couple of patterns seen elsewhere in the bible.

    1) Books emerge shortly after a conflict or changed in power
    2) Prophecies are post mortem. That is they are written after the facts. Three Wars, Vesuvius,a bloodbath etc…

    • Muslim connection. The aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt saw several conflicts between the Jewish peoples and the Roman Empire from 136 AD up to 629AD after which Muslims carried on the battle with the Roman Empire

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_Kokhba_revolt#Aftermath

    In short, it does not relate to a modern day Armageddon

  15. Avatar
    CCubed17  November 13, 2019

    Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is an obvious recent example; there’s a race of ice demons called the White Walkers/Others that are supposed to be a metaphor for climate change. Unfortunately this was handled extremely poorly in the TV show and the books aren’t finished yet, so I don’t know what you could do with it, but that would be a pretty major and well-known example.

    It’s a bit older but I think Watchmen (the graphic novel) might be a good one for nuclear annihilation, especially as there’s a lot of religious themes about god mixed in.

    Man, this is just making me realize how little I’ve been paying attention to popular fiction lately.

  16. Avatar
    timcfix  November 13, 2019

    I’m sorry, I cannot be of any help with the coming apocalypse since I believe it’s not coming. I realize that Christianity is closely tied to the Revelation of Paul, but I see the Revelation differently, By Parable teaching we should always be ready, but there are a few other teachings we should always be aware.
    One would be, no one knows the day or time, not the angles in heaven nor I, only the Father. Generation after generation best guess have only pushed the day further away. But still by Parable we should always be ready. Personally I believe in the word of God when he said he is willing to wait a thousand generations. So a thousand generations it will be.
    All the nuclear holicoust

  17. Avatar
    timcfix  November 13, 2019

    I’m sorry, I cannot be of any help with the coming apocalypse since I believe it’s not coming. I realize that Christianity is closely tied to the Revelation of Paul, but I see the Revelation differently, By Parable teaching we should always be ready, but there are a few other teachings we should always be aware.
    One would be, no one knows the day or time, not the angles in heaven nor I, only the Father. Generation after generation’s best guesses have only pushed the day further away. But still by Parable we should always be ready. Personally I believe in the word of God when he said he is willing to wait a thousand generations. So a thousand generations it will be.
    All the nuclear holocaust we can dream of cannot destroy any more of humanity than twenty thousand years of ice age, or one Super Caldera which humanity has already survived. No, think of something that could only be available after one thousand forty year generations, that’s forty thousand years. Yes that is a long way off and in that time there could be several nuclear holocaust, that’s just OJT for humanity.
    I attend a church that believes they will all be raptured before Armageddon, I just try not to show my disbelief over their enormous egos.
    The world population in 1800 was less than a billion. 1816 was the year without a summer. Today we are at 6.5 billion, would a year without a summer be survivable. You have heard of living paycheck to paycheck, well humanity is one harvest from oblivion. But we will survive and we will rebuild and there will be a nuclear holocaust. But it will not be Armageddon.
    The Disclosure requires a new heaven and a new earth, it requires a thousand year reign by the Christ and google beheaded martyrs. It will take at least forty thousand years to figure all that out.

  18. Robert
    Robert  November 13, 2019

    One of my favorite memories as a kid was rhe giant ants from the 1954 classic Them!, Warner Brothers’ highest grossing film of the year with an all-star cast. Note especially the ‘biblical’ prophecy being fulfilled and ‘cited’ by a scientist sent from Washington at 1:35 in the clip below:

    “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true ― ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.’”

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CugQcmapiwc&list=PLDIPT5l07s0QDnNVqCgxs5MzTvh1QiQuc&index=14

    Darryl A. Armstrong talks about the ‘theological’ implications of this film, as well as the Godzilla (also closely linked to the apocalyptic ‘new world’ (עלם הבא) brought on by ‘man’s development if nuclear weapons and other films here:

    http://www.reelworldtheology.com/if-these-films-could-talk-october-2018/

  19. Avatar
    VEndris  November 13, 2019

    I am surprised you didn’t mention zombies. I’m not sure if that is the kind of thing you are going for, but it seems like, even though the notion of zombies has always been there, there has been a huge uptick since the early 2000’s: Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland, World War Z, and far too many to mention. I remember even buying the Zombie survival guide. Other spoofs included Shaun of the Dead and Juan of the Dead. There are even places you can go to train for surviving a zombie attack. Of course, this also sparked similar films and books about viruses that end humanity, like The Crazies, and Stephen King’s Cell.

    My favorite books with an apocalyptic tone are King’s The Stand and his Gunslinger series.

    As a side note, I am very interested in your notion of how apocalyptic thinking has influenced political thinking. And with the coming election and popularity (either good or bad) of our current president, it seems very relevant.

    • Avatar
      shannonf  November 13, 2019

      A great Zombie apocalypse book is “The Girl with all the Gifts”

    • Avatar
      Miles  November 15, 2019

      Oh hell yes. I saw a documentary of people who seriously await the zombie apocalypse. One woman designed and built a two story house with wrap around second story porch that had a line of site (for a rifle scope) in every direction, and the stairs leading to the second story got increasingly steeper the higher you went, because “it is well known that zombies can’t climb.” They are dead serious end timers just waiting for the undead to rise up.

  20. Avatar
    ShonaG  November 13, 2019

    I’d also google project fear, term used in both Scottish Indy referendum and Brexit against apocalyptic predictions. Something that seems missing from American debate maybe because both sides are too engulfed in their own versions of it.

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