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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
    RonaldTaska  November 13, 2019

    If nuclear war doesn’t get us and if some astronomical event (an asteroid or a burned out sun) doesn’t get us, then I would bet on a pandemic because such pandemics have almost gotten us several times such as the following:

    1. The plague of Athens (typhoid fever) from 430-426 B.C.E.
    2. The Black Death in 1350 C.E.
    3. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

  2. Avatar
    scandler7  November 14, 2019

    “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (RV 2:11 KJV).

    One might say the first death is the death of the individual, and the second death that of the species — a sort of bottomless pit, from which there is no resurrection, neither biological nor spiritual.

    “So species, everyone agrees, eventually cease to exist. There is but one cloud that confuses the issue a bit: some paleontologists speak of TWO sorts of extinction — extinction pure and simple (“without issue” — what I would call “proper” extinction) and “extinction by transformation” (also called “pseudoextinction”). George Simpson, for example, has maintained that both forms of extinction take place. It is the latter form — extinction by transformation — that muddies the waters in our search for an analogy between organisms as individuals and species as individuals…. After all, no organism ceases to exist because it becomes transformed into some other creature.”

    — Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria

    “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 CO 5:17 KJV).

    “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (RV 7:13-14 KJV).

    “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (1 JN 3:2 KJV).

    Food for thought…

  3. Avatar
    Stefan Mircea  November 14, 2019

    Well, I do not know many novels about it, but I do think that in my country, some Christian Orthodox are very high up on the fact that we will be implanted with microchips, which are actually the sign of the beast, in Revelation. Also that just the advance of science in itself is a sign of it. Also because bars on products contain the number 666. I mean in my country there was a system of cards, electronic cards for the healthcare system. – a pretty shoddy system as it breaks down often, and that is why I was against it – and they made a special exception for religious or personal conscience reasons for receiving it and being replace by a paper declaration. So it is isn t JUST in the minds of some, it actually affected government. And there this so called scenario of a third world war, where Constantinople will be reclaimed by the greeks and another Greek emperor will reign, announced by an angel, after Russia invades Turkey. Then a period of thirty years or so of peace, then the Antichrist will reign, and then the end. It is is pretty creative with all its twists and turns.
    Another thing that might interest you is psychological trauma. Besser van der Kolk, The body keeps the score. In it he discusses how traumatized people, from war, childhood, or whatever, are impacted by that event so they feel in a constant doom. And a case could be made that the apostles after the death of Jesus and the first Christians lived in a such a fear of the next few days, that they generalized that feeling that projected it on the whole world, their fear systems were just up the roof. And it is usually caused by some event -like the fall of Constantinople, the communist rule in Russia, etc, after a severe traumatic event, personal, or general that these things gain force. Like you said, the cold war. Maybe there is a connection here to be made as well.

  4. Avatar
    TimKendrick  November 14, 2019

    Two films in this vein that I can highly recommend are:
    LAST NIGHT – In six hours’ time, the world as we know it will be gone. Written and directed by Canadian actor/filmmaker Don McKellar, the film hops between several loosely interlocked stories, exploring how different people chose to spend their last night. Stranded on the street after her car is stolen and demolished, Sandra (Sandra Oh) tries desperately to get to her husband in time so that they can commit suicide together, recruiting a depressed loner named Patrick (McKellar) to help her out. Patrick’s friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) decides to spend the time recruiting women to enact all the sexual fantasies he’s ever had.

    TAKE SHELTER – Curtis LaForche is a man plagued by apocalyptic visions. Convinced his premonitions will soon come to pass, he begins constructing a shelter for his wife and child. His increasingly erratic behavior leads him to a shrink, where we learn he has a family history of mental illness. Thus lies the central question of Take Shelter. Is Curtis a prophet for the modern time or a mentally disturbed individual becoming lost in his delusions? A kind of subversive take on the traditional Noah story.

  5. Avatar
    Truncated  November 14, 2019

    “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute was mentioned previously, but I am providing the synopsis, since it seems to fit perfectly. The movie starred some big names:

    The war is over. Nobody won. Only the inhabitants of Australia and the men of the U.S, submarine Sawfish have escaped the nuclear destruction and radiation. Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) takes the Sawfish on a mission to see if an approaching radiation cloud has weakened, but returns with grim news: the cloud is lethal. With the days and hours dwindling, each person confronts the grim situation in his or her own way. One (Fred Astaire) realizes a lifetime Grand Prix ambition; another (Ava Gardner) reaches out for a chance at love. The final chapter of human history is coming to a close… From acclaimed director Stanley Kramer (Judgment at Nuremberg) and screenwriter John Paxton (Crossfire), comes this spectacular movie landmark – a film masterpiece with a message that will resonate as long as the world has the power to self-destruct at its own fingertips. Co-starring Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson.. “The most important novel of the Atomic Age.” — Washington Post.

    https://www.amazon.com/Beach-Nevil-Shute-ebook/dp/B07N6PGMHW/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=%22on+the+beach%22&qid=1573740346&sr=8-1

    “The most important novel of the Atomic Age.” — Washington Post.

  6. Avatar
    rburos  November 14, 2019

    You’ve spoken of and written about the issues of cognitive dissonance before, and Marc Sageman wrote a book called “Understanding Terror Networks”. I am NOT conflating Christianity and terrorism–except when I am. He took it from a psychological standpoint regarding who/why/how people radicalize and stay that way when joining apocalyptic terror groups. It’s been a while since I read it, but your post makes me think about that.

    Also, Paula Fredriksen’s “When Christians Were Jews” speaks some on how early Christians had to mentally and emotionally dig in when X died and the end didn’t come, and when he kept reappearing and the end didn’t come, and how Caligula. . ., and how in 70. . .

    Of course shouldn’t one think about the opposite end of the debate as well? Such as that little Swedish girl talking about listening to the scientists and fix the climate problem (or work on it), yet the vitriol and violence thrown against her and her message is alarming in itself.

  7. Avatar
    tedandcarol1960  November 14, 2019

    How about Jean Raspall’s 1973 novel THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS which gets its title from Revelation 20:9. ?Supposedly Steve Bannon’s favorite book, it’s on alt-right reading lists. It’s about refugees from the non-white world invading the shores of Europe. “And they marched up over the breath of the land and surrounded the camp of the saints…”.

  8. Rick
    Rick  November 14, 2019

    Just a thought. What is the appeal of apocalyptic stories? Is it that they free their characters of the inherent responsibilities of life in their pre apocalyptic worlds? Does it free them of the responsibility of civilized behavior, or does it promise they will see their antagonist receive their just rewards?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 15, 2019

      Sometimes it’s that. Thought sometimes actually the emphasis can be teh opposite: the apocalyptic world view stresses taht the material world really matters, so it matters what we do in and with the material world. Another key attraction, though, is the idea that as awful as things are now, God is still sovereign and ultimately good will triumph. Star Wars didn’t make that one up!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 15, 2019

      See my other reply!

    • Avatar
      mwbaugh  November 15, 2019

      Seen from the POV of the oppressed and powerless, the appeal of the Apocalypse is largely a matter of justice. That gets distorted when read from the POV of American Christians who are a powerful majority in a wealthy nation. For there to be justice, they have to rationalize that somehow *they* are the oppressed and outcast.

  9. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  November 14, 2019

    The original “Day the Earth Stood Still.” Michael Rennie (who played Peter in several sword & sandal Jesus flicks [Robe; Demetrius and the Gladiators]) the avatar ‘from above’ who works several ‘scientific’ miracles. His adopted earth name? Carpenter. Best friend/eventual believer? A young boy (future Father Knows Best perfect white family star). A mocking, disbelieving, cynic who turns in the hero (the of course not-explicitly-stated jew) (Hugh Marlowe). The first person to realize the truth of his identity? A woman (Patricia Neal). Our hero is killed by those in authority and, guess what? Is resurrected by his all-powerful, better-not-piss-him-off robot sidekick. For me, this mostly is a meditation on (a smidgen of) Thomas Hobbes’ ideal society, that run by an all powerful police force as a check on the mostly can’t help themselves to screw up human race. But perhaps apropos for you as well.

  10. Avatar
    fishician  November 14, 2019

    I forget to mention the movie that made us laugh in the face of impending nuclear holocaust: Dr. Strangelove!

  11. Avatar
    David Quesada  November 14, 2019

    Dr Ehrman, I would suggest Game of Thrones as it uses the “army of the dead” as a perfect analogy of an existential threat that some deny and some fervently believe in that will bring the end of the world. Also, it would be most interesting to touch on the subject of Doomsday religions of today. For example, the Jehovah’s witnesses published a verse by verse discussion of the book of Revelation and how it is currently being fulfilled by them.

  12. Avatar
    roybart  November 14, 2019

    There is a whole category of dystopian literature which, although it does not include “end of the world” action, is situated in a world so drastically changed (and not in a good way) as to be unrecognizable to us. 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 are just some of the better-known examples. One might think of them as pre-Armageddon, though not in a religious sense.

    The Wikipedia article on Dystopia cites Frank Kermode — a major literary critic and public intellectual of the second half of the 20th century — as suggesting that “the failure of religious prophecies led to a shift in HOW society apprehends this ancient mode.”

  13. Avatar
    Miles  November 15, 2019

    The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters (The Last Policeman, Countdown City, World of Trouble) is fabulous series about a cop solving a murder that looks like a suicide, all while the world awaits what is known to be a catastrophic asteroid impact that will wipe out life on earth. Suicides become quite common because of the impending disaster but the title character doggedly pursues justice even though justice comes to be seen by most as irrelevant; everyone will be dead soon enough. The reaction of society in the face of human extinction is contrasted to a man doing his job as best he can.

    Also, is there room in your analysis for Freud’s concept of a death wish? Even though he holds little clinical currency, Freud made major contributions to literary concepts involving death and sex and maybe even Armageddon.

  14. Avatar
    PBS  November 15, 2019

    -Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Harvard University Press, 1994)
    -Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Fortress, 1996).
    -Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary.
    -Stanley Grenz, The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options.
    -N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, vol. 3, Christian Origins and the Question of God .
    -(And for illustrative material on modern American predictive craziness: Armageddon Now: The End of the World A to Z).

  15. Avatar
    mwbaugh  November 15, 2019

    I don’t have any titles other than “Redemption Song” to suggest, but Revelation is a theme for Rastafarians that sometimes carries over into reggae music. My understanding is that they teach that the Africans are the chosen people and slavery in North America is what the Bible is really talking about when it discusses the Babylonian Captivity. The idea of the US as the “Babylon” of Revelation is an important theme and in the Apocalypse the rich, white oppressors will be cast down and the poor dark-skinned peoples will be exalted.

  16. Avatar
    mathieu  November 15, 2019

    “and … something recent, not sure what.”

    I suggest you could use the current political situation. I think you could do this in a non-political way by investigating how both sides think that the world will end if their side doesn’t win. They are both very serious, and in a way relevant to Revelations. Very interesting dichotomy there, I think.

  17. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  November 16, 2019

    Two things from the field of ‘non-fiction’ spring to mind. One is ‘gray goo’ – see the wikipedia link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_goo
    The other is a chapter in Bill Bryson’s book ‘A short history of nearly everything’ about the possible eruption of a super volcano, which could plunge the world into a nuclear-style winter and see the extinction of Homo sapiens. A super volcano eruption 80,000 years ago (Lake Toba) in Indonesia nearly achieved this. More worryingly in our own time is the super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park which Bryson says is overdue for eruption and could, potentially, destroy much of western civilisation when it finally blows. I do hope that I haven’t managed to depress all my fellow Bart Ehrman-bloggers!

  18. Robert
    Robert  November 16, 2019

    Wow, this thread really struck a chord. Apocalyptic influences are everywhere. I just came across a reference that I never would have suspected.

    John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival “wrote ‘Bad Moon Rising’ after watching The Devil and Daniel Webster. Inspired by a scene in the film involving a hurricane, Fogerty claims the song is about ‘the apocalypse that was going to be visited upon us’ (Wikipedia).

    Hate to say it, but he may have been prophetic about global warming and hurricanes:

    I see a bad moon a-rising
    I see trouble on the way
    I see earthquakes and lightnin’
    I see bad times today

    Don’t go ’round tonight
    It’s bound to take your life
    There’s a bad moon on the rise

    I hear hurricanes a-blowing
    I know the end is coming soon
    I fear rivers over flowing
    I hear the voice of rage and ruin …

    I hope you got your things together
    I hope you are quite prepared to die
    Look’s like we’re in for nasty weather
    One eye is taken for an eye …

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      Ah, great song. But didn’t know what inspired it. Thanks,

  19. Avatar
    Hormiga  November 16, 2019

    Well, Ray Bradbury’s “The Last Night of the World” from 1951.

    https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/books/a14340/ray-bradbury-last-night-of-the-world-0251/

    [First part]

    “What would you do if you knew this was the last night of the world?”

    “What would I do; you mean, seriously?”

    “Yes, seriously.”

    “I don’t know — I hadn’t thought. She turned the handle of the silver coffeepot toward him and placed the two cups in their saucers.

    He poured some coffee. In the background, the two small girls were playing blocks on the parlor rug in the light of the green hurricane lamps. There was an easy, clean aroma of brewed coffee in the evening air.

    “Well, better start thinking about it,” he said.

    [Last part]

    He heard her get up and go out into the back of the house, and then he heard the soft shuffling of a swinging door. A moment later she was back. “I left the water running in the kitchen,” she said. “I turned the faucet off.”

    Something about this was so funny that he had to laugh.

    She laughed with him, knowing what it was that she had done that was so funny. They stopped laughing at last and lay in their cool night bed, their hands clasped, their heads together.

    “Good night,” he said, after a moment.

    “Good night,” she said, adding softly, “dear…”

  20. Avatar
    Brand3000  November 16, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think that Paul would have been surprised that Jesus still hasn’t returned or do you think he would be just as motivated as ever to continue preaching the gospel?

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