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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 …

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  1. Avatar
    J--B  November 16, 2019

    Lars von Trier’s 2011 film, Melancholia, presents a vivid depiction of several characters’ psychological responses to the imminent destruction of the world – not by nuclear holocaust or climate change but by collision with a rogue planet – which appears to me to be a manifestation of the state of depression destroying one of the main characters.

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    AstaKask  November 17, 2019

    Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. A parody of movies like the Omen, it is a wonderful romp about an angel and a devil who has to work together to avert the Apocalypse. Highly recommended.

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    AstaKask  November 17, 2019


    The Seventh Sign. All around the world, strange things are happenings that seem to point to the Apocalypse coming up. At each of these locations, a mysterious stranger has opened a sealed envelope. A woman has to unravel what is going on or the end of the world will happen. Apocalyptic drama horror movie. I liked it.

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    Caiaphas  November 17, 2019

    The Apple (1980), if you can sit through its entirety, identifies the threats as pollution, autocracy, commercialism, immorality, and disco.

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    Kirktrumb59  November 18, 2019

    OOOPS! Forgot about “Soylent Green,” a dystopian flick based on a book which I’ve not read (“Make Room! Make Room!”), and “The Midnight Sun,” (Rod Serling) season 3, episode 10 from the original Twilight Zone TV series.

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    Christjahn.beck@gmail.com  November 19, 2019

    I will certainly consider this prompt to try and offer some suggestions as I’m sure that I’ve encountered some relevant books/movies the years. But outside of the climate crisis, the area where I see this “the end is near” concept manifesting itself most in modern scientific/political debate is the conversation about artificial intelligence. I think there could be some fascinating research to be done there on secular end times sentiment. A.I. conversations seem to go from Siri to the Terminator in a span that could fit in a single Tweet.

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    birder1949  November 19, 2019

    Just finished reading Bill McKibben’s “Falter,” which not only looks at the catastrophic changes climate change could bring but also gene editing and the development of artificial intelligence, a “threefer” in terms of Armageddon.

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    Hormiga  November 19, 2019

    Coming back a bit late, but there’s the decay of the hypothetically false vacuum, which would destroy the universe, literally before we could know it.


    Comics aside, this is actually a real-ish concept:


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    LucyLou  November 20, 2019

    I was born into the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Escaped when I was 40. If you leave, or are disfellowshipped by them, you lose your whole family and friends, through shunning. They have a website now. JW-dot-org. Anything on that website is extremely Apocalyptic. You may want to check it out? They believe all Scripture is inspired and has typical and anti typical fulfillment. Like Revelation.

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    quadell  November 21, 2019

    Many of the highest-grossing films in the history of cinema have “world apocalypse” as one of its themes. Usually the heroes must prevent some sort of end-of-the-world scenario dreamed up by an antagonist, but these films wouldn’t be so popular if there weren’t a part of us that found end-of-the-world ideas to be exciting and strangely compelling.

    In particular, the recent Avengers films “Infinity War” and “Endgame” are explicitly apocalyptic, with the antagonist Thanos being a sort of anti-YHWH figure (doling out judgment to every being in the Universe, starting over with a new Garden of Eden, etc.) Thanos wins in “Infinity War”, leading to a “Left Behind” style scenario where half of humanity disappears suddenly. (His victory is retroactively undone in “Endgame”.) These were the highest-grossing films of 2018 and 2019.

    But a good chunk of all movie blockbusters share this theme. Whether we think of planet-destroying Death Stars in Star Wars films, the-dead-shall-rise apocalypses of Us and zombie films, or the man and varied world-destroying threats in Transformers and superhero films, the themes of biblical Armageddon (as popularly understood) loom large.

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    MindfulBerean  November 22, 2019

    Formerly one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the idea of Armageddon and the impending end was a constant feature, usually with dates someone came up with using math and some interesting interpretations of scripture, so I’m fond of the topic.

    Music has its share of songs about The Big End. Leaving aside the nihilistic Doom metal bands, I remember Barry McGuire singing his apocalyptic Eve of Destruction when Vietnam was a candidate for world-ending button-pushing. Weird Al Yankovic has Christmas at Ground Zero. Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” was another Vietnam-era tune connecting the war to Satan (naturally). Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes sang about Psalms of Aftermath wherein God just angrily ends everything in judgment. Johnny Cash sang “When the Man Comes Around” about the final trumpet. In fact, im not sure who sang more about the end of the world – metal artists or country artists during their Gospel phases.

    Movie-wise I’ve watched too many zombie apocalypse flicks to count. I enjoyed the recent movie Melancholia which had a surreal take on the end. The Day After (living in Kansas City this one’s a fave) and its from sibling Threads looked at nuclear war without blinking. Waterworld. Stephen King’s The Stand. The Australian film These Final Hours about a meteor strike.

    Japanese horror films have dabbled in the world ending from technology (Kairo Pulse) and both the Ringu cursed video and Ju-On’s warning that a grudge can spread to the whole world gradualy.

    Like I was saying, I’m fond of the topic.

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    bradseggie  November 26, 2019

    I’ve long noticed a certain pattern in End of the World thinking:

    1) The universe/God is angry at humans for living happily. By doing so, they are sinning.
    2) As a result of our sin, the world will soon come to an end.
    3) If we go through extreme measures, living unhappily, we can please the universe and avert the disaster.

    This applies to climate change, overpopulation, God ending the world, etc.

    There must be a deep-seated reason for this in human evolution. Probably the bottlenecking of population when humanity was nearly wiped out. (And our belief in comebacks against all odds, leading us to gamble and cheer for underdogs.)

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    vallancemjv@gmail.com  November 29, 2019

    The old Protestant view- still held by Seventh Day Adventists- that the Popes are Antichrist is very interesting.
    The Beast 666 is the number of a man.
    That ‘man of Sin’ etc.
    ‘ He that stands in the place of God calling himself God’
    One of the Popes titles ‘Vicarious Vilae Dei’ can be translated numerogically as 666.
    Go to google and type in ‘Pope Anti-Christ’ and you’ll be astounded with the thousands of entries!
    In Revelation we also read: That man of Sin who resudes in the City of seven hills (Rome) and the women drunk on the blood of the Saints’
    and The beast robed in purple and scarlet. Bishops, Cardinals etc.
    ‘Woman” is often regarded ir translated as “ Church”
    Very very interesting.
    Ian Paisley – the firebrand Irish Protestant actually interupted the Pope at a rally shouting out “ The Pope is the Anti-Christ!” It used to be a widely held view for hundreds of years beginning with The Reformation and as stated above is still the current view held by Seventh Day Adventists.
    Growing up with an Irish (Belfast) Protestant mother I heard this view daily!

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    Rpkruger  December 1, 2019

    “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute is a novel about a post-nuclear war world where the Northern Hemisphere has been destroyed and a deadly fallout cloud is slowly heading south. Takes place in Australia and involves ordinary folks continuing to live their lives under a cloud, so to speak. I read it as a teenager in the 1960’s and found it quite moving.

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    Sweat777  December 14, 2019

    What if the book of revelations isnt about doomsday at all? What if the end of days isnt anihilation but the end of one epoch and the beginning of a new age? I dont believe it describes the coming of a utopia or a religious dystopia. Its something quite different.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2019

      Could be I suppose. How would you know? An analogous situation: do you think the Left Behind series is not describing an actual event but something like a change of government or the unexpected rise of some country to international power?

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    karlpov  December 14, 2019

    In the category of execrable movies, Damnation Alley might be worth consideration as its disaster is close to global warming (nuclear war has somehow jarred the earth from its current orbit). It has the most absurd and incomprehensible happy ending one could imagine. It is based on a good novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny which actually anticipated the movie Escape to New York, featuring a cynical outlaw forced on a mission to deliver medicine over very dangerous territory. As in the film, the protagonist in the end demonstrates his unchanged contempt for civilization. Not Zelazny’s greatest novel (that may be “Lord of Light”) but certainly better than that crappy movie.
    You may be familiar with Zelazny’s long story “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” in which the protagonist reads said Bible book to a bunch of Martians in order to give them hope, since humans have managed to go forward after absorbing a work of such utter hopelessness!

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    Lms728  December 22, 2019

    Sorry to enter the conversation so late. Given your background, you must be familiar with the evangelical film A Thief in the Night. Timothy Beal talked about it at our church recently and showed some clips. I understand it was quite an underground hit back in the 70’s.

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    nlg  January 5, 2020

    I hope you will make the connection as to how “New World Order” people co-opted the book of Revelations in order to prove conspiracy theories? Books by Pat Robertson, “The New Millennium”, “The New World Order”, “The Secret Kingdom”, now collected in one book called, The Collected Works. I’m looking forward to this book!

  19. Avatar
    jmoore049  January 12, 2020

    Proverbs 17:24

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    Freedom880  January 20, 2020

    Like you, I’m a boomer raised to expect Armageddon any day now. I’ve studied Revelation since childhood.

    During Fall 2013 I enjoyed an independent intensive on Revelation with Professor L. Michael White at UT Austin. I read John Collins, Elaine Pagels, David Barr, G.K. Beale, A.Y. Collins, L.L. Thompson and Josephine M. Ford.

    Except for Ford (1995) the consensus was that Revelation was written by one author in one place. I’d never read anything like her astonishing account.

    To return to your request for help — we might agree that the “literal” interpretation of Revelation is the main issue. Catholics only whispered about it, because they’d build a Church in the present.

    Luther, Calvin and Zwingli gave us commentaries on all books of the Bible — except for Revelation! This made Revelation fair-game, and tacitly allowed everybody after Luther to invent their own interpretations. Most of the results were some style of Armageddon fanaticism.

    Dr. Ford, however, offers a unique perspective. The first 3 chapters of Revelation, and part of the final chapter, were written much later than chapters 4 through 20. While no two consecutive pages of the NT lack the words “Jesus” or “Christ” or some combination, Revelation contains entire chapters that lack the words “Jesus” and “Christ”. That’s the first clue.

    To sum up quickly: Dr. Ford suggests that the book of Revelation originally belonged to the earliest followers of John the Baptist — it was originally *his* Revelation about the “Lamb.” Moreover, the main inspiration wasn’t from Daniel, as most authorities agree — but from Ezekiel. Ford showed how images between Revelation and Ezekiel match like fraternal twins.

    Josephine Massyngberde Ford is the most original theorist about Revelation that I ever read. I heartily recommend her Anchor commentary (1995).

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2020

      Yes indeed, it was very controversial. She was an interesting person. Taught at Notre Dame and rode her horse to school. (I met her when interviewing for a positoin there, in 1988)

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