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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. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  February 10, 2020

    ,,, we gentiles seemed were clever to transform the old jewish stories into some very literal and in my mind oversimplifised understanding of a complex spiritual realm. I’m fully aware that there were many jewish take on those old stories, some took them very letteral, some took it spiritual and symbolic, and some took it as both. Perhaps we didn’t had proper “tools” /”training” or Insight into this language, this ,,,,,,,,,,realm which they used for themself.

    The original tradition, where our society’s basic religious thought came from were ,,,,,,,,and is not distance of using spiritual interpretation on the soul, and it’s journey. I wounder if some of those jewish communities practicing a more symbolic view of the religion would (perhaps John were a jew who knew those symbols and language,,,), would have interpreted the visions, the experiences, the names, the churches, the places etc as emblems of forces within us self, and Amargeddon is a battle between inner forces.

    Why should we be foreign to such perception, considering the litteral religous traditions who were absent of all kind of metaphysics which according to Quantum phisics has to do with a transcendent realm “beyond” what is perceptible to the senses,. This very term may very well be related to “mysticism,” which is based on the word “mystery,” implying something hidden. Perhas this is what “revelation” is all about,,,revelation of something which is perhas basic but hidden.

    So,,,,,,,,, implying that this might be a conflict within,,,,,,,,,is perhaps as bad or as good as any other attemts to understand those strange visjons.

    Kjell TIdslevold

  2. Avatar
    Rivkah  February 18, 2020

    I’d suggest part of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy: The Year of the Flood is explicitly apocalyptic (the Adam of the trilogy’s name is no accident) – and the book even has hymns!

  3. Avatar
    Winston  March 1, 2020

    This is a personal experience…perhaps not as important as a book or movie, but one that has haunted me since it happened. In 1978, I was working alongside a Russian Glaciologist having been helicoptered onto the summit (8787 ft) of Mt. Garibaldi on the Coastal Mountain Range in B.C. Canada. We had made our way down the glacier in a whiteout blizzard and slept the night in a shack, which was built to house scientists working on the “moisture content of glaciers”. The next morning, 2 of us were relegated to digging a hole into the snow “until we hit ice”. The ice was the frozen melt-off from the previous year’s summer. In this way, scientists knew how much snow had fallen since the past year. The hole we dug was about 10 feet deep, with steps to get back up. Upon hitting the ice, the Russian Glaciologist joined us in the hole and proceeded to open his tool kit full of test-tubes, a Bunsen burner and other things. After making 3 readings, his expression appeared quite distraught, and he stared into space for a long time. Then, he turned to me, and in a heavy Russian Accent said: “Vee ar f__d.”
    Later he explained to us that he had seen a serious decline in the moisture content of the snow many years in a row and there was no denying any more that our world was getting warmer. 1978 – To me, this was like a prophecy in retrospect. You can use this Dr Ehrman if you like.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 2, 2020

      Yes, many of us think vee ar….. Thanks.

      • Avatar
        Viggojonsson  March 5, 2020

        Planet of the apes would be good. Not only is it a nuclear holocaust but humanity lives on to suffer for it’s folly in a world where Darwin has been undone. Very Biblical.

  4. Christopher
    Christopher  March 4, 2020

    Would be interesting to see you interact with the literature on apocalyptic cults: Heaven’s Gate, the classic book “When Prophecy Fails” by Leon F, the late messianic figure of Rabbi Schneerson, the 7th Day Adventists, and the list goes on.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2020

      Yup, it’s my next book, currently called “Expecting Armageddon.”

  5. Avatar
    Freedom880  March 16, 2020

    Professor Ehrman,

    You’ve already cited Jan Bremmer, Rise and Fall of Afterlife, ch. 4, Resurrection from Zoroaster to Late Antiquity (Rutledge, 2002), on the topic of Judaism and the ancient Persian Resurrection.

    The Avestan hymns of praise to various deities, the Yashts, supports the claim that Resurrection doctrine surely dates within the time of the Achaemenids (ca. 500 BC).

    This was the time when the Persian Empire closely interacted with Judaism to liberate the Jewish Aristocracy from Babylon and to support the rebuilding of the Temple.

    Before this period there were no “Pharisees” who believed in “angels” (ACTS 23:6-8) as the “Farsees” Persia had long believed.

    Although the internal dynamics of Judaism could indeed spur the invention of Satan as God’s Enemy — the prior dualism of Ahura Mazda (God with angels) versus Ahriman (Devil with demons) can be traced centuries earlier than 200 BCE — and such dualism seems to be the basis for a doctrine of Resurrection.

    Would you please include further discussion about the Zarathustran Yashts?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 17, 2020

      I”m afraid I’m not an expert. But many of those who are say that it is not at *all* clear that they doctrine surely dates to ca 500 BCE. Note, for one thing the dates of the actual *manuscripts* we have and the lack of anything like corroborating evidence from material that *can* be dated to the time. (E.g., contemporary reports — the way we date other things with late ms attestation) As to angels, those go way back in the Hebrew tradition, long befoer there *was* a Persia.

      • Avatar
        Freedom880  April 6, 2020

        All points well taken.

        I certainly agree that our *textual* evidence for Zarathustra documents are scant. The only copies we have of the Avesta, the Yashts, the Gathas as so on, are all later than 500 CE.

        Yet there was a time when our only copy of the Old Testament was the Masoretic text, correct? Archeological finds keep coming.

        Some experts argue for dates before 500 BCE. Contemporary reports do outline a Dualist Religion in Persia, with two gods: a Good one and an Evil one. The dualism all by itself suggests a heaven and a hell.

        Regarding demons and angels, we also find them in large number in Assyriology. Before Assyria was Babylon with its province, Chaldea, from which Abraham migrated.

        The Hebrew language is a variant of the older Semitic languages in old Babylon and Assyria. So it seems that both the Hebrew Religion *and* the Persian Religion may owe a debt to Assyria with regard to mythic traditions.

  6. Avatar
    BobSeidensticker  March 18, 2020

    Remember Harold Camping’s prediction of the end on May 21, 2011? At that time, a friend of mine imagined a “The end is nigh!” poster updated through the centuries with the many corrections to the expected date.

    https://wp-media.patheos.com/blogs/sites/253/2013/05/End-of-the-world-poster.jpg

  7. Avatar
    TonyD  April 1, 2020

    Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, in a light-hearted way? On The Beach, which is about survivors of a nuclear war?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2020

      Yup, and yup. I’m thinking seriously about using On the Beach, both novel and 1959 movie. Both *terrific*. I have the more recent mini-series but haven’t seen it yet.

  8. Avatar
    DoubtingTom  April 14, 2020

    The Happy Place TV series with Ted Danson and Kristen Bell.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2020

      Fantastic. (But called The Good Place.) Just finished season 4 last week!

  9. Avatar
    modelthry  July 14, 2020

    I’d suggest the film mother! (exclamation point included in title). It’s a Darren Aronofsky movie starring Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence, and it’s sort of an 80 minute allegory where Armageddon occurs over the course of a couple days within their household. Interesting to say the least…

  10. Avatar
    WM  July 23, 2020

    (1) James Gaius Watt Secretary of the Interior from 1981 to 1983.
    In a congressional appearance after his 83-to-12 Senate confirmation, Watt, a religious fundamentalist, sent buzzes through Capitol Hill hallways with his answer to a philosophical question about his views on preserving natural resources for future generations.
    “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns,” the tall, angular westerner said, Watt later explained that he didn’t know when the Millenium might be: “It’s been 2,000 years since the last coming of Christ and it might be another 2,000 before the second coming.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1981/06/30/the-watt-controversy/d591699b-3bc2-46d2-9059-fb5d2513c3da/
    (2)CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION CALLS REAGAN’S YEAR OF THE BIBLE’ ILLEAGAL
    https://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/25/us/civil-liberties-union-calls-reagan-s-year-of-the-bible-illeagal.html
    President Reagan’s proclamation of 1983 as ”The Year of the Bible” illegally recognizes Christianity as the official religion of the United States and gives it ”God’s imprimatur,” according to arguments made in Federal District Court by a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.
    (3)A blog, ,The beginnings of the new age, https://thecosmicreligion.com/2017/06/
    I included a story about my father in Italy, who was told the end of the world was coming April 10, 1910. Based upon Halley’s Comet in 1910 led to widespread panic.

  11. Avatar
    VincitOmniaVeritas  July 26, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I would like to know your thoughts about some of the apparently prescient content of Revelation 9:17-19):

    “Now the horses and riders in my vision looked like this: The riders had breastplates the colors of fire, sapphire, and sulfur. The heads of the horses were like the heads of lions, and out of their mouths proceeded fire, smoke, and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur that proceeded from their mouths. For the power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails…” (Revelation 9:17-19)

    No such troops existed in the Classical period. In fact, gunpowder weapons did not exist until the Middle Ages in the Levant, and gunpowder-armed horsemen (e.g. Dragoons, Cuirassiers, etc.) did not exist in Europe or the Middle East until the Renaissance period at the earliest. There’s also the description of a mass army of horsemen, with colour of blue, red and yellow ( like Napoleonic troops)

    How could a 1st century writer, and 4th century existing texts, have predicted events, gunpowder (smoke, fire and sulphur – Napoleonic battlefields reek of sulphur) or military units that would not exist for at least another 1,000 – 1,500 years???

    • Avatar
      VincitOmniaVeritas  July 26, 2020

      The text from Revelation 9 dates to the 1st century, and is found in the existing copies of the 4th cent. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus Codices, so it is in no way some type of modern interpolation. Sulphur, fire and smoke is what dominated the musket and cannon battlefields of the 15th – 19th centuries, and these battlefields were covered and smoke an reek of sulphur. As a historical reenactor of the period and employee at historic sites, I know first hand how the smell of sulphur dominates when using thousands of black powder weapons.

      Furthermore, the only times in history where there was enormous global conflict with massive battles of mostly horsemen armed with and firing gunpowder weapons (e.g. Dragoos, Cuirassiers, etc.) while on horseback, is in the 15th-18th centuries, but especially the Napoleonic Wars – the largest global military conflict before WW1. Many of the battles of the Napoleonic period, like the Battle of Borodino, involved huge numbers of these mounted, gun-firing cavalry, and in the amounts of literally TENS OF THOUSANDS of them where they were the dominant unit (the Battle of Borodino between Napoleonic France and Imperial Russia involved over 300,000 troops in a single battle).

      • Avatar
        VincitOmniaVeritas  July 26, 2020

        For a first century Christian writer to depict troops, technology and even events that are incredibly most accurate in all of history only to the Napoleonic period, and mentioning troops and a leader with the name “Apollyon” most similar to those of Imperial France, is a very large ‘coincidence’.

        The Napoleonic Wars were really the first world war, spanning the European empires across the globe, including North America (the War of 1812 between British North America/Canada and the USA was an extension of it). ‘Napoleone’ (a name of very obscure or unknown origins in Corsica or Italy) was himself widely considered by much of Europe to be a literal “antichrist” at the time, especially during his campaigns in Orthodox Russia and Catholic Spain. The result of this war, happening right during the massive societal shift during the enlightenment, French Revolution and onset of the Industrial Revolution, also determined much of the global order of the modern industrial world and banking system (e.g. the rise of the British Empire, industrialization, the role of rich banking families like the Rothschilds in backing the victorious British war effort, etc.).

        I am just curious about your thoughts on these seemingly prescient passages in Revelation 9.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      Hal Lindsay famously argued they were seeing 20th century attack helicopters. (!) But no, this is not a prediction of future warfare, not even gunpowder. These are standard apocalyptic images for the ancient world. If you want to read up on the imagery of Revelation, I’d suggest lookin at the work of Craig Keener.

      • Avatar
        VincitOmniaVeritas  July 27, 2020

        Well, that was a silly comparison by Lindsay, but the descriptions match most closely the warfare of Europe between the 15th-19th centuries, especially the Napoleonic era.

        Where else, in any ancient texts, are mounted troops described as spewing fire, smoke and sulphur (brimstone)? Not any Greek or Roman sources. Certainly no Greek or Roman army was composed of mostly cavalry (nor troops in red, blue and yellow), let alone only cavalry and spewing such things.

        Even if there is another ancient text describing such troops (I’m aware of none), there was no such thing actually existing in the classical period. Nothing even remotely resembling this would exist for nearly 1,500 years.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 28, 2020

          I’d suggest you read a bunch of Jewish apocalyptic texts.

          • Avatar
            VincitOmniaVeritas  July 28, 2020

            Are there any Jewish apocalyptic texts mentioning specifically an army completely of mounted troops spewing a combination of “fire, smoke and sulphur”, and such a thing resulting in huge numbers of casualties? The Napoleonic battlefield (and of 16th-19th cent. battles in general) was covered completely with not just smoke (this is why they worse such bright coloured uniforms), but also the stench of sulphur from all the black powder weaponry. In the Napoleonic Wars, something like 10% of the entire European population died, and the battles each consisted in the order of over 500,000 men, dominated by musket or pistol armed cavalry, with most dying from musket and cannon fire.

            As for mythological contexts, like the chimaeras or other figures mentioned by Keener, there’s nothing about them spewing sulphur in combination with fire and smoke, and certainly not mounted human troops seeming to spew sulphur, fire and smoke.

            Also, what are your views on the coincidental etymological similarity between “Apollyon” (“destroyer”) and “Napoleon” (who most of Europe at the time, including the Papacy, literally thought was an antichrist)? The extremely rare Corsican/Italian name of “Napoleone” is still of unknown origins.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 29, 2020

            I think you will find coincidences wherever you look for them.

      • Avatar
        VincitOmniaVeritas  July 27, 2020

        In other words, even if there are other texts showing such apocalyptic imagery exactly the same as this (do you have an example?), the fact remains there was only one historical period with actual armies and units very closely resembling this, and it was over 1,500 years after these texts were written.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 28, 2020

          Fire of course was a common weapon in antiquity, and smoke. You’ll see a lot of both when your army sets a village on fire. I’m not familiar with the use of sulfur itself as a weapon.

          • Avatar
            VincitOmniaVeritas  July 28, 2020

            I’ve read Keener’s take on Revelation 9:12-21 in “Revelation: The NIV Application Commentary”, p.270. He alludes to Parthians, whose armies were composed of horse archers and “bounded” at the Euphrates. But there’s no records of these troops ever wearing breatsplates, red, blue and yellow uniforms, nor their horses armoured to look like “heads of lions”. Even Keener admits the passage isn’t solely influenced by Parthians or mythology, but describes in part a future human army of some sort. It doesn’t match any units or armies in the classical period.

            Most importantly, the Parthians’ mounted troops did not use or spew “fire, smoke and sulphur” as if “out of their mouths” (like a musket or pistol), and certainly not in combination like that, or with sulphur and smoke covering a battlefield. Even when using flaming arrows, it would not be during a pitched battle, or use sulphur which was rarely used anywhere in combat at all in the ancient world. When it was, it was used rarely by Roman infantry with siege engines when sacking a city, not spewed by an army of completely soldiers on horseback (which no Roman army consisted of).

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