(Investigator 66, 1999 May)
It's estimated that 10% of Americans give the end of the world "serious consideration". Yet the track record of prophets through the centuries couldn't be worse.
Leo Harris, founder of Australia's Christian Revival Crusade argued for 1979 as the possible date for the return of Christ. He claimed Christ had to return within one generation of 1917. Some books of the sect also promote the year 2000 for Jesus' return. (e.g. Foster 1977)
The Worldwide Church of God (founded in 1934 by Herbert W Armstrong) promoted 1972 for the outbreak of the "Great Tribulation" followed by world rule by Jesus around 1978. In 1955, for example, his magazine The Plain Truth said, "we will be totally consumed and carried away captive to other nations as slaves within 20 years."
Christadelphians have made predictions for about a dozen dates and Jehovah's Witnesses for at least 25 dates. (Investigator 56) In Awake! (1993 March 22) JWs asked – cheekily in view of their own record – "Why So Many False Alarms?"
The 450-member True Light Church of Christ of North and South Carolina, USA, predicted the end for 1970.
The Children of God predicted catastrophe in early 1974 with the approach of the comet Kohoutec.
The Great White Brotherhood, a cult based in Kiev, Russia, ran amok in the city's St Sofia Cathedral in preparation for the end of the world to occur November 14 1993. Over 600 of them were arrested.
Numerous writers in the 19th and 20th centuries set fairly precise dates. The article Survey of Christian Prophecy (Investigator 20) surveyed a number of their books. These include:
Behold The Bndegroom 1891, W T P Wolston
(Date set = 2000 AD)
The Coming King 1906, James E White
(Date = one generation from the mid 19th century)
When Will Our Lord Return? 1915, Harold NorrisThe Approaching End of the Age 1918, E H Horne
(Date = 1919)
(Date = 1919-1998)
Pentecostal writers are often quite precise. The pamphlet A Tribulation Map (1974) by Leon Bates included a picture of a hypothetical future newspaper reporting the "rapture" when Christians are snatched off the Earth to meet Jesus in the sky. The date on the newspaper is February 8 1996.
Barry Smith, a New Zealand Assembly of God preacher, wrote the books Second Warning (1984) and Final Warning (1989) which predicted the end before 2000 AD. Second Warning, for example, says that humans have: "less than 16 years then until the end of man's allotted time to choose God or Satan." (Investigator 15)
History has numerous examples of cults which gathered on a mountain or other place to await the end.
The Russellites waited in white robes on Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh on Passover night of 1878 to be swept up into the sky by Jesus.
In February 1979 Roch Theriault and 17 followers gathered in a log cabin in Quebec to wait the world's end on February 19.
Mission for the Coming Days may have had 10,000 members. They gathered in houses and on bridges on October 28 1992 in a dozen countries. (Investigator 24 & 27)
The News (an Adelaide newspaper) reported, "A group of 25 people are entrenched in an Arkansas house keeping a vigil for the second coming of Christ to save them from doomsday." (1976 February 6)
In Western lands the main authority for end of-the-world predictions is the Bible – usually a misuse of the Bible. Jehovah's Witnesses with over 25 prophetic attempts are particularly bad. Their Governing Body still sums up their old books with the failed predictions as "Bible truth" and "true Christianity" decades after discarding them!
A plethora of books by Pentecostal and Evangelical writers in the 1960s and 1970s predicted the imminent "rapture" followed by the "great tribulation". The Soviet Union, many such writers argued, would invade Israel. Also (or alternatively) a ten-nation revival of the Roman Empire would be led by "Antichrist".
Probably the most popular book with such a theme was The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) by Hal Lindsey. It sold over 10 million and went through 140 printings! Lindsey predicted that the end will probably come within 40 years i.e. one generation after 1948!
The problem of false prophecy was present with Christianity at its start. Jesus, Paul and Peter all warned against it.
In 156 AD Montanus, assisted by two prophetesses, predicted the world's end was just ahead. Such crowds flocked to the spot where heavenly Jerusalem would supposedly descend (near modern Ankara in Turkey) that a new town was created to house everyone.
In the third century Novatian had a huge following around Mediterranean lands.
So it went on in century after century. One historian of religion wrote, "Anabaptists, Waldensians, Albigenses, Moravian Brethren, Swiss Brethren became links in an unbroken chain of apocalyptic advocates."
Sabbatal Zevi of Smyrna (Turkey) convinced Jews in Europe and the Turkish Empire that he was the Messiah and that the world would end in 1666. After the prediction failed the prophet Messiah went to Constantinople where the Sultan converted the "Messiah" to Islam!
Numerous groups also sprouted in America. An early doom-watcher commune was The Women in The Wilderness. Led by Johann Jacob Zimmerman the group predicted the end for February 1694. By 1750 the cult had died out.
The Rappites were founded by George Rapp who went to America from Germany in 1804. He taught that the Second Coming would occur before he died. His last words on his death-bed at the age of 90 reaffirmed this belief!
William Miller predicted Christ's return for 1843, then 1844. About 200,000 people in the eastern United States got involved. From the shambles as the movement broke apart arose the Seventh Day Adventists and numerous smaller groups. The latter in turn gave rise to the Russellites (= the early Jehovah's Witnesses).
R D Cronquist of
predicted the end within 40 years of the birth of Israel in 1948. The
(1986) quoted Pastor Cronquist as follows:
British Israelism – the doctrine that Britain or Britain plus America are descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel is also associated with date setting. In 1840 London phrenologist John Wilson published Our Israelitish Origin, and in 1842 The Millennium. He concluded that the Second Coming was imminent.
similar claims followed:
Remnant of Judah and the Israel of Ephraim (1861) by Reverend
English Nation Identified (1870) by Edward Hine. British Israelism
became part of the doctrine of many cults including Armstrong's
Church of God and Leo Harris' Christian Revival Crusade.
Not all prophets of doom use the Bible. Some base their predictions on environmental or political considerations,or some alleged innate prophetic talent, or potential threat from Space. Lately the idea of comet or asteroid strikes has gained publicity.
The Jupiter Effect (1974) by John Gribbin and Stephen G Plagemann suggested that the line up of planets on one side of the Sun to occur in 1982 and 2000 would cause major destruction via sunspots and earthquakes.
In his best seller The Population Bomb (1968), Paul Ehrlich forecast ecological catastrophe from overpopulation in 1983.
Charles Berlitz in Doomsday 1999 says: "Seventeen years from now the world will come to an end." He wrote that in 1981. Therefore hold on to your seats for the time has come!
The book The Survival of Civilization (Hamaker & Weaver) had a picture of a tombstone on the back cover. The tombstone reads:
Sean Blair in End of the World (Focus, 1996 December) speculated on ten different scenarios which could end the world. These ranged from dust clouds in space and killer rays to failure of the food chain, giant volcanoes, superbugs, self-destruction, energy wave from space and a "solar hiccup".
Mother Shipton lived in the 16th century. Prophecies in her name were published in 1797. They included the line "The world to an end shall come in eighteen hundred and eighty one." However, a London publisher, Charles Hindly, admitted to adding this and other lines to an 1862 reprint."New Agers" often comment on the "Age of Aquarius" – a time of global peace and brotherhood. Bensley (1995) listed some of the claimed starting dates for the Age of Aquarius: Gerald Massey 1905; Willaru Huatya 1962; Alice Bailey 1999; Wolben 2000/2023/2160; Peter Lemesurier 2010; Adrian Duncan 2020; Dane Rudhyar 2060; Robert Hand 2813.
Dot Griffiths, a "witch" in Britain predicted a "world holocaust" for November 1988. (Time 1988, July 3)
Numerous tribes in North and South America and in Africa had prophets at one time or another who predicted doom or raised unwarranted hopes.
North American Indians developed the Earth Lodge cult in California in l870 and the Warm House cult on Oregon reservations. Several tribes in Brazil undertook mass migrations to escape destruction and find paradise. In 1539 for example the Tupinambas trekked for 9 years through the Amazon jungles to Peru.
The Hawaiian prophetess Hapu founded a cult in 1825. She claimed she was the third member of the Trinity and that the world was about to end.
An illiterate laborer, Alexander Bedward, gained a huge following in Jamaica in 1920. He predicted he would ascend to heaven on December 31 and then return and destroy the Earth. He was placed in a lunatic asylum.
In Vietnam the prophet Huynh Phy So awaited the world's end on a hill-top with his followers when the Japanese invaded during World War II.
UFO groups and other prognosticators of various sorts also set dates
also nearly always fail. Jeane Dixon, for example, predicted:
Canadian psychic Winnifred Barton said on television and radio that the world would end on June 13 1976.
The News quoted
Criswell, an American
Another set of calculations and predictions is based on the "days" mentioned in the Bible book of Daniel.
These are 2300 days (Daniel 8:14); 1335 days and 1290 days (Daniel 12:11-12); and 2520 days – these often being identified by interpreters as the "Gentile Times".
Table 2 lists
some of the
of these "days" of Daniel.
||WHEN THE PREDICTION
|DATE FOR THE END and/or MILLENNIUM|
|Prisca & Maximilla Montanus||156 AD||near future|
|Novatian||4th century||" "|
|Donatus||4th century||" "|
|Pope Gregory I 540-604||c.600||"already near"|
|Joachim of Fiore 1132-1202||1260|
|St Malachy 1094-1148||2000|
|John of Toledo||1186||Near future|
|Johannes Stoeftler (astrologer)
||1524 Feb. 20;
|Brazilian tribes||1539||near future|
|John Napier (1550-1617)||1688 - 1700|
|Sabbatai Zevi||1647||1648, 1666|
|Wilderness Women Group||1693||1694 & near future|
|Johann Jacob Zimmerman||1693||near future|
|William Whiston (1667-1752)||1736 October 13|
|E Swedenborg (1688-1772)||1757|
|Cardinal Nicholas de Cusa||18th century|
|Father George Rapp||1804||Near future|
|John Wilson||1842||near future|
|Dr John Cummings||1866|
|Mother Shipton||1862 edition||1881|
|North American Indian Cults||1870s||Near future|
|Christadelphians||12? tries since 1860s||1860s to 1990s|
|Jehovah's Witnesses||20+ tries since 1870s||1878-2000|
|James E White||1906||his generation|
|Professor Porta||1919 December 17|
|E H Horne||1918||1919-1998|
|A1exander Bedward||1920||1920 December 31|
|Walter Marks M.H.R||1921||1934|
|Berean Bible Students||1922||1992|
|Herbert W Armstrong||1934||1972; 1976|
|Reverend Charles Long||1938||1945 September 21|
|Munoy Ferradas||1944 August|
|Edgar Cayce (1877-1945)||1930s||1998-2000|
|Christian Revival Crusade||1960s?||1979; 2000|
|R D Cronquist||1960s?||1970-1982|
|True Light Church of Christ||1970|
|Hal Lindsey||1970||likely 1988|
|Edward Elson||1972||1973 December 25|
|Children of God||1974|
|Winnifred Barton||1976||1976 June 13|
|John Strong||1977||1978 October|
|Roch "Moses" Theriault||1978||1979, February 19|
|Jeron Criswell||1978||1999 August 18|
|Jack Hills||1979||25 billion years|
|Mission for the Coming Days||1988||1992 October 28|
|Great White Brotherhood||1993||1993 November 14|
"DAYS OF DANIEL" (A small selection of interpreters)
|INTERPRETER||TIME PERIOD PREDICTED|
|Rabbi Naha Wendi||2300 days extend 942 BC to 1358 AD|
|Solomon ben Jehoram (10th century)||1335 days extend from Alexander the Great to 968 AD when Israel would be redeemed.|
|Rabbi Rashi (1040-1105)||2300 days end 1352 when Messiah would come|
|Abraham bar Hiyya (1065-1136)||2300/1290/1335 days would all end in the 15th century|
|Joachim of Floris (1130-1202)||Was the first Christian known to interpret the days of Daniel as years.|
|Arnold of Villanova (1235-1313)||Gentile Times are 1290 years from AD 74 to 1364. 1260 days would be AD 1 to 1260|
|Walter Brute (a follower of Wycliffe)||Gentile Times are 1290 years and would end 1290 years from 70 AD|
|Martin Luthor (1483-1546)||1290 days = 38 AD to 1328|
|John Napier (1550-1617)||1260 days = 316 AD to 1576|
|George Bell (1796)||1260 days started 553 or 537 AD and end with the Pope's fall in 1797 or 1813 AD|
|John Aquilla Brown||2300 days = 457 BC to AD 1843|
|William Miller||2520 days = 677 BC to AD1843|
|C T Russell (1852-1916)||2520 days = 606 BC to AD 1914|
|H C Guinness||2520 days = 587 BC to AD 1934|
|M P Baxter||2520 days 620 BC to AD 1900|
|Harold Norris (When Will Our Lord Return? 1915)||2520 days end 1919 with the return of Christ|
|E H Horne (The Approaching End of the Age 1918)||Gentile Times end 1919 - 1923|
Some cults even try to pre-empt God and arrange Armageddon or otherwise set up the "Kingdom of God" by force. The book Jehovah's Witnesses: A statistical Survey (1992) suggests this for the long-range hopes of the J W leaders. The Aum Shinri Kyo cult of Japan tried out chemical weapons in the Tokyo subway and had plans of acquiring and using nuclear weapons. Cult leader Shoko Asahara predicted the world's end for 2000 AD.
The Taborites, an extreme section of the Hussite movement in Bohemia in the 15th century, used force of arms leading to bloody battles in the "Hussite wars". The Anabaptist "Kingdom of God" in the city of Munster (Germany) in 1534-1535 is another example. The great German "Peasants' War" in 1524-1525 in which Thomas Muentzer and the Zwickau prophets were leading figures is also an example.
A fascinating book which describes various medieval pretending messiahs, kingdoms of God, peasant uprisings, and end-of-the-world predictions is The Pursuit of the Millennium by Norman Cohn. Some of the dates for failed predictions Cohn mentions include 1200-1260; 1348; 1365-1367; 1369; 1420; 1467; 1515.
It's not just religious crazies who long for a doomsday or a millennium or try to produce a doomsday or a utopia. Their political counterparts are far more destructive.
Hitler was a savior-like figure who tried to produce a 1,000-year Reich. In the process about 35 million people died. Karl Marx foretold a Communist millennium. Mao of China tried to bypass intermediate stages of "socialist reconstruction" and establish full Communism via a "Great Leap Forward" starting 1958. Famine, forced labor and civil unrest may have killed over 20 million. The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia wanted Communism in "one leap forward" and murdered 1/4 of the population.
Doomsday predictions flourish because they offer hope and release to people lacking hope, love or purpose. Doomsday and the promise of survival for a chosen few is a seductive dream of a better life. The fantasy of such selective rescue from a powerless situation provides a sense of security and an apparent serenity. And wars and other uncertainties always ensure that doomsday expectations have a minimal basis in reality.
The secularization of society has seen increasing secularization of the apocalypse. It's no longer limited to Christ and Judgment Day but can be anything from alien invaders and comet impacts to biological warfare and climate change.
However, as we near the 21st century End-of-the-World cults still proliferate. Ed Daniels, editor of Millennial Prophecy Report maintains a watch on 1,100 of them!
St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) the "Doctor of the Church" wrote his famous work City of God after the fall of Rome in 410 AD. He warned:
St Augustine supported his case by paraphrasing Jesus:
Balgent, M, Leigh R & Lincoln H 1987, The Messianic Legacy, Corgi Books, Great Britain.
Bensley, B 1995 Millennium Forecasters & Prophets, The Skeptic, Volume 15, No. 3, p. 40.
Berlitz, C 1981 Doomsday 1999, Granada Publishing, Great Britain.
Blair, S End of the World, Focus, 1996, December, pp.56-62.
Bowler, P 1986 The True Believers, Methuen, Australia.
Cohn, N 1970 The Pursuit of the Millennium, Paladin, Great Britain.
Edwards, H Prophets of Doom, The Skeptic, 1993, Volume 13, No, 2, pp.19-22.
Fisher, J & Cummins, P 1980 Predictions, Sidgewick & Jackson, London.
Foster, T 1977 The Pope Communism and the Coming New World, Acacia Press, Australia.
Hamaker, J D & D A Weaver 1982 The Survival of Civilization, Hamaker-Weaver Publications, USA
Guiley, R 1991 Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience, Grange Books, Britain.
Investigator Magazine Nos. 7; 20; 55.
Jonsson C O 1986 The Gentile Times Reconsidered, Commentary Press, USA.
Krauthammer, C 1993 Apocalypse, With And Without God, Time, March 22, p. 22.
Lindsey, H 1970 The Late Great Planet Earth, Zondervan
Lori, P 1995 The Millennium Planner (Your Personal Guide to the Year 2000), Boxtree.
St Augustine 1972 edition, City of God, Edited by D Knowles, Penguin Books, USA.
Woldben, A 1973 After Nostradamus, Mayflower edition, 1975, p.111.