10 Other Times The World Was Supposed To End (But Didn’t) by Owen Egerton
Posted by Kevin Hunter
10 Other Times The World Was Supposed To End (But Didn’t)
By Owen Egerton
The Mayans have been getting some great press lately. They’ve cornered the market on apocalyptic predictions, at least for this week. But the truth is, the end has been nigh for centuries. Like a global death wish, humanity has been obsessed with predicting the devastating end of the world since the beginning and always has an open ear when someone announces they’ve figured out the exact date when it all goes boom.
Though Jesus is quoted in Matthew as saying, “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven,” scrutinizing scriptures in search of clues to Doomsday has been a popular Christian pastime since the first century. And the continued success of the Left Behind books and other end-time adventures are evidence that the trend continues.
A recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 15% of Americans believe the world-ending events described in the Bible will take place within their lifetime. Jesus’ disciples believed the same thing.
Unfortunately, if you believe the Earth’s days are numbered, you start treating the planet like a rented car. One Christian friend told me protecting the environment is the equivalent of polishing the brass on the Titanic.
But it’s not just the religious marking up the calendars. Physicists and astronomers have often described a catastrophic event bound to destroy us all. From Halley’s comet to the alignment of the planets to rouge super-colliders, men and women of science have repeatedly declared the imminent end and found themselves wrong.
Whatever the source, when people believe the world is about to end, they do silly things. History is littered with apocalyptic panics in which enthusiasts give away their savings, leave their families, and even commit murder in the belief that there won’t be a tomorrow. Then comes the apocalyptic hangover, the awkward day-after-the-last-day when people wake up to find the world still intact.
So if this weekend you attend an End-of-the-World Party or toast the final days of this poor globe, you’ll be participating in an age-old human tradition – celebrating an end of the world that doesn’t happen… yet.
Many ancient Romans believed 634 BCE would bring the end. Thanks to a story about Romulus and twelve mythic eagles, Romans feared destruction 120 years after the founding of the city. It was a nerve-wracking year. But things turned out okay for the fledgling empire
Circa 60 CE
Jesus told a crowd of people, “Verily I say to you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:28. This and similar statements led many early Christians, including St. Paul, to believe that Judgment Day would happen in their lifetime.
Pope Innocent III, the mastermind behind some of the bloodiest of the Crusades, believed he could decipher the date of the apocalypse by adding 666 to the year Islam was founded. He wasn’t positive about the date of Islam’s inception, but took a good guess and announced the world would end in 1284.
February 1st, 1524
Johannes Stoeffler, a theologian and astronomer, predicted another worldwide flood. Tens of thousands across Europe moved to higher land and invested in boats. One wealthy German, Count Von Igglehiem, built a three level ark. A brief shower that morning sparked a panic for spaces on the boat. Von Igglehiem was eventually yanked from his ark and stoned to death.
Christopher Columbus, when not claiming lands for Europe and enslaving their inhabitants, babbled in divination. In his Book of Prophecies, the famed explorer added 7000 years to the date of the world’s creation (5343 BCE, in case you didn’t know). According to him, the world should have ended 1658.
October 19th, 1814
64 year old British woman Joanna Southcott proclaimed she was pregnant with the Messiah. She would give birth on October 19th and the newborn would usher in the Apocalypse. No baby came. But Joanna did die just two months later
March 21st, 1843
William Miller traveled across America convincing people to leave their jobs, give up their homes, and wait for the world to end on March 21st, 1843. The day was a huge national event with tens of thousands gathering in open fields to welcome the apocalypse. When the day ended with no hail or brimstone, Miller adjusted the date to April 18th. After that day came and went, he predicted the end would come October 22nd 1844. Again, nothing, and Miller bashfully retired. But many Millerites reinterpreted the predictions and claimed the beginning of the end had actually happened. They formed the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
December 17th 1919
Well-respected meteorologist Albert Porta announced that the alignment of six planets would cause an enormous magnetic current forcing the sun to erupt into flares and explosions, engulfing the Earth in fire. The world did not end. But Porta’s career did.
Starting in the seventies, Pat Robertson assured his viewers of his popular television show The 700 Club that the world would soon end in 1982. He told millions of viewers, “I guarantee you, by the end 1982 there is going to be judgment on the world.”
March 31st 1998
Hon-Ming Chen, leader of the Taiwanese True Way movement and proclaimed reincarnation of Joseph father of Jesus, announced the Second Coming would happen when God would appear on television across the world and then land his flying saucer in Garland, Texas. When nothing happened, Chen offered himself for stoning. As of yet, no one took him up on it.
Owen Egerton is the author of the new book Everyone Says That at the End of the World.
No more doomsday talk . . . please!
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