From Babylonian times to the present, prophets claimed to have discovered the laws of the universe in omens and visions. In calm, confident voices the more pessimistic seers sound a false alert that the end is near. The millennium -- l'an mille, or the thousandth year -- is the preferred explosion point. Apparently there's a great allure to having an "end" fixed at a certain point in time, and the adherents of apocalyptic myths are enchanted by the certainty of prophetic voices such as Nostradamus: "The year 1999, seven months/From the sky will come a great King of Terror." Visions of a millenarian Last Judgment induced incidents of mass hysteria in 999, which reminds us that no one knows the future. With the millennium already past, it behooves us to reexamine the gloomy prophesies with a healthy dose of skepticism.
In the 1950's and 1960's the threat of an apocalyptic nuclear war prompted the expression: "Will we get out of the 20th Century alive?" With the cold war fast becoming distant history, the children of Moscow and Washington are no longer haunted by this nightmarish image. Indeed, rapid advancements in technology make some anti-apocalyptic science fiction scenarios, such asStar TrekTM or Star WarsTM, more plausible than the interpretation given to a few lines of poetry from the distant past. Time flows and the earth revolves around the sun -- the end could be as far away as the distant light of a long-dead sun.
Babylon, 3rd Century BC.
The seer Berosus reportedly used his knowledge of history and astronomy to predict the end of the world: "I Berosus, interpreter of Bellus, affirm that all the earth inherits will be consigned to flame when the five planets assemble in Cancer, so arranged in one row that a straight line may pass through their spheres."
Berosus' prediction that the conjunction of planetsin Cancer and Capricorn would result in catastrophes is obviously more astrological than astronomical. But his followers point to scientific studies about the effects of Jupiter on the sun to support this far-fetched claim. According to adherents of Berosus'prophecy, increased sunspot activity caused by Jupiter has triggered earthquakes, and a conjunction of five planets on May 5, 2000will have profound gravitational effects. Adherents say Neptune, Uranus, Venus, Mercury and Mars will align with the earth on the other side of the sun. Skeptical astronomers may argue that adherents of astrology have spent too much time in the sun.
Chambers inside the Pyramid at Giza
The pyramid at Giza, with all its prestige as one of the great wonders of the ancient world, was put in service of millenarian prophecy by many Victorians. In 1864, the Royal Astronomer of Scotland, Piazi Smyth, spent four months measuring the great pyramid.
Using Biblical history and his measurements, he concluded that the dimensions were based on the "sacred cubit" used by Moses to build the tabernacle. Smyth did discover that the ratio of the height of the pyramid to the circumference of the base is one half pi ( ½ ), pi was thought to be unknown to the ancient Egyptians. But Smyth's fellow Victorians used his method to predict the second coming of Christ. (diagram of crosssection of the pyramid) Many of the dates for the apocalypse generated by pyramid prophecy have come and gone without earth-shattering catastrophes - a few of these prophesies are clustered around the millennium, but my guess is that the great pyramid of Giza will survive these and many more predictions
Around the time of Christ, numerous sects flourished around the Mediterranean . The Gnostics were particularly influential to future millenarian prophets. Active in Alexandria, then under Roman rule, the Gnostics borrowed ideas from almost every tradition -- Christian, Greek, Egyptian. Philo of Alexandria is the classic Gnostic.
Knowledgeable in Hebrew scripture and Plato, Philo is reportedly the originator of the doctrine of the "Logos" (meaning "word" in Greek) expressed by St. John in his Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word." The various Gnostic sects had divergent practices, but all Gnostics aimed for mystical attainment of knowledge. Some Gnostic practices were at odds with Catholic doctrine, and Gnostics were branded heretics. Fragments of the Gnostic scriptures were suppressedby the Catholic church. It wasn't until the 19th Century that they were first made available to the public. In 1945, two Arab peasants wandered into a cave in Nag Hammadi, Egypt and found amphorae. They were afraid to open the jars because they thought that a genie might be inside, but they broke open the jar and discovered more ancient Gnostic texts
Emperor Nero and Simon Magus
dating to the time of Christ. New prophesies appeared in the Gnostic scriptures, such as the Apocalypses of Peter, James and Adam. The Gnostics were too intelligent, it would seem, to fix a potentially erroneous date -- certain to their apocalypses. The Gnostics Simon Magus, a rival of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, and Apollonius of Tyana , a pagan miracle worker, were later associated with the apocalyptic Beast by early Christians -- the infamous 666.
The spread of secret Gnostic sects didn't keep their notions of apocalypse alive, so much as keep the idea of heresy alive. The Gnostics spirit burned in heretics such as the Cathars and their millennium offshoots mentioned in Norman Cohn's Pursuitof the Millennium.
. Apocalyptic Beasts with Seven Heads
St. John the Divine's vision of a Beast with seven heads and ten horns and his poetic images of flashes of lightening surrounded by a rainbow with spirits and angels have been adopted in numerous contemporary apocalyptic prophesies. Indeed, the imagery of theApocalypse of St. John - the Seven Seals, Gabriel and the last trumpet, etc. -- corresponds to most people's idea of a biblical apocalypse. Speculation has it that St. John had his apocalyptic vision while on the Greek island of Patmos during a volcanic eruption. Biblical scholars agree that he was writing in the tradition of Daniel and Eziekel, who, like John, eats a "little book." (Book of Revelations chapter 10, verse 9, and 10:10). This quote about eating a book and the exaggerated imagery has lead some skeptics to believe that these visions were drug-induced. In any case, St. John's powerful imagery has inspired artists such as Dürer and Michelangelo prints seen here.
The Aztecs thought the universe operated in great solar cycles. The priests taught their fellow Aztecs that there had been four cycles or "suns" since the creation of the human race. The story of the millennium is foretold in the Aztec "SunStone" of Axayacatl, the 6th emperor of the royal dynasty. This huge monolith -- hewn out of solid basalt in AD 1479 - maintains that the world has already passed through four epochs. The symbol of the fifth sun, our current epoch, is the face of the sun god himself, Tonatiuh. His knife-like tongue symbolizes his need for human blood. As Graham Hancock (Fingerprints of the Gods)points out, "The Aztecs believed that to prevent the destruction of the universe, which had already occurred four times in the past, the god must be supplied with a steady diet of human hearts and blood."
. Exhibition in Piccadilly, London of Aztec antiquities, featuring a cast of the Great Calendar, or Sun Stone
When decoded, the Mayan calendar adopted by the Aztecs claims that the Fifth Sun will come to an end on December 23, 2012: "...therewill be a movement of the earth and from this we shall all perish." A date so close to the millenarian prophesies of Christian Europe -- but then again prophecy can be wrong, the Aztecs also believed that the cruel conquistador Cortez was Quetzalcoatl, their prophesied savior from the Eastern Sea.
The prophet Nostradamus -- actually a doctor who dabbled in Delphic rites -- published his verses in 1555. We imagine him in his study in Salon, France. He looks for visions in the water reflected in a brass bowl and writes his "letters in wax." Hisstanzas -- written in Latin, Greek and Archaic French - are vague and enigmatic: Reportedly, his book Centuries has never been out of print, which lends credibility to the claim that he is one of the world's most popular prophets. According to interpreters of Nostradamus, Quatrain 10:72 is the basis for his apocalyptic vision:
The year 1999, seven months
From the sky will come a great King of Terror,
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
Portentous yes, but also very obscure. Nostradamus' verse isso ambigious that medieval interpreters sometimes credited him with predicting events after those events had already occurred.
Click here for Edgar Cayce's Millennial Prophecy
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