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Post Info TOPIC: Dead Messiahs Who Don’t Return


Guru

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Dead Messiahs Who Don’t Return
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Dead Messiahs Who Don’t Return

The late Norman Perrin, my New Testament professor at the University of Chicago, used to tell us that there was one thing certain in the study of the long history of Jewish and Christian apocalypticism—a 100-percent failure rate. H.H. Rowley published a collection of essays that he had delivered in 1942, during the darkest days of WWII, titled The Relevance of Apocalyptic. Rowley never discounted the symbolic power and potential theological meaning of apocalyptic symbols. But he offers at one point an astute observation. At the time, Hitler had taken most of Europe and General Rommel had orders to march to Jerusalem, link up with the Arab allies and crush the Zionists once and for all. One could hardly imagine a better candidate for the Beast than Nazi Germany with its Führer. In both the United States and Britain, the Bible prophecy movement was having a heyday. Rowley wrote:

“Yet where for more than two thousand years a hope has proved illusory, we should beware of embracing it afresh. The writers of these books were mistaken in their hopes of imminent deliverance; their interpreters who believed the consummation was imminent in their day proved mistaken; and they who bring the same principles and the same hopes afresh to the prophecies will prove equally mistaken” (p. 173).

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 11.30.56 AMI was reminded of the wisdom of Rowley’s cautionary warning by the news of the death of evangelist Harold Camping this week–he was 92. Readers might remember his widely publicized prediction of the return of Christ on May 21, 2011, covered by the national media:

Camping’s most widely spread prediction was that the Rapture would happen on May 21, 2011. His independent Christian media empire, Family Radio, with assets in excess of 100 million dollars, spent millions of dollars — much of it from donations made by followers who quit their jobs and sold all their possessions— to spread the word on more than 5,000 billboards plastered with the Judgment Day message.

Camping, who had previously predicted 1994 had revised his date to 2011 acknowledging a mathematical error. His reasoning for the date of May 21, 2011 had to do with his dating of the biblical Flood in the days of Noah:

Camping dated the Great Flood to 4990 BC. Taking the prediction in Genesis 7:4 (“Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth”) to be a prediction of the end of the world, and combining it with 2 Peter 3:8 (“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”), Camping concluded that the end of the world will occur in 2011, 7000 years from 4990 BC. The 17th day of the second month (Jewish lunar calendar) mentioned in Genesis 7:11 works out to be the 21st May on the Gregorian calendar, and hence he predicted the rapture to occur on this date.

 



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Guru

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One of the areas of study I have specialized in over the past three decades is the phenomenon of ancient and modern apocalypticism–namely those systems of thinking about the future in which an imminent “end of the age” is contemplated. I have published widely on this subject, from the Dead Sea Scrolls, to Jesus as an apocalyptic messiah, to David Koresh and Waco. Many of these publications I have put on-line and I encourage those of you who teach, study, or work in these areas to use them freely:

I would begin with my paper “Dead Messiahs Who Don’t Return,” on the apocalyptic speculations in the Dead Sea Scrolls given at the American Academy of Religion Annual meeting in 1997.  The survey article “Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Millennialism,” InOxford Handbook of Millennialism, ed., Cathy Wessinger attempts to give a broad overview of the ancient period. At the turn of the millennium–remember the Y2K panic?–I published Why 2K?: The Biblical Roots of Millennialism in Bible Review, which offers an overview of Christian apocalypticism through the ages. There is also “Apocayptic Schemes and Dreams: How An Ancient Jewish Vision of the Future Came to Dominate the Modern World,” in The End of Days?: Millennialism from the Hebrew Bible to the Present, edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon and Ronald A. Simkins (Omaha: Creighton University Press, 2003), pp. 49-61. On the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jesus as an apocalyptic figure of the late 2nd Temple Jewish period, see: “Standing in the Shadow of Schweitzer: What Can We Say about an Apocalyptic Jesus?” The Review of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion 2:1 (2007): 8-10; my paper “One, Two, or Three Messiahs: Dynastic and Priestly Pedigrees from the Maccabees to Masada,” the overview “What the Bible Really Says About the Future,” in What the Bible Really Says, edited by Morton Smith and Joseph Hoffmann, and of course my book, The Jesus Dynasty. I wrote an entire book on Waco with Eugene Gallagher, you can read the first chapter on-linehere, and I urge readers to get the book as well, especially those interested in interpretations of the Book of Revelation. Remember, it was David Koresh whose claim to fame was the ability to open the “Seven Seals.”

As a historian of religions I have to agree with H. H. Rowley’s cautionary skepticism about any such predictions in the future. I have studied closely the various apocalyptic schemes of the Adventist movement, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Worldwide Church of God, popular American Dispensationalism (Hal Lindsely et al.), and the Branch Davidians. I find these movements endlessly fascinating, but on the whole their adherents are as deluded as they are sincere–which ends up being a toxic mixture.



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