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THE LONG AND SORRY HISTORY OF FAILED PROPHECIES THROUGHOUT HISTORY
Okay, I know a doomsday
prophet only needs to be right once, but really folks, how many times can they
get this wrong?
I thought it might be helpful for you, gentle reader, to get a little context in regards to this whole end-of-the-world stuff. What follows is a partial list of the many scores of doomed doomsday prophecies that have been made throughout history. Obviously, there are too many to list, and I'm only highlighting the best known or most interesting ones. (Most doomsday teachings until fairly recently have been pretty localized, so most of the earlier ones did not have a large following.) If I've missed any of your favorites or am incorrect about one, please let me know. (Listing taken, in part, from the www.religioustolerance.org website. Cool site. Go check it out.)
Failed Prophecies: the Early Years
About 30 CE: The Christian Scriptures (New Testament), when interpreted literally, appear to record many predictions by Jeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) that God's Kingdom would arrive within a very short period, or was actually in the process of arriving. For example, Jesus is recorded as saying in Matthew 16:28: "...there shall be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." In Matthew 24:34, Yeshua is recorded as saying: "...This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Since the life expectancy in those days was little over 30 years, Jesus appears to have predicted his second coming sometime during the 1st century CE.
About 90 CE: Saint Clement 1 predicted that the world end would occur at any moment. He was wrong.
2nd Century CE: Prophets and Prophetesses of the Montanist movement predicted that Jesus would return sometime during their lifetime and establish the New Jerusalem in the city of Pepuza in Asia Minor.
500 CE: The antipope Hippolytus and an earlier Christian academic Sextus Julius Africanus predicted Armageddon around this time.
968 CE: An eclipse was interpreted as a prelude to the end of the world by the army of the German emperor Otto III.
992: Good Friday coincided with the Feast of the Annunciation; this had long been believed to be the event that would bring forth the Antichrist, and thus the end-times events foretold in the book of Revelation.
1000-JAN-1: Many Christians in Europe had predicted the end of the world on this date. As the date approached, Christian armies waged war against some of the Pagan countries in Northern Europe. The motivation was to convert them all to Christianity, by force if necessary, before Christ returned in the year 1000. Meanwhile, some Christians had given their possessions to the Church in anticipation of the end. Fortunately, the level of education was so low that many citizens were unaware of the year, otherwise, the panic might have been far worse than it was. Unfortunately, when Jesus did not appear, the church did not return the gifts. Serious criticism of the Church followed. The Church reacted by exterminating some heretics.
1000-MAY: The body of Charlemagne was disinterred on Pentecost. A legend had arisen that an emperor would rise from his sleep to fight the Antichrist. Leave the pooor guy allone; he's dead already!
1005-1006: A terrible famine throughout Europe was seen as a sign of the nearness of the end.
1033: Some believed this to be the 1000th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Jesus, making his second coming a no brainer. Unfortunately, no one is really sure when Jesus was actually crucified (it's believed to be somewhere between 27 to 33 CE) so it's probably not his fault he was a no show.
1179: John of Toledo predicted the end of the world during 1186. This estimate was based on the alignment of many planets (or, at least, the planets they knew about.)
1205: Joachim of Fiore predicted in 1190 that the Antichrist was already in the world, and that King Richard of England would defeat him. The Millennium would then begin, sometime before 1205.
1284: Pope Innocent III computed this date by adding 666 years onto the date that Islam was founded. Crusade, anyone?
1346 and later: The black plague spread across Europe, killing one third of the population, which was seen as the prelude to an immediate end of the world. Unfortunately, fearing that cats might be familiars of witches, the Christians killed most of them off, resulting in the spread of diseased flea carrying rats to overrun the cities, resulting in the plague. Gotta love superstition.
1496: This was approximately 1500 years after the birth of Jesus so naturally some mystics in the 15th century predicted that the millennium would begin during this year.
1524: Many astrologers predicted the imminent end of the world due to a world wide flood.
1666: London astrologers, deciding that adding 1,000 years (a millennium) to the mark of the beast (666) portended the end, spread panic throughout London and it's environs. The end didn't materialize, but the great London fire of 1666 did, leavings thousands of unhappy Londoners homeless.
1669: The Old Believers in Russia taught that the end of the world would occur in this year. 20 thousand burned themselves to death between 1669 and 1690 to protect themselves from the Antichrist.
1736: British theologian and mathematician William Whitson predicted a great flood similar to Noah's for OCT-13 of this year.
1792: This was the date of the end of the world calculated by some believers in the Shaker movement.
1794: Charles Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, thought Doomsday would be in this year.
1843-MAR-21: William Miller, founder of the Millerite movement, predicted that Jesus would come on this date. A very large number of Christians accepted his prophecy.
1844-OCT-22: When Jesus did not return in 1843 as predicted, Miller refigured and came up with this new date. In an event which is now called "The Great Disappointment," many Christians sold their property and possessions, quit their jobs and prepared themselves for the second coming. Nothing happened, leaving many disillusioned and the well meaning but perenially incorrect William Miller a broken man.
1881: Mother Shipton, a 16th century mystic predicted the end of the world: "...The world to an end shall come; in eighteen hundred and eighty-one." Passable poet. Not so good a prognosticator, however.
Failed Prophecies: Twentieth Century
1914 was one of the more important estimates of the start of the war of Armageddon by the Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). They based their prophecy of 1914 from prophecy in the book of Daniel, Chapter 4. The writings referred to "seven times", which the WTS interpreted to be equal to 2520 days. This was further interpreted as representing 2520 years, measured from the starting date of 607 BCE, giving 1914 as the target date. When 1914 passed the fledgling church's unflappable leader, Charles Taze Russell, decided that he had been correct all along and that Jesus returned 'invisibly" to begin his rule. The JWs have been burned repeatedly with their predictions, most notably in 1925 and big-time in 1975, when they suffered a major drop in membership after that date failed.
1919: Meteorologist Albert Porta predicted that the conjunction of 6 planets would generate a magnetic current that would cause the sun to explode and engulf the earth on DEC-17. I think he was mistaken.
1936: Not to be outdone by a rival sect, Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, predicted that the Day of the Lord would happen sometime in 1936. Apparently nobody noticed.
1953-AUG: David Davidson wrote a book titled "The Great Pyramid, Its Divine Message". In it, he predicted that the world would end in 1953. It probably would have had Douglas MacArthur gotten his way and nuked China.
1959: Florence Houteff's, who was the leader of the Branch Davidians faith group, prophesied that the 1260 days mentioned in Revelation 11:3 would end and the Kingdom of David would be established on April 22, 1959. Expecting to die, be resurrected, and transferred to Heaven, many followers sold their possessions and moved to Mt. Carmel in anticipation of the "end time". Of course, nothing happened, but later followers of the tiny group did experience a type of doomsday when many of its followers, including its leader, David Koresh, died in a self-started inferno at the church's main compound in Waco, Texas in April of 1993.
1967: During the six day war, the Israeli army captured all of Jerusalem, suggesting to many fundamentalist Christians that the rapture was at hand. That didn't happen, but the event is still considered a major element of date setting premillennialists to this day.
1970's: The late Moses David (formerly David Berg), founder of the Christian religious group, The Children of God, predicted that a comet would hit the earth, probably in the mid 1970's and destroy all life in the United States.
1972: Not learning from his 1936 prognosticating fiasco, The Church of God's founder Herbert W. Armstrong's empire suffered a serious blow when the end failed to begin in January of 1972, as Armstrong had predicted, bringing distress to many people who had given most of their assets to the church in the expectation of going to Petra, where such worldly possessions would be useless.
1978: Chuck Smith, Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Cost Mesa, CA, predicted the rapture in 1981.
1980: Leland Jensen, leader of a Baha'i Faith group, predicted that a nuclear disaster would happen in 1980. This would be followed by two decades of conflict, ending in the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. Clear and straight forward; at least Leland wasn't vague.
1982: Pat Robertson predicted a few years in advance that the world would end in the fall of 1982. The failure of this prophecy did not seem to adversely affect his reputation or his ministry and he is still going strong today.
1982: Astronomers John Gribben & Stephen Plagemann predicted in their 1974 bestseller, the "Jupiter Effect", that when various planets were aligned on the same side of the sun, tidal forces would create solar flares, radio interruptions, rainfall and temperature disturbances and massive earthquakes. When the alignment occurred and nothing happened, they reputiated their whole premise, demonstrating that some people can learn from thier mistakes. They may, however, be the only people in history to have ever done so.
1986: Moses David of The Children of God faith group predicted that the Battle of Armageddon would take place in 1986, Russia would defeat Israel and the United States, and a worldwide Communist dictatorship would be established. Sounds like a busy year.
1987 to 2000: Lester Sumrall, in his 1987 book "I Predict 2000 AD" predicted that Jerusalem would be the richest city on Earth, that the Common Market would rule Europe, and that there would be a nuclear war involving Russia and perhaps the U.S. Also, he prophesized that the greatest Christian revival in the history of the church would happen: all during the last 13 years of the 20th century. He should have labelled his book "I Have No Idea What I'm Talking About".
1988: Hal Lindsey had predicted in his book "The Late, Great Planet Earth" that the Rapture was coming in 1988 - one generation or 40 years after the creation of the state of Israel. This failed prophecy did not appear to damage his reputation and he went on to write over a dozen more books, most of them on prophecy, that continue to enrich him to this day. Oh, did I mention he also has a TV show?
1988-OCT-11: NASA scientist Edgar Wisenant self published his book "88 Reasons why the Rapture will Occur in 1988," which sold millions of copies world-wide. If you can't believe a NASA scientist, who can you believe?
1990-APR-23: Elizabeth Clare Prophet, leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant, made a series of statements that many members believed indicated the start of nuclear war on this date. At least 2,000 followerssome of whom had quit jobs and run up large debts in anticipation of the apocalypsetraveled to Montana to take refuge in CUT's fallout shelters on the night of March 15 of that year, only to see nothing happening. Church officials later said that the event had been a drill. Cool.
1991: Mother Shipton, a 16th century mystic predicted the end of the world: "...The world to an end shall come; in nineteen hundred and ninety-one." Hey, didn't she predict the end in "eighteen hundred and eighty one"?
1992-OCT-28: Lee Jang Rim, a Korean Christian pastor, taught that the Rapture would occur on this date, at 10:00 AM EST (wonder why he would use U.S. Eastern time and not Korean time?) When it didn't happen, many of his followers allegedly committed suicide, which is, after all, the oriental way.
1993: Benny Hinn, an Assemblies of God pastor from Florida predicted that the rapture would come in 1993. He'd still alive and living on planet Earth, so check this guy's show out some time if you get a chance.
1996-OCT-23: Since 1658, many Christians have accepted the calculations of James Ussher, an Irish archbishop, who estimated that the first day of creation occurred on 4004-OCT-23 BCE. This would make the time interval between the creation of the world and a common estimate of the birth of Christ to be precisely 4000 years (though some also believe that Ussher fudged the data to make it come out neatly). He also estimated that, based on the concept of the "millennial week" (that each of the 6 days of creation mentioned in Genesis is linked to a 1000 year time span in the life of the earth) the end of the world would occur exactly 6000 years later, in the fall of 1996. Funny how you can still screw some people up over three hundred years after you're dead.
1998-FEB-26: Edgar Cayce predicted that the earth would have a new pole during the winter of 1997-1998. He also predicted "...massive earth changesperhaps in conjunction with a pole shiftin the 1930s, 1960s, or 1990s." Nice fellow, Edgar. Wrong more often than not, but nice guy.
1999-APR-3: Ed Dames, president of PsyTech, (What? You've never heard of PsyTech? Me neither) predicted that solar flares would strike the earth during the Easter weekend of that year, and that only people living in caves (like Mr. Dames) or under the earth might survivethe rest clearly being doomed to annihilation. Fortunately, he also predicted that space aliens would arrive about 2012 to rescue the few survivors. Stay tuned all you cave dwellers out there: help is on the way!
1999-JUL-7: Eileen Lakes predicted that the planets of the solar system would be arranged in a "Grand Cross" configuration on that date, which would cause the earth's poles to suddenly shift by exactly 90 degrees, causing "Large earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic explosions, a downpour, and a large flood, to occur all over the world." This would result in Brazil, Liberia, Ghana, etc. being in the deep freeze and Antarctica becoming a balmy paradise once more, just as it was in the recent past. (She believes that this event happens regularly every 12,000 years.)
1999-JUL: Nostradamus predicted that a great king of terror will come from the skies. This has been interpreted by some as referring to a nuclear missile strike: "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. Good luck figuring out what he was talking about.
2000-JAN 1: Thomas Chase predicted that the Y2K bug would cause a worldwide electrical failure, trigger a world economic depression, and bring on the Antichrist. Nothing a little software patch won't take care of, however.
2000-DEC (late): The Bible talks about heavenly signs that will precede the end of the world. Some prophesized that the eclipse of the sun on 2000-DEC-25 was one of these signs, and that the end of the world would follow shortly after. This prophecy was reinforced by a massive solar flare in late December, which produced remarkable displays of the Northern Lights about Christmas time. Also, a small asteroid (about the size of a football field) was scheduled to pass by the earth some 800,000 km (500,000 miles) away. This is only about twice the distance from the earth to the moon. Finally, the full moon of 2001-JAN-09 will be the brightest since 1912! Add them all together and you have THE END OF THE WORLD!
Failed Prophecies: Twenty-First Century
Sometime in 2001: The Unarius Society apparently received interstellar thought messages from a Pleiadean starship informing them that they intended to land in the year 2001 on Atlantis, which will have risen from the depths of the earth in the Bermuda Triangle by then. After that, Earth was to join an allegience of 33 planets to form the "Interplanetary Confederation for the Spiritual Renaissance of Humankind on Earth"better known as the ICSRHE. I don't think this happened but let me check and get back to you.
Also sometime in 2001: Jack Van Impe Ministries sponsored the largest Evangelical Christian program devoted to end-time prophecy. In his home page, he discussed his book "On the Edge of Eternity" in which he predicted that the year 2001 would "usher in international chaos such as we've never seen in our history." He predicted that in 2001 and the years following, the world would experience "drought, war, malaria, and hunger afflicting entire populations throughout the [African] continent...By the year 2001, there will be global chaos." He has since changed his predictions, delaying them by many years into the future, allowing his ministry to continue to prosper (fortunately for Rexana's beautician), in spite of a string of failed prophecies.
2003-MAY-15: The Pana Wave Laboratory group in Japan believed that the world would be destroyed by a series of disasters on this date. A planetwhich one they say notwill move close to the earth and will cause "cataclysmic" changes, most specifically a shift in the earth's magnetic pole which would cause tidal waves and earthquakes. In early May of that year they set up camp on a mountain road 170 miles west of Tokyo and naturally covered their vehicles with white cloths, which they believed would protect their leader from "harmful electromagnetic waves," which they think originate from communists. I actually buy off on that last part.
2008-MAR-21: After a lengthy calculation based on the Bible a British group, The Lord's Witnesses, concluded that the start of Armageddon would happen on this day, with three quarters of the world's population being killed in the subsequent war. Cheerful bunch. Where do I sign up?
Okay, you get the idea. I was amazed at how many of these types of prophecies are out there (I've included only a small sampling here). It seems that there are a lot of people out there who are looking for the world to end, to which all I can say is be careful what you wish for!
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