Friday, October 14, 2011

Fun Friday Facts #12: Apocalypse Edition

If you've been following along at home, you already know about Harold Camping and his apocalypse predictions. That's right, kids, the end of the world is upon us. Again. It's be re-scheduled for next Friday, the 21st of October.

According to this Time piece, Camping has added the word “probably” to his prediction. That's because he'd originally forecasted The End of All Things for May, but then it didn't happen. Before that, he'd predicted it for 31 March 1995, but that didn't happen either. Before that, he'd predicted it for September 1995, but that didn't happen either.

I'm sensing a pattern here. ~ Sgerbic

He shouldn't feel too bad. People have been predicting the End of Time since the Beginning of Time, and we're all still here.

Well, ok, not all. ~ METROgrl

1) Armageddon prophecies date back to at least 2800 BC. That's more than four thousand years of getting it wrong.

The first such prophecy ever (that we know of) appeared on an ancient Assyrian slab of clay. It read, “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.”

Hmmm...that kinda sounds familiar. ~ Lars Ploughman

2) The Romans had some apocalypse scares of their own. Many Romans believed that the world would end in 634 BC, when the Empire was 120 years old. According to Roman myth, Romulus, one of the cities founders, once had a vision in which 12 mystical eagles appeared to reveal the lifespan of the Empire. For some reason, everyone decided that each eagle represented ten years, and freaked out.

Because the world can't possibly go on without the Romans. ~ Foeke Noppert

Nobody actually knew what number the mystical (nonexistent) eagles had revealed to (also probably nonexistent) Romulus. When the world steadfastily refused to end in 634 BC, everyone presumably scrambled to reschedule Armageddon. They decided that the eagles must have given Romulus a much bigger number, and penciled in the Apocalypse in for 389 BC, presumably because it was far enough away for everyone's comfort.

3) Let's fast forward a few thousand years, to the 1980s. In 1988, a man called Edgar Whisenant published a book called 88 Reasons the Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. He sold four and a half million copies. Despite his best efforts, the world still didn't end.

"Screw you, Edgar Whisenant."

Not to be discouraged, Edgar went on to publish The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989, the following year. When the world still stubbornly continued to exist, Edgar published 23 Reasons Why A Pre-tribulation Rapture Looks Like It Will Occur on Rosh-Hashanah 1993. In 1994, he penned And Now The Earth's Destruction by Fire, Nuclear Bomb Fire.

For some reason, these later titles didn't sell as well.

4) Now let's go back in time again, to the year 1666.

So glad I bought this DeLorian. ~ WillMcC

As you know, 666 is the Number of the Beast. 1000 plus 666 equals 1666, so many Europeans of the time anticipated the coming of the Antichrist in that year. When it comes to Armageddon prophecies, there's nothing wrong with a bit of stretching.

Nothing at all.

Londoners were particularly concerned about this approaching date. To be fair, a bout of plague in 1665 had killed a fifth of the city's population. The nation was also at war with the Dutch, and things did not look good.

The world didn't end for Londoners, or anyone else, in 1666. The Great London Fire, which burned for three days and took out 13,000 homes and other structures, probably made it seem like it was ending, however.

This is why we can't have nice things.

5) Over in Turkey that same year, a man named Sabbatai Zevi was going around claiming to be the Messiah. He would've got away with it, too, except declaring yourself the Messiah seemed to be a popular career move back then. Another man, Nehemiah ha-Kohen, appeared to challenge Zevi.

When it became clear that Zevi was not the Messiah, he was arrested and forced to convert to Islam, under pain of death.

Pictured here.

Nehemiah, presumably, got off on the “What? I never said that!” defense.

6) Every once in a while, a cult leader pops up and claims to be talking to space aliens. This kind of thing has a way of recurring, cause some people will believe anything.

Case in point.

In the 1950s, a woman named Dorothy Martin founded the Seekers. According to Martin, aliens from planet Clarion had confided in her that massive floods would engulf the world on 21 December 1954.

December 21st? I've heard that date before...

The aliens apparently promised Martin they'd appear at her home in their flying saucers, and rescue the members of the cult. The Seekers left their homes, families, jobs and schools to gather at Martin's home on the appointed day. Aliens from planet Clarion did not appear. In other news, it did not rain.

Unlike some of the other prophecies I've discussed here, this one did some good for the world. Psychologists Henry Reicken, Leon Festinger, and Stanley Schachter infiltrated the group, under cover, as it were. They studied the believers, before, during and after the proposed Apocalyse, seeking to understand the psychological mechanisms of belief. Moreover, Reicken, Festinger and Schachter wanted to find out what happens when deeply held convictions are disproven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Their 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails, is considered a classic in the field of social psychology to this day.

The question of why aliens chose to confide in a housewife from Chicago has never been answered.