Friday, May 20, 2011

5 End-of-the-World Prophecies that Didn't Come True

Sorry, you’ve only got one more day to live. At least that’s what the people from want you to believe, as they’ve predicted the apocalypse to begin on May 21, 2011.

Why Saturday, May 21st? Well, it just so happens to be 7,000 years to the day from when Noah first set out in his ark with his menagerie of animal pairs. Duh!

In celebration of the end of the world, let’s take a look back at five of the greatest end-of-the-world prophecies that never came true.

  1. Millennial Return, 1000
The original date of mass hysteria. It only seemed to make sense to the people of the late 10th century that Jesus would reappear on January 1st, 1000. After all, it’s a round number, right? Are people really going to have to wait longer than one millennium for the guy to come back and take the true believers?

In true apocalyptic fashion, caravans of believers roamed the world prosthelytizing, trying to be as saintly as possible, and ridding themselves of all their possessions. Everyone was so certain that adding an extra digit to the year tally would bring about widespread destruction that they didn’t plan for a single moment beyond that day. As an act of kindness, all criminals were released from prison to live out their last days on Earth with freedom—freedom to live a consequences-free doomed lifestyle for a few more days.

Of course, the year 1000 arrived with no apocalyptic horsemen. A stunned and baffled Christian population went back to work, rebuilding the society they’d temporarily allowed to crumble. Oh, also, a bunch of recently released criminals ran far, far away.

  1. The German Peasants’ War, 1525
Leading an angry and simultaneously frightened swarm of German peasants, a theologian named Muntzer declared his conviction that Jesus would arrive more than 500 years late because he and his peasants hadn’t risen up to destroy The Machine. Apparently excited about the prospect of an early apocalypse, he amassed an enormous army of villagers. These peasants, armed with the power of Christ (and no doubt pitchforks), sparked what is now referred to as the German Peasants’ War.

Peasants having a stick fight
To someone not paying close attention, this squabble might appear to be a civil war, but it was actually their plan to see Jesus and go to heaven. They decided that they'd have to start the apocalypse, and they put in a great effort—until the German army showed up.

Muntzer had a vision from God in which he caught the cannonballs being fired at his army like a highly lethal game of dodgeball. Instead, the cannonballs took down close to 100,000 peasants, and Muntzer himself was captured, tortured, and decapitated. Oops!

  1. The Great Disappointment, 1844
Baptist preacher William Miller became so obsessed with the book of Daniel that he managed to interpret Jesus’ ETA to be sometime before March 21, 1844. He was apparently a really excellent preacher, because his argument for the impending apocalypse convinced enough people that a movement called Millerism formed, with his followers calling themselves Millerites.

Miller's followers actually had to pry the exact date out of him, since he didn’t want to commit to a specific day. Instead, he gave a one-year window. When the prophesized date came and went, the Millerites rallied together and re-estimated the date of October 22, 1844.

When nothing happened, yet again, some of his followers actually moped around for days, “sick with disappointment,” while townsfolk became enraged and violent toward the Millerites. Miller himself continued to wait for Jesus for five more years before he died, but his prophesy lives on—now known as the Great Disappointment.

  1.  The Planets Align, 1982
Scary poster from the 70s
In the first major end-of-the-world scenario that didn't involve Jesus showing up and wrecking the party, some scientists forecasted a catastrophic celestial event for 1982 in which all the planets in the solar system would align, their gravitational pulls focused in such a way that it would cause extreme natural disasters on Earth, from massive earthquakes to solar flares engulfing the planet. California was singled out as the most susceptible zone.

Newsweek magazine first reported on the impending end of life-as-we-know-it in 1974, allowing for a full eight years of preparatory panic. In the meantime, a science editor of Nature magazine and a NASA scientist co-wrote a book called The Jupiter Effect in which it was proposed that Jupiter would exact a force on the Earth similar to the tidal changes brought about by the Moon.

As the planets aligned and the world winced a little bit, many prepared for the worst. The planets then resumed their staggered positions around the Sun, and nothing happened. Again.

  1. We Can Know, 2011
In 1992, Harold Camping, a Christian radio broadcaster, added up numbers in the Bible to equal a total of 1994; he then wrote a book entitled 1994? that suggested that a new, accurate apocalypse date might be September 6, 1994. The idea for the campaign stemmed from the belief by most Christians that it would be impossible to know the exact date of the apocalypse, but Camping argued that certain signs in the Bible actually allow us to know, and that a more likely doomsday would be May 21, 2011.

Moving billboard/fishtank
Due to his saturation in the media—owning dozens of radio stations and thousands of billboards—Camping’s prophesy gained steady momentum and attracted a large number of followers who turned their cars and trucks into moving advertisements. Just as in 999, believers took to roaming the Earth, preaching of the end, and giving up their worldly possessions.

After a five-month period of turmoil and suffering on Earth, time will end on October 21, 2011. Enjoy the Rapture—it starts tomorrow!

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