December 21st Has Arrived at Last!
by James Tabor
Although I doubt many of my sophisticated and savvy blog readers are biting their nails today, much less retreating to underground shelters to await the “end of the world,” I did have a few thoughts.
First, for anyone who is interested in the details regarding the Mayan Calendar ruckus this article from Live Science published earlier this week is about the clearest explanation I have seen. I also wanted to pass along this article in the St Louis Beacon by my friend, Prof. Frank Flinn with some advice on how to spend tomorrow morning.
Second, I wanted to point out that the terminology “end of the world” is somewhat of a misnomer when it comes to the biblical texts. What we most often find, certainly in the mouth of Jesus or Paul, is better translated the “end” or “close” of the age. The idea is not so much the dissolution of planet earth as the ushering in of a new era, that of the “kingdom” or reign of God.
Most of you will remember the legitimate Y2K concerns at the beginning of this millennium as we turned the clock from December 31, 1999 to the New Year 2000. The fear was that we would have a breakdown of computer systems worldwide that had been programmed decades earlier to handle dates up to 1999 but no further. Billions of dollars worldwide were invested in “fixes” on most systems but no one seemed to be sure that all would be well. As midnight, December 31st arrived, in addition to reporting on the NY Times Square ball dropping, the global village tuned in to report from TV stations around the globe that “all was well” and nothing serious had been disrupted. A sign of relief and an extra glass of champagne was the only result.
In December, 1999, with the Y2K hysteria at a fever pitch, I published an article in Bible Review “Why 2K? The Biblical Roots of Millennialism,” that offers an overview. You can read it on-line here. It is about much more than Y2K but seeks to lay out how how concepts we associate with the “end of the age” and a new millennium developed among ancient Jews and early Christians–and how they were carried through the ages. More recently I published an academic overview of ancient Jewish and Christian millennialism in the new Oxford Handbook on Millennialism, which you can read on-line here.
I have published a lot on “apocalypticism” over the years and you can find links to much of my work in this post from last summer on “Waiting for the End of the World as We Know It.” Since we have picked up quite a few thousand new readers in the past few months I thought it might be interesting to some of you who have not seen it yet. And while you are browsing you can hear my PBS interview with Robert Kuhn here on “Is This the End Time” if you are further interested.