4.3. MILLERISM AND THE “GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT”
While Joseph Smith Jr. was forging the Mormon aberration, another prophetic colossus was rising in the “burned-over district” of the New York State: William Miller. Smith and Miller had a different theological training, a different eschatological approach and even an opposite prophetic message; and yet, they both enjoyed a tremendous success. While Smith used false revelations and became an icon of prophetic falsehood, Miller was a sincere biblical scholar who wasted his life for a chimera and turned into a model of prophetic failure. But the latter is also a good example that human beings think what they are trained to think and see what they want to see: a chess player sees chess movements in real life, an economist sees around him transactions and economic opportunities, and a religious fanatic identifies apocalyptic trumpets and God’s vials of wrath in the flow of history.
After 15 years of intense biblical and historical study, Miller came to believe that a correct eschatological interpretation must rely on a couple of principles: the biblical prophecies are expressed in figurative language, but they are being literally fulfilled, the events described in the Bible can happen only once, and the biblical prophecies are codes that can be deciphered. This retired captain was one of the last major exponents of Protestant historicism: Revelation and the Book of Daniel were treated as maps of universal history, while the biblical images represented kingdoms, catastrophes, wars, historical characters or great discoveries.