7.2. The fascination of numbers

7.2. THE FASCINATION OF NUMBERS

At first glance, the source of the apocalyptic fascination with the years 1000 and 2000 might be the obscure texts of Revelation 20, where the expression “a thousand years” or “thousands of years” (according to other Bible versions) is used six times. Revelation 20 is the foundation of the entire millennial doctrine, but the text does not refer expressly to the years 1000 or 2000; this is why the “thousand years” was interpreted over time either symbolically or literally, as a specific and practical calendrical unit. In any case, religion cannot explain why the attraction for the year 2000 transcended the cultural and religious barriers; it was not limited to Christian people. And if we ask ourselves what exactly in nature functions according to cycles of 1,000 or 2,000 years, the answer is nothing. This means that the explanation to the problem of the year 1000 or 2000 is not to be found in religion, but in psychology.

The number 1,000 seems mystical, powerful and especially complete for the simple fact that it is a round number. The modern man thinks in the decimal (base 10) system of numeration; he imagines, conceives and organizes his environment though this system of numeration. Money is the best example of the way we apply numbers in the material world: we have money of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 1,000 or 2,000 units. Nowhere in the world is there money of 3,245 units, of 1,415 units or any other numerical values that are difficult to operate with.

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7.1. The year 2000 and the computer apocalypse

7. THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM

7.1. THE YEAR 2000 AND THE COMPUTER APOCALYPSE


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… the disgusting prophetic circus, the year 2000 truly had a destructive potential, but not due to divine wrath, but because of technology. The most serious and widespread scarecrow of the year 2000 was Y2K or the “Millennium Bug.” In essence, Y2K was defined as the inability of computers to make a valid transition from the year 1999 to the year 2000. In mathematics, the number 1,000 is sometimes represented by the letter “K” (for example 3,000 = 3K, 5,000 = 5K) from the prefix “kilo,” which is derived from the (Romanized) Greek word chilioi (“thousand”). So, the name “Y2K” is an abbreviation of the English expression “Year 2000.”

The Millennium Bug was not an invention of prophets or religious fanatics; it was a fact. In the 1970s, when the computer industry was at the beginning, virtual memory was very expensive. So, programmers had to use different solutions to save virtual space. One of these solutions was to mark the years only with the last two digits of the total of four. For example, 72 was used instead of 1972, or 84 was used instead of 1984. The computer determined the year only according to the last two digits, adding 19 automatically as a standard prefix. The problem was that the last two digits of the years 2000 and 1900 are identical: 00 and 00. Hence, on January 1, 2000, at 00:00, some computers could interpret the time as being the year 1900, others as 2000, and others to give error and to crash. Computer errors can cause important losses for individuals and companies, fatal accidents, interrupted communications or panic.

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5.1. The eternal Armageddon of Jehovah’s Witnesses

5.1. THE ETERNAL ARMAGEDDON OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the last monstrous progeny of the American religious orgies. Founded in the second part of the 19th century by Charles Taze Russell, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses rose from the Millerite ash on the theory that the expected event was just, but the date was erroneously calculated. A charismatic figure, Russell never claimed that he had divine revelations. Instead, he believed that God had endowed him with wisdom to correctly interpret the Bible. Between 1870 and 1875 the Russell family, together with the Adventist pastors George Storrs and George Stetson, intensively studied the Bible and the history of Christianity. Following this intellectual effort, the group came to the conclusion that they gained a better understanding of the Bible and that they found significant errors in the foundations of the contemporary Christian doctrine. The entire group rebaptized in 1874.

In parallel with Russell, the former Millerite Nelson Barbour began a new round of biblical and prophetic study. In 1873 he launched the Herald of the Morning magazine, in which he advanced a possible return of Christ in 1874. One year later Russell found a copy of Nelson’s work and contacted him to establish a meeting and to compare the notes. They both agreed that Parousia took place indeed in 1874, but in an invisible way, and it would become visible in 1878. In this period of four years the return of Christ could be known only by the true believers. This is how the association between Barbour and Russell began. The latter was so impressed by the conclusions they had reached, that he decided to sell his clothing stores and to invest the money in conferences, brochures, magazines and books for spreading the new doctrine.

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7.2.3. The Neo-Protestant betrayal: the futurist dispensationalism

7.2.3. The Neo-Protestant betrayal: the futurist dispensationalism

At the beginning of the 19th century it became quite clear that the Catholic Church did not collapse as Protestants expected since the 16th century, the Papacy (or a certain pope) was not the Antichrist and the end of the world did not come. In other words, Protestant historicism – developed at the time of the Reformation – failed and another eschatological system had to be found. Accordingly, due to the pressure exercised upon religion by scientific development, amid a wave of spiritual occurrences and the development of British Israelism, a good part of the American and British Protestant organizations betrayed the tenets of the Reformation. Instead, they independently developed their own ideas, dogmas and rituals, and simultaneously adopted the dispensationalist eschatological point of view. Usually, these groups are generically called “Neo-Protestant,” but, in a broader sense, Neo-Protestantism includes all the groups that came into existence since the First Great Awakening.

Dispensationalism is a combination between Catholic futurism, Protestant historicism and Hebraism. The term “dispensationalism” is derived from the idea that the biblical history is better understood by dividing it into a series of “dispensations” – successive chronological covenants or historical periods (ages) within which God interacts with mankind in certain ways. There is no consensus among supporters regarding the exact number of dispensations; their number varies between three and eight. The minimal dispensationalist scenarios of three of four dispensations recognize only the major historical periods:

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6.3.3. James Ussher and the new age of the world

6.3.3. James Ussher and the new age of the world

The initial Anno Mundi chronologies, conceived by the early Christian exegetes, came to be seen as obsolete and obviously faulty by Newton and his compatriots. The main defect of the early chronological attempts consisted in the fact that they were more mystical than historical, being dictated by the millennial week theory and the fate of the Roman Empire. Naturally, mysticism was still very active in the 17th century, but the Renaissance demanded a more precise chronology in order to integrate the events in an adequate historical frame. Thus, Hebraism drove the English scholars toward the study of the original texts of the Old Testament to create new and original works of chronology.

The champion in this matter was James Ussher, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh. After he had studied the Semitic languages and an impressive volume of ancient texts, Ussher concluded that the Bible is a precise portrait of history. The work Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducta… is a complete history of the world in Latin, with all the major events dated from the Creation until 70 AD, the year of the destruction of the Temple. The date that made Ussher famous appears in the first paragraph: “1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. {Ge 1:1} The beginning of time, according to our chronology, happened at the start of the evening preceding the 23rd day of October (on the Julian calendar), 4004 BC or 710 JP.”699 Noah’s Flood, for example, was placed 1,657 years after the fall of Adam and 2,348 years before the birth of Christ:

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6.2. Joseph Mede and the development of the English millenarism

6.2. JOSEPH MEDE AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENGLISH MILLENARISM

Toward the end of 16th century the Protestant-Catholic conflict turned into a war of attrition; the Counter-Reformation initiated by Pius IV began to bear fruit, while the Protestant Reformation showed signs of exhaustion. This made Britain, the place where Protestantism was officially tolerated, one of the favorite refuges of mainland radicals. A wave of apocalyptic teaching invaded the island, and the English scholars took it and adapted it to their own needs. Joseph Mede, one of the greatest scholars the Church of England has ever produced, is considered to be the father of the English millenarism. Mede was inspired by the work of Johann Heinrich Alsted, Carolus Gallus or Johannes Piscator. In 1627 Alsted published the first edition of Diatribe de mille annos apocalypticis, non illis Chiliastarum et Phantastarum, sed beatorum Danielis et Johannis, a work that reached the hands of the English Puritans due to Mede. In the same year Mede published his own work, Clavis apocalyptica ex innatis et insitis visionum characteribus eruta et demonstrata. Republished in 1632 together with a complete commentary, Clavis apocalyptica… became a landmark and an authority of the British eschatological exegesis.

Mede followed the classic Protestant doctrine with the Papacy in the role of the Antichrist. The great tribulation was identified with the exercise of papal power for 1,260 years, with the Millennium beginning in 1654 or 1716.651 Nevertheless, Clavis apocalyptica… is not a complete commentary on Revelation, but rather the explanation of a method of interpretation. Mede believed that his great theological achievement consisted in the discovery of the “synchronisms”: “I call a synchronism of the prophecies a concurrence of events predicted therein within the same time; which may be called a contemporary or coetaneous period; for prophecies of contemporary things synchronize.”652

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4.2.2. Joachim of Fiore and the three ages of universal history

4.2.2. Joachim of Fiore and the three ages of universal history

In 1159, at the age of 25, the Calabrian monk Joachim of Fiore searched for the will of God through a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. According to the legend, at a turning point, just when he thought he would die of exhaustion in the desert of Palestine, Joachim had a revelation similar to that of John the Apostle: a man and a river of oil were shown to him; after he drank from the river of oil he woke up and he realized that he knew all the meanings of the Holy Scripture. It is very likely that Joachim experienced symptoms of the “Jerusalem syndrome” or hallucinations caused by starvation, dehydration or exhaustion.

Upon returning to Italy in 1170, Joachim joined the Cistercian Order, characterized by extreme austerity, and he entirely dedicated himself to Bible study. In the following years he published his work De unitate seu essentia Trinitatis, attacking the Trinitarian teachings of Petrus Lombardus. Then, in 1183, while he was at the Cistercian abbey of Camasari, just the night before the celebration of the Resurrection, Joachim had a new revelation:

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3.3. The second period: 1000-1033

3.3. THE SECOND PERIOD: 1000-1033

After the year 1000 proved to be a year as any other, all apocalyptic expectations were channeled toward the year 1033. According to Glaber’s chronicles, the end of the world was delayed for 33 years, 1,000 years from the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension of the Savior:

After the many prodigies which had broken upon the world before, after, and around the millennium of the Lord Christ, there were plenty of able men of penetrating intellect who foretold others, just as great, at the approach of the millennium of the Lord’s Passion, and such wonders were soon manifest.193

The year 1033 had an apocalyptic importance due to three reasons: the transition between the millennia did not bring major changes in the world; in the year 1000 Christians celebrated the completion of a millennium since the Savior’s conception and birth (two major religious events), while in the year 1033 they celebrated his death, resurrection and

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3.2.2. Popular manifestations around the year 1000

3.2.2. Popular manifestations around the year 1000

The fundamental problems of the generation of the year 1000 were the lack of information and the extremely precarious understanding of the Universe. Rodulphus Glaber’s notes show that history served no other purpose than to boost the meditation of the believers, to increase their vigilance and to emphasize the warnings that God sends to his creatures through miracles and prophecies:

But since the nation of men multiplied, ... the divine decisions of his good Creator displayed for him amazing miracles in things, extraordinary prophecies in elements and also, in the mouth of the wisest, the prophecies destined to instill, on the divine path, at the same time, hope and fear. ... The closer the end of the world, the more we see multiplying the things that people talk about.178

God’s miraculous intervention in history and in everyday life was the driving force of the medieval religious life. The medieval people did not believe in hazard; unusual events could not simply happen. They were always seen as manifestations of the all-powerful divine will. Driven by the belief that time flows according to a precisely established order, people were terrified by temporal coincidences. In the year 992 the Black Friday and the Annunciation coincided on the 22nd of March, a coincidence that for a long time was thought to mark the advent of the Antichrist. Bernard of Thuringia, a fanatical hermit, spread the word that the end was near because close to this date a solar eclipse occurred. Some were so scared that they fled into caves and into the mountains.179 Other monks in the region of Lotharingia said that the end would come in 970, when more biblical events of crucial importance coincided on the same calendar date: Friday on the 25th of March – when Adam was created, Isaac was sacrificed, the Red Sea was crossed by the Israelites, Christ incarnated, Christ was crucified and, it was believed, Michael the Archangel would

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3.1. The millennial week of the year 1000: Anno Mundi and Anno Domini

3. THE FASCINATION OF THE YEAR 1000

3.1. THE MILLENNIAL WEEK OF THE YEAR 1000: ANNO MUNDI AND ANNO DOMINI

The mentality of the medieval man is almost impossible to understand from a modern point of view. People fanatically believed in miracles and omens of the end. Superstition and witchcraft were omnipresent. The prelates, the kings, the nobles and the common people were equally corrupt. All the achievements and the failures of society were directly linked to the divine will, which showed them signs in stars, in air, on earth and in water. The sin was present even in the breathable air, and the cosmic and natural disorders induced veritable phobias. The lack of a minimum knowledge about nature’s causality fed superstitions, and any unusual or unknown sign in the sky was seen as ominous. People believed that the death of heroes, saints, emperors or kings must be accompanied by a cortege of unusual phenomena. Thus, the attention toward extraordinary phenomena and divine signs intensified and gained a totally new dimension near the anniversary of 1,000 years from the birth of Christ. Whether or not the end of the world was to come, God was expected to “celebrate” the end of the millennium by performing important miracles.

The year 1000 revealed a cruel truth, which would be experienced by subsequent generations as well: apocalyptic fears often lead to economic disaster. The certainty that the world is on the verge of a total renovation reconfigures the spiritual and material priorities and cancels any long-term plan of social or economic nature. Farming the land, gathering resources or accumulating wealth become insignificant problems in comparison to the redemption of the soul, the rise of the Antichrist,

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