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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1. Hong Xiuquan and the Taiping Rebellion

1. HONG XIUQUAN AND THE TAIPING REBELLION

Regardless of place, culture, or skin color, Christian apocalypticism was sometimes enthusiastically absorbed as a solution to the local problems. Both the black Nat Turner and the Amerindian Wovoka used it as a weapon against the white exploiters. Transposing themselves into the role of God’s messengers, their wrath came to be mistaken for God’s wrath. In both cases the rebels and the casualties were numbered in a couple of hundreds at most. In 1897 in Brazil the outcome was far worse: the political and economic convulsions boosted the prophet Antonio Conselheiro at the head of an apocalyptic rebellion that claimed over 15,000 lives.1197 But when this kind of social and religious phenomenon occurred in China, things had an entirely different proportion. In the country with more riots than the rest of the world combined, the Taiping Rebellion holds a special place. It stretched over a period of 15 years, it covered 11 provinces of the Yangtze River and it cost over 20 million lives – most likely the biggest revolt of mankind. And it all began with a Bible and a man who suffered a breakdown.

At the beginning of the 19th century Europeans were heavily involved in the Asian maritime trade. The Chinese ports became fertile places for business, with British dealers making huge profits from the opium trade. The Qing Dynasty opened the gates of China for commercial and cultural exchange, so Christian preachers and missionaries of all kinds came to put into practice their skills. The streets of the port city of Guangzhou were packed with militia, workers, opportunists, prostitutes, explorers, foreigners and businessmen. This was the urban environment in 1836, when Hong Renkun, a 22-year-old poor teacher from the countryside, arrived in the city to take the civil service examination. But, as only about one percent of the applicants were passing, he failed not once, but four times over the coming years.1198

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4.3. Millerism and the “Great Disappointment”

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.

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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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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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3.2.1. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire

3.2. THE FIRST PERIOD: 950-1000

3.2.1. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire

In the year 1000 Western Christians continued to be obsessed with the fate of the Roman Empire. Glaber said that Western Christianity was the successor of the Roman world and he dedicated to the memory of the former empire his most important work, Historiarum libri quinque ab anno incarnationis DCCCC usque ad anum MXLIV.165

In 954 Adson, abbot of Montier-en-Der, concluded Libellus de Antichristo, a work addressed in particular to the queen of West Francia and in general to all who were concerned with the issue of the end of the world. Adson advised his contemporaries to calm and peace because, from his point of view, the end was far: the prophecy of the messianic emperor had not been yet fulfilled, the Jewish Antichrist had to be preceded by many other antichrists, who would create disorder, and the Antichrist could not appear as long as the Roman Empire was still standing. The destiny of the Universe was still tied to that of the empire: the disintegration of this structure, ruling over the earthly city, preceded the return to chaos and total annihilation. Adson, however, like Glaber, did not refer to the Byzantine Empire. For the medieval Western scholars the coronation of Charlemagne as Imperator Augustus and the beginning of the Carolingian dynasty had revived certain political and spiritual structures which were ensuring the continuity of the genuine Roman Empire with the capital in Rome. Better said, Adson assured his queen that, as long as her Carolingian dynasty was reigning, the Carolingian Empire and

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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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1.3. The millennial week

1.3. THE MILLENNIAL WEEK

The prospect of the imminent end was also confirmed through chronological computation. The early Christians showed a great interest in determining the exact age of the world and the establishment of a general precise chronology. Tatian of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Sextus Julius Africanus of Jerusalem, Eusebius, Irenaeus or Hippolytus tried to accurately date Adam’s creation, Noah’s Flood, the death of Moses, the Exodus from Egypt or the building of the Temple by Solomon.99 Some scholars researched the chronology of the world without any apocalyptic interest; they aimed in fact to confer legitimacy to Christianity by depicting a religious and historical frame to its emergence. This chronological system – which has as point of reference the moment of the Creation – was called Anno Mundi in the Latin West and Etos Kosmou (Έτος Κόσμου) in the Greek East. Both expressions can be translated as the “Age of the Universe.”

The age of the world was studied mainly in the East, especially after the change of the empire’s capital to Constantinople and the migration of the scholars. Western Christianity had knowledge about this system, but it has never officially adopted it. The earliest Christian study regarding the world’s age was that of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, in the 2nd century in the

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