A History of Apocalypses that Never Happened
In SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, a 70-mile-wide asteroid is hurtling straight to Earth, giving the inhabitants of this world just enough time to plan their last days. Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley), strangers who live in the same apartment building, measure their final moments by trying to figure what really matters to them. For writer/director Lorene Scafaria, what mattered was love and death: “I had a small obsession with ‘the end is near,’ and a larger obsession with love. So it became a fun challenge to see what would happen when worlds collide – so to speak.” She is not alone in her “small obsession” about the end. The last few years have been big for apocalypse watchers. At the start of 2011, Harold Egbert Camping’s Family Radio proclaimed loudly and often that the Rapture, the New Testament event that would signal the end of the world, would occur on May 21 – and when it didn't occur, Camping just rescheduled it for October 21, 2011. (Camping had previously calculated the end of the world for May 21, 1988, and, then, Sept. 6, 1994.) But while Camping’s end proved to be a bust, the ancient Mayan Calendar supposedly has penciled in the end of the world for December 21, 2012 – a date that provided disaster movie director Roland Emmerich the plot for his 2009 big-budget apocalyptic film 2012. It appears that the end is always coming, and is generally very entertaining when seen in the rearview mirror. So to celebrate the coming of SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, we travel back in time to the various moments when time was supposed to have stopped.
The New Jerusalem (Tapestry of the Apocalypse) from 14th Century Tapestry
In the year 156, during the early days of Christianity, a prophet, Montanus, and his two female followers, Priscilla and Maximilla, were among the first to set a date for the end of the world. Montanism, the movement created by Montanus in Phrygia in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey), soon spread throughout the Roman Empire and parts of Africa. In their prime, these three prophets attracted a sizable following. They spoke in tongues, fasted, avoided sex, ate dry foods only, disproved of art and discouraged women from dressing in finery. Indeed, the Montanists were, as scholar Philip Schaff describes them, “the first example of an earnest and well-meaning, but gloomy and fanatical hyper-Christianity.” But most importantly, reading from Revelations, the Montanists believed that Jesus would soon return, ending the world as we knew it, and ushering in a 1,000-year reign of peace in the form of the New Jerusalem descending from the heavens. Unfortunately for most Montanists, the end didn’t come from Biblical prophecy, but rather from Roman persecution or church excommunication. While Montanus’ fate is unclear, it is believed that Priscilla and Maximilla became targets of exorcism from the orthodox church. Montanism lingered briefly in North Africa under the leadership of Tertullian of Carthage, who continued to preach the impending Second Advent of Christ and the establishment of the Millennial rule on Earth.
“The Battle of the Angels” from the Apocalyptic series by Albrecht Dürer
On July 13, 1524, Thomas Müntzer, a radical Catholic theologian, gave what became known as his Sermon to the Princes. In it, as a critique of Papal authority and class oppression, Müntzer focused on Daniel 2:44, which spoke of how the kingdom of God would consume all earthly kingdoms. Müntzer positioned himself as a new Daniel, calling for Christians to rise up by arms to issue in the kingdom of God. He preached, “A godless man has no right to live if he hinders the godly … The sword is necessary to exterminate them. And so that it shall be done honestly and properly … At the harvest-time one must pluck the weeds out of God’s vineyard … But the angels who are sharpening their sickles for that work are no other than the earnest servants of God. For the ungodly have no right to live.” In 1425, Müntzer, in an effort to prepare for the end of the world, led what came to be known as the German Peasants’ Revolt. “Harvest time is here,” he told his followers, “so God himself has hired me for his harvest. I have sharpened my scythe, for my thoughts are most strongly fixed on the truth, and my lips, hands, skin, hair, soul, body, life curse the unbelievers.” But the scythes of the peasants were no match for the cannons of the nobles. About 5,000 of the 8,000 peasants he rallied to the cause were slaughtered. And, Müntzer himself was captured, tortured and then beheaded on May 27, 1525.
Thomas Harrison; a Merian engraving of the four beasts
In the 17th Century, during the English Civil War, a gr