In the brief life of RFI’s English-language website we have already had the pleasure of reporting the world’s failure to end on two occasions – 11.11am on 11 May 2011 and 21 May 2011 – and we missed quite a few.
The prediction that it will all be over on Friday is all over the internet and has been adopted and adapted by a number of new-age cults – with special dispensations for the villages of Bugarach in France and Cisternino in Italy, according to some.
About 1,000 members of the Almighty God sect have been arrested in China, according to the Xinjiang Bao newspaper, after its leaders called on members to overturn the “Great Red Dragon”, which the ruling Communist Party not unreasonably takes to be a reference to itself, and prepare for the arrival of a female Christ and the beginning of a new era.
The 2009 Hollywood film 2012, partly based on the Mayan calendar’s supposed prophesy, has given birth to a host of apocalyptic predictions in the People’s Republic.
But it is all based on a misreading of the Mayans’ sophisticated measurement of time, archaeologists say.
Friday, the winter solstice, will see the end of the current era of the Long Count, one of the Mayan cycles which lasted 1,872,000 days or 5,125.37 years.
The Maya, who lived in what is now Mexico and Guatemala and had a grasp of astronomy and mathematics that is still remarkable, appear to have seen the end of that era as a renewal and the beginning of a new cycle - baktun 18.104.22.168.0, if you want to know.
In fact, one of their inscriptions appears to foresee time going on three quintillion times the lifespan most scientists predict for our universe.
Aztec calendar stone
When it doesn’t happen, the Mayan Calendar prediction will turn out to be just one of a very long line of failed end-of-world forecasts.
On more than one occasion adepts have sold all their possessions – sometimes handing the proceeds over to the cult leader – leading to delicate negotiations with banks and house-buyers and strained relations with rightful heirs after the apocalypse fails to take place.
Here are some:
- The Romans: Many believed that the city would be destroyed 120 years after it was found, in 634 BC, because 12 eagles were supposed to have revealed the mystical number to one of the founders, Romulus – when it didn’t happen they revised the date to 389 BC; Germanic tribes sacked Rome over 700 years later.
- Early Christians: Some expected Jesus Christ to return within one generation of his death. In 365 AD Hilary of Poiters announced that the end of the world would take place that year. In 375 Martin de Tours announced that the Anti-Christ had already been born and would soon achieve supreme power. Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus and Irenaeus predicted the second coming in 500 AD. Gergory of Tours predicted the end between 799 and 806. Sextus Julius Africanus revised his date to 800. On 6 April 793 Beatus of Liebana told a crowd of spectators that Christ would return and the world end on that day.
- The Essenes: The ascetic Jewish sect is said to have believed that the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 156 was the final end-time battle.
- The Millenium: Pope Sylvester II and various other Christians predicted the end of the world on 1 January 1000. Some said it would be in 1033, supposedly the 1000th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Christ.
- The black plague: The spread of the plague across Europe (1346-51) was widely interpreted as a sign of the end times.
- Astrologers: European stargazers predicted the end in 1524 and 1624.
- Martin Luther: The father of Protestantism predicted the and of the world no later than 1600.
- Kabbalists: Rabbi Sabbatai Zevi calculated that the Messiah would come in 1648, then 1666 – a date also chosen by some Christians because it features 666, the mark of the beast. Other Kabbalists predicted 1984 and 2000.
- Cotton Mather: This Puritan minister predicted the end in 1697, 1716 and 1736.
- The Shakers: This sect predicted the end in 1792 and 1794.
- The Prophet Hen of Leeds: In 1806 a hen in the British town was reported to be laying eggs with the words “Christ is coming” on them. Its owner was found to have written the phrase on the eggs in corrosive ink before reinserting them into the hen.
- The Great Disappointment: Some followers of William Miller expected the Second Coming on 28 April 1843, then 31 December 1843. Miller himself predicted Christ would return on 22 October 1844, then 22 October 1844, which, when found to be false, gave rise to the Great Disappointment and led to the formation of the Seventh-day Adventists.
- The Bible Student Movement: Charles Taze Russell’s sect predicted 1874 (as did the Seventh-day Adventists), 1878, 1881, 1908, 1914, 1916, 1918,1920 and 1925.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: The sect that emerged from the Bible Student Movement has predicted the end of the world as we know it or similar in 1941, 1966, 1975, 1984, 2000 and now expects it some time in the future.
- Hal Lindsey: The author of The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon and Planet Earth - 2000 AD suggested destruction by Soviet nuclear attack in the 80s, the Rapture in 1988 (40 years after Israel gained statehood) and before 2000.
- The year 2000: Jerry Falwell, the founder of the right-wing Moral Majority, best-selling authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Isaac Newton, Theosophy founder Helena Blavatsky, Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon and many other prophets forecast the end on 1 January this year and on some dates thereafter. In the secular camp, many people predicted that the Y2K bug would crash computers, causing planes to fall out of the sky and worldwide chaos.
- The Large Hadron Collider: There were several predictions that the “God particle” experiment would bring about the end of the world by producing micro-black-holes on 10 September 2008. They reappeared in 2010 when it reached maximum energy.
- 2011: The Second Coming, collision with Comet Elenin and nuclear explosions were all predicted.
- José Luis de Jesus: The Puerto Rican leader of the Crecienco en Gracia sect predicted that the world’s governments and economies would fail on 30 June and that he and his foàllowers would acquire the ability to fly and walk through walls.
All the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – prophesy some form of apocalypse as a prelude to the arrival of a saviour who will gather in the righteous and, perhaps equally gratifyingly, damn non-believers to suffering, possibly eternal.
End of the world in pictures
Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Doré (1865)
The Last Judgment is a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, created after 1482
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Dürer (1497-1498)
The Last Judgement by Michelangelo (1537-1541)
St Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin in The Last Judgment
The Day of Judgment by Iranian artist Mohammad Modabber from the late 19th century
Mohammad Modabber/Wikimedia Commons
Kali, reigning lord of Kali Yuga, the tenth and final Avatar of Lord Vishnu
Fundamentalist Christian groups in the US have been particularly prolix on the question – with authors like Lindsay, LaHaye and Jenkins making millions from their books. They draw inspiration from the gospels and particularly from the splenetic Book of Revelations, which features the Mark of the Beast, the Whore of Babylon, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and locusts that look like horses and have teeth like those of lions
The self-righteous vitriol of recent American politics can at least partly be attributed to their influence on the right wing of the Republican Party, whose candidates for high office feel obliged to accept parts of their agenda, such as opposition to abortion, gay marriage and a tendency to Islamophobia.
They have also added their voices to support for Israel, in the belief that the incoming of the Jews will lead to the End Times.
Not that Islam is without its end-timers. Al Qaeda-watcher Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was abducted and killed in 2011, wrote that the movement attaches special importance to the fight in Afghaninstan and central Asia because of a prophesy that Islamic conquest of the region, known as Khorasan, would be the prelude to the decisive end-of-times battle with the West in the Middle East.
The world is going to end … but not on 21 December 2012. A massive asteroid or a comet will collide with earth within the next 100 million years, although we are likely to have rendered the planet uninhabitable well before it strikes.
But, so far as Mayan calendars, biblical prophesies, the age of Kali or numerology are concerned, just calm down!
By the way, does anyone know any bookies taking bets on 21/12 prediction not being fulfilled?