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Summary and Keywords

As the expectation of imminent, total, collective salvation from a world in dire need of repair, millennialism has long inspired individuals and groups to take dramatic actions in anticipation of the establishment of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). The term “millennialism” is derived from the prospect of a thousand-year reign of Christ (mille = one thousand in Latin) expressed in Revelation 20. As that suggests, the origins of millennialism go back to the ancient Mediterranean world in the period roughly between Alexander the Great (356–323 bce) and Constantine (272–337 ce) when Alexander’s world kingdom and its successors deprived local populations of political, and often religious, autonomy. One response to that situation, which appears in Jewish, Christian, and other Greco-Roman sources, was the claim that humanity had reached a crisis point and that divine intervention would soon accomplish renovation of the world in which those suffering unjustly under foreign domination would be saved.

Although millennialist movements have been fairly common in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and various indigenous traditions have produced their own millennialist movements. In addition, many millennialist movements have drawn on eclectic ideological sources. Some political movements, such as Marxism, German National Socialism, and Maoism have had pronounced millennialist emphases, sometimes with the admixture of religious or occult elements. In the 21st century, millennialism in many different forms can be found throughout the world.

Many millennialist movements are founded by individuals claiming charismatic authority. They can claim the ability to see the signs of impending transformation and will frequently strive to interpret cultural wisdom traditions as shedding light on their current predicaments. But such leaders, and their followers, inevitably have to come to grips with the disappointing reality that their fondest hopes have not come true. Responses to the disconfirmation of millennialist prophecies, however, run the gamut from abandonment to reaffirmation. Millennialist hopes persist because viewing the imperfections and evils of the world as in dire need of dramatic rectification, generally with the aid of divine or superhuman figures, continues to exert an attraction to those who are deeply disappointed with the status quo.

Keywords: apocalyptic, catastrophic millennialism, charismatic authority, book of Daniel, end of the world, progressive millennialism, book of Revelation

Millennialism, also known as millenarianism, expresses the conviction that things can be much better than they are. But that hope is tempered by recognition that all is not well with the world. In fact, millennialism frequently catalogs the problems and evils that characterize a current situation. Many forms of millennialism conceive of the world as being on the brink of catastrophe, an apocalyptic transformation that will obliterate the old world and bring a new, ideal one into being. In some cases that catastrophe can be averted by human effort, but in most instances, millennialism imagines that some sort of superhuman or divine intervention is the only thing that can remedy the dire state of the world. Other forms of millennialism envisage a more gradual progress toward the rectification of a flawed and imperfect world, achieved by individuals working in accordance with a divine plan. But such progress toward the achievement of the millennium can be dramatically speeded up in some instances, as with the millennialist rhetoric and actions of German National Socialism. In all of its forms, millennialism exercises a negative judgment on the status quo and proposes a dramatic alternative vision of the way the world could be.

Millennialist movements, particularly those that envisage a catastrophic ending to the world, frequently employ a violent rhetoric. Intense upheavals in the social, natural, religious, and cosmic realms often portend the end of the current world and birth of a new one. Millennialists themselves, however, more frequently adopt a posture of anxious waiting during which they cultivate their personal piety in the hope of being worthy of making the transition to the new world. Nonetheless, there have been some instances where millennialists have taken it upon themselves to initiate the events of the end by their own actions, whether to force the hand of God or bring about the dawn of the new world by themselves.

Millennialist movements have appeared throughout history and across cultures. Although the Western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been particularly productive of millennialist movements, other movements have been inspired by forms of Buddhism and Taoism, for example, and some forms of millennialism are largely or wholly secular. Millennialism should therefore be considered a live option in many situations in which individuals can use the resources of their cultural wisdom traditions to support a condemnation of the current state of the world and sketch the outlines of a much more attractive alternative vision that will soon come about. But millennialism differs from common political, social, or religious critiques by portraying history as being at an unprecedented turning point. Nothing less than the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

A focus on imminent transformation gives millennialist movements their particular urgency. The crises they proclaim will not take place in a distant future but are already underway and will be resolved within a very short time. It is therefore incumbent on individuals to make decisions that will determine whether they will be qualified to make the transition to a state of collective well-being or suffer the dreadful fate of being left behind in a crumbling world. From that perspective, everything is at stake.

The Ancient Roots of Millennialism

The term “millennialism” has its roots in the Christian scriptures. Chapter 20 of the book of Revelation (c. 95 ce) envisages the defeat of Satan, the salvation of the faithful, and the thousand-year (mille = one thousand in Latin) reign of Christ that will occur after a series of catastrophic events. Revelation is one of an array of texts that provide evidence of a widespread millennialist perspective in the ancient Mediterranean world in the period roughly between Alexander the Great (356–323 bce) and the Emperor Constantine (272–337 ce).

Even though millennialism in the full sense only emerged in the ancient Mediterranean world in the wake of Alexander’s world empire, individual elements of the array of images, concepts, traditions, and narratives can be traced much further back into the Hebrew Bible and the broader world of the ancient Near East. Richard Landes, for example, sees a pattern of imperialist, hierarchical, iconic millennialism in the activities of the monotheistic Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (r. c. 1356–1336 bce). Akhenaten saw himself and was depicted in texts and monuments as the image of the sun god on earth and the guarantor of order. The golden age of his reign was portrayed as the fulfillment of past prophecies.

A similar constellation of ideas and images can be found in The Prophecies of Neferty, composed early in the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt (c. 1991–1786 bce). In that text, King Snefru (c. 2650) seeks words of wisdom from a “scribe of outstanding skill” named Neferty (or Nefer-rohu). When asked whether he would prefer to hear about the past or future, the king opts for the future. Neferty quickly launches into a series of anticipated woes in which nobles will no longer guide the land, the river of Egypt will dry up, the land will be plagued by anguish and turmoil, foreigners will invade, general social breakdown will ensue, and even Re, the sun god, will withdraw from the land. The text, however, also anticipates a dramatic reversal of those horrible circumstances when a king will arise to unify Egypt and put things right. As the text puts it, “Ma’at (i.e., truth, justice, cosmic order, personified as a goddess) will be returned to her throne” and “Chaos will be driven off.”1

Although such texts focus on prophecies and the establishment of a golden age, they appear more to serve as advertisements for the wonders of the current regime than as indictments of the status quo accompanied by yearnings for a new, better world. Nonetheless, they suggest the antiquity of many of the elements that will be combined, and recombined, to constitute millennialist messages from the time of Alexander onward. Millennialist prophecies very frequently adapt traditional elements of cultural wisdom traditions to construct new messages particularly suited for the situations in which millennialists find themselves. That was certainly the case when Alexander’s martial and political successes disrupted lives from the Mediterranean to India.

Alexander’s world kingdom consolidated a process in which many of the small kingdoms in the eastern Mediterranean were deprived of political, and sometimes religious, autonomy as they were amalgamated into larger empires. Some members of local populations viewed their loss of native kingship as both the sign of a decline from an idealized past and an indication that a dramatic transformation was urgently needed. Such millennialists saw that the establishment of a “new heaven and new earth” (see Rev. 21:1) would necessarily entail the destruction of the reigning powers and the salvation of the faithful who had suffered under their rule.

The book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament, composed around 165 bce, provides vivid examples of that perspective. For example, in the second chapter, Daniel, whom the text depicts as a captive in the court of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (r. 605–562 bce), is summoned to interpret the king’s dream. Daniel states first that the king had dreamed of a composite statue with a golden head, silver chest and arms, bronze middle, and feet of mixed iron and clay (see Dan. 2:31–33). In the dream, the statue is destroyed by a stone not cut by human hands.

In his interpretation, Daniel aligns the different parts of the statue with a series of kingdoms. As he explains it, from Nebuchadnezzar’s own kingdom, the golden head, there is a progressive decline toward the final, mixed, brittle kingdom of iron and clay. The destruction of that final kingdom will usher in the transformation of the world and the redemption of those who had suffered under the successive regimes. As Daniel puts it, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).

Similarly, chapter 7 recounts a dream that Daniel himself had. In it he saw four fantastic and terrible beasts arising from the sea. In succession, each wrought depredation on the earth. The fourth beast had ten horns, one of which explicitly made war against “the holy ones” and blasphemed “the Most High” (Dan. 7:21, 25). Daniel found his dream terrifying, but in it he was also reassured that “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever” (Dan. 7:18).

Both of those segments of the book of Daniel describe a world in dramatic decline, the unwarranted suffering of the righteous, their apparent impotence in the face of the forces arrayed against them, and the miraculous intervention of a divine force on their behalf. The texts offer consolation in the form of a predicted imminent reversal of the status quo. They reassure their audience that their suffering is temporary, their status in the eyes of God is undiminished, and they soon will enjoy everlasting benefits. In general, Daniel recommends the cultivation of personal piety as a response to political and religious oppression. Daniel himself is portrayed as a model of religious devotion. For example, he rejects as potentially defiling the food and wine offered by the king in favor of a simple diet (see Dan. 1:8–17).

Daniel’s message had special resonance in Galilee and Judea in the 2nd century bce, where many Jews were suffering under the drastic Hellenization policies of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (c. 215–164 bce). Although some Jews accommodated to Antiochus’s requirements, his actions also sparked the armed revolt undertaken by a Jewish priest named Matthias and his sons, including Judas Maccabeus (“the Hammer”), which is described in the extracanonical books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. The author of Daniel, however, took another tack. Daniel read Antiochus’s reign as a sign of the imminent end of the current world, which would precede the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. But he rejected rebellion in favor of pious waiting.

Many other texts from Greco-Roman religions offered similar dire indictments of the status quo balanced by hopeful scenarios of the near future. The Christian apostle Paul, for example, apparently expected in his own lifetime the return of the recently crucified Jesus and the consequent total transformation of the world. In his first letter to the congregation in Corinth (written c. 55 ce), for example, he observed that “the appointed time has grown short” (1 Cor. 7:29). Slightly earlier, around 52 ce, he assured the Christian community in Thessalonica that “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:15–17). That passage became the basis for the concept of the “Rapture,” which figures prominently in contemporary evangelical Christian millennialism.

Other texts from the Christian scriptures express similar sentiments. Written around 70 ce, the Gospel according to Mark has Jesus anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem and catalog for his disciples the various signs that will attend the “birth pangs” (Mark 13:8) of a new world. Those signs include the persecution of the faithful, conflicts within families, the profaning of holy sites, cosmic disturbances, and the appearance of false messiahs. But Mark also provides a counterbalance to Jesus’ dire warnings by having Jesus promise that such general suffering will soon be followed by the arrival of the “Son of Man” with “great power and glory” who will gather the elect group of the faithful (Mark 13:28). The passage concludes with the admonition that although no one knows when such events will transpire, everyone should maintain watchful vigilance since they could come at any time. Like many other millennialist texts, Mark 13 devotes much more time to describing the cataclysms that will attend the destruction of the current world; the world to come receives comparatively little attention.

When Mark has Jesus warn that “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be . . . there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation” (Mark 13:14, 19), he is clearly alluding to a phrase that the book of Daniel (Dan. 9:27, 11:31, 12:11) used, with equal indirection, to refer to the profanation of the temple in Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 bce. In addition to rescinding the law of Moses, Antiochus required that all Jews abandon the worship of Yahweh for the worship of the gods of the Gentiles. He set up an altar to foreign gods in the Jerusalem temple and even sacrificed unclean animals on it. Mark’s allusion to an earlier millennialist text shows how, within broad cultural boundaries, millennialism constitutes an active tradition whose elements can be used and reused to mark successive situations as having millennialist significance. If Daniel had not been quite correct in anticipating that the end of the world would transpire in his own time, then that did not mean that the signs to which he pointed had lost all meaning. With slight adjustments, Daniel’s understanding of the profanation of the Jerusalem temple by Antiochus Epiphanes could be used again by Mark to identify the profanation of the same temple in 70 ce by the Romans as a sign of the impending end.

Millennialist statements like the one in Mark 13, which also appears with some variations in Matthew 24, aim to cultivate in their audience a hyper-awareness of their situation, since virtually anything could be a sign of impending events. In addition, the sharp distinctions that such texts draw between those who will experience extraordinary suffering and those who will enter a glorious new world are designed to inspire the audience to adopt whatever ethical and religious behaviors will qualify them for salvation. The prospect of an imminent transformation of the world in which only some individuals will benefit from divine solicitude increases the urgency of the need for decision and the importance of undertaking certain forms of action and avoiding others.

Certainly the most elaborate biblical scenario of the end times is provided by the book of Revelation. It was directed by its pseudonymous author to a group of Christian communities in Asia Minor. The text recounts a single, very complex, visionary and auditory experience, which is described as a “revelation” (apokalypsis in Greek; see Rev. 1:1). At the outset the text underscores the urgency of its message by referring to events that will “soon take place” (Rev. 1:1), asserting that “the time is near” (Rev. 1:3) and promising that the arrival of a divine figure “is coming” (Rev. 1:7). The concluding chapter also expresses that sense of imminence multiple times (see Rev. 22:6, 10, 12, 22).

Using highly symbolic language, Revelation draws a sharp contrast between the life of Christian communities under the Roman imperial regime and the coming kingdom of God. Chapter 12, for example, describes a cosmic combat between “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1), her son, and Michael and his army of angels, on one hand, and an extraordinary red dragon with “seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads” (Rev. 12:3), on the other. The dragon proceeds to “make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). The next chapter develops the idea that Christians are under the domination of oppressive regimes, identified as beasts, as in the book of Daniel, but exhorts them to endure in anticipation of the fall of “Babylon” (see Rev. 14:8). Ultimately, Revelation sees the imminent, total transformation of the world. As Revelation 21 puts it, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” along with a “new Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:1, 2), which will descend from the heavens. Much of the symbolic vocabulary of Revelation, such as the image of a climactic battle between good and evil at Mount (“Har”) Megiddo or Armageddon (see Rev. 16:16), has seeped into popular discourse, even when its origins have largely been forgotten.

Greco-Roman millennialism was not limited to the Jewish and Christian canons of scripture. For example, the Jewish sectarian community that produced the Dead Sea scrolls (c. 200 bce to 100 ce) based a set of temporal calculations on Daniel 9 and saw itself as living in the Last Days. Led by the “Teacher of Righteousness,” they anticipated a new era in which Israel’s enemies would be vanquished and Israel would reign forever. One text begins with the assertion that “this is the rule for all the congregation of Israel in the Last Days.”2 A recurring theme is the division of the world into the “Children of Light” and the “Children of Darkness,” who are under the sway of Belial or Satan. Several texts look forward with hope to the anticipated intervention of God, because “at the time appointed for visitation He shall destroy such [Children of Darkness] forever.”3

One distinctive feature of the Dead Sea community is that they apparently expected to play an active role in the events of the end rather than passively awaiting divine intervention. The destruction of the Children of Darkness will be accomplished in an eschatological battle in which the group will play an essential role. One text even describes all of the male members of the group as “troops” who are preparing for a “war that will bring the Gentiles to their knees.”4 That martial imagery dominates a text known as the War Scroll (c. 50 bce–50 ce), which provides extensive details about the preparations for the battle in which God and his partisans will bring about the “eternal annihilation for all the forces of Belial.”5

The texts from the Dead Sea community counsel a different attitude toward the events of the end than the Gospel according to Mark, for example. The audience of Mark 13 is admonished only to keep awake and maintain vigilance lest the events of the end catch them unawares (see Mark 13:32–36). Taken together, the Dead Sea scrolls and Mark capture the dilemma for the audience of any millennialist message: if the end is indeed imminent, what is to be done? Many millennialists see God or some other superhuman force as the sole actor in the dramatic events of the end. The faithful, on their part, are exhorted to cultivate personal piety so that they may be worthy of entrance to the wonderful new world and avoid the fate of those aligned with the forces of evil. But in some cases, millennialists may endeavor to take matters into their own hands, whether to prompt divine or superhuman forces to act or to collaborate with them. Millennialism thus can promote a wide range of social actions, from passive cultivation of personal virtue to active efforts against forces identified as evil.

Many other texts included in collections of apocrypha or pseudepigrapha, such as the books of Enoch and books associated with the biblical figures Adam, Abraham, Baruch, Elijah, Ezekiel, and Ezra, among others, express a millennialist viewpoint. That extensive literature also contributed to the full storehouse of millennialist images and traditions upon which later millennialists, as Mark did with Daniel, could draw. Many of the themes that appear in the biblical millennialist texts are reprised in those extracanonical texts.

For example, the heart of the Fourth Book of Ezra, or 2 Esdras, composed around 100 ce, consists of a series of seven visions received by Ezra. In the second vision, for example, Ezra laments that those who have observed God’s covenants have been downtrodden by those opposed to God (see 4 Ezra 5:29), alluding to a situation similar to that in which Daniel was composed. Ezra is reassured, however, that the time is coming when God shall “require from the doers of iniquity the penalty of their iniquity” (4 Ezra 6:19). Moreover, once the wicked are punished, “whoever remains after all that I have foretold you shall be saved” (4 Ezra 6:25). In the new world, “evil shall be blotted out, and deceit shall be quenched; faithfulness shall flourish, and corruption shall be overcome, and the truth, which has been so long without fruit, shall be revealed” (4 Ezra 6:27–28).

Greco-Roman millennialism was not limited to the broad Jewish and Christian traditions, either. Millennialist texts and traditions can be found in Babylonian (the Babyloniaka of Berossus, c. 290–280 bce), Egyptian (the Oracle of the Potter, c. 130 bce), Iranian (Oracle of Hystaspes, c. 1st century bce), and other materials in the period between Alexander the Great and Constantine. A section of Asclepius (c. 4th century ce), part of the Hermetic corpus of texts and also appearing in a fragment in the Nag Hammadi corpus, provides a good example.6

As part of a series of questions and answers with the deity known as the thrice-greatest Hermes, Asclepius receives an account of the future devastation and ultimate restoration of Egypt. Hermes describes a future in which “the Scythian or Indian or some such neighbor barbarian will dwell in Egypt. For divinity goes back to heaven, and all the people will die, deserted, as Egypt will be widowed and deserted by god and human” (Asclepius 24).7 As in Mark 13, there will be political, religious, social, and cosmic disturbances. War, looting, and treachery will ensue and even the seas and the heavens will be disrupted from their natural order (see Asclepius 25). But those troubling events will also presage a future reversal in which God will establish “a reformation of all good things and a restitution, most holy and most reverent, of nature itself, reordered in the course of time” (Asclepius 26).8 Asclepius shows that even millennialist texts composed outside the orbit of Judaism and Christianity shared a common set of motifs, themes, and narrative elements.

As a whole, the millennialist texts from the ancient world developed a rich symbolic vocabulary, with many repeated motifs, which has been employed by subsequent millennialist movements both in the West and well beyond it to execute a dire judgment on the world and express hope that supernatural intervention will bring about its total renovation. That common fund of themes, ideas, figures, and narratives can be drawn upon in apocalyptic situations, especially where foreign domination disturbs established cosmic, social, religious, and political paradigms of the proper order of things, putting the brutal reality of the world as it is into conflict with traditional images of the ways the world could and should be. Millennialism promises that such lack of alignment, and the human suffering that attends it, can and will be rectified in the very near future.

The imagery of ancient Greco-Roman millennialism has continued to inform, but not constrain, millennialist visions into the 21st century. Millennialists continue to strive to read the signs of their times in light of established models, often enshrined in texts recognized as containing authoritative wisdom. Millennialists’ extension of traditional paradigms of understanding to the interpreter’s present and immediate future can revivify the authority of tradition, but it can also produce distinctive innovations, even moving beyond commonly acknowledged boundaries of the tradition.

Further Developments

As Mark’s appropriation of imagery from Daniel and Revelation’s ample use of earlier materials suggests, predictions about the end of the world and the dawning of a new age have always been malleable. Images, such as the ferocious oppressive beast, and narratives, such as the ever-worsening sequence of empires, can be adapted to fit new situations. Such images and stories express the perception that the world is in a dire situation and that only divine or superhuman intervention can set things right. Many different thinkers and movements have adapted elements from the storehouse of ancient millennial motifs to address their own situations.

For example, a new Christian religious movement in 2nd-century-ce Phrygia, led by the prophets Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla, seized upon the promise of Revelation 21 and declared that the new Jerusalem would descend on the otherwise insignificant village of Pepuza. The prophets produced new scriptures; preached the pursuit of virtue through celibacy; rejected the drinking of wine; enjoined new, additional practices of fasting on their followers; and praised martyrdom. If their teaching did not develop into full-blown millennialism, it was certainly compatible with it. The Montanist movement clearly shows how traditional images, such as the new Jerusalem, can be given new life and meaning in new situations.

When the anticipated return of Christ did not immediately happen and early Christian communities settled into life with a longer temporal horizon, millennial hopes generally faded, though they were always there to be reactivated. Among early Christian theologians, Augustine of Hippo (354–430) in particular insisted on a millennialism in which speculation about the end was rejected and the millennial age was identified with the age of the church in which Christ already reigned in the lives of the faithful. Augustine’s views provided a strong counterweight to millennialist speculation through the rest of Christian history, even though millennialist movements have continued to erupt within Christianity.

One of the most notable Christian millennialist movements in the Middle Ages was inspired by the Calabrian abbott Joachim of Fiore (c. 1132–1202). Inspired by his own visionary experiences, Joachim devised a distinctive tripartite understanding of history as involving successive ages of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The first age was governed by the law of the Christian Old Testament, while the second age is governed by the grace brought by Jesus. Joachim positioned himself near the turning of the second age into the third (perhaps happening in 1260), when Christ would return, defeat the Antichrist, and then life would be ruled by the Holy Spirit.

The rabbis who codified Jewish law in the Mishnah and Talmuds also turned away from speculation about the end times that had characterized texts like the book of Daniel and extracanonical Jewish texts from the Greco-Roman period. Their vision of Judaism did not see in the Jews’ dislocation and subjugation to foreign powers signs of the end of the world as they knew it and the dawning of a new world. They focused instead on the sanctification of daily life in accordance with the requirements of God’s law. Nonetheless, occasional millennialist movements would flare up throughout subsequent Jewish history.

For example, the spiritualist Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia (1240–c. 1291) wrote in The Book of the Sign that “The coming day is the Day of Judgment, / And it is called the day of remembrance. / And the time of the trial has arrived, / And the time of the end has been accomplished. / The heaven will become earth, / And the earth will become celestial, / Because the Lord of the trial is called by the name YHWH / And his judgment is one of truth, / And his trial is upright.”9 Later, in 1648, Shabbatai Zvi (1626–1676) declared himself the Messiah and in describing what he would accomplish his promoter Nathan of Gaza (c. 1643/4–1680) again evoked the familiar trope of a new Jerusalem descending from the heavens.

The rise of Islam in the late 6th and early 7th centuries ce was definitely marked by millennialist expectations. In several passages, the Qurʾan mentions a coming “Hour,” associated with the “Day of Resurrection,” at which catastrophic changes will take place. Sura 14 (“Abraham”) alludes to a total transformation of this world and a coming judgment: “On the Day when the earth will be changed (into something) other (than) the earth, and the heavens as well, and they will go forth to God, the One, the Supreme, and you will see the sinners on that Day bound together in chains, their clothing (made) of pitch, and the Fire will cover their faces, so that God may repay everyone for what he has earned. Surely God is quick at the reckoning” (14:48–51). The Qurʾan clearly drew on Jewish and Christian traditions, including Daniel and Revelation, not least in its understanding that the second coming of Jesus will be a sign of the Hour of Judgment (see Qurʾan 43:61).

Millennialist ideas flourished in the hadith, reports about what Muhammad and his companions said or did. The hadith give evidence about the “Lesser Signs” of the end, including moral failings and various conflicts. For example, a hadith attributed to Alī ibn Abī Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad who reigned as caliph from 656–660, has him say, “I saw the truth dead, its people gone, and injustice encompassing the land” at the beginning of a litany of things gone wrong.10 Another hadith, attributed to the prophet himself, begins by observing that “Among the [signs of] the coming of the Hour [of Judgment] is when you see that the people have lost their prayer and their faith, and have permitted grave sins.”11

Hadith also report on the “Greater Signs” of the end, which include the appearance of the Antichrist (Dajjal) and the reappearance of the prophet Jesus to join in battle with him at Dabbiq in Syria, as well as the arrival of the Mahdī, the “guided one.” As another hadith attributed to Alī ibn Abī Talib puts it, “Most of the Dajjal’s followers are Jews and children of fornication; God will kill him in Syria, at a pass called the Pass of Afiq, after three hours are gone from the day, at the hand of Jesus the son of Mary.”12 The reference to Jesus reflects not only the esteem in which Islam holds Jesus as one of the prophets who came before Muhammad but also shows how Islam drew on a common store of millennialist motifs that had been developed by Jews and Christians even before the rise of Islam.

Millennialist speculations attended the death of Muhammad and definitely survived him. By the late 7th century, the figure of the mahdī, the anticipated restorer of true religion who would redress injustices, had taken shape and replaced Jesus as the primary Islamic messianic figure. The Mahdi would be interpreted differently, however, in Sunni and Shiʿite traditions. For the Sunnis, who generally place less emphasis on millennialist ideas, the Mahdi will assemble an army, punish evil Arab rulers, and set up a messianic kingdom in Jerusalem. The Shiʿite tradition, on the other hand, has seen multiple claimants to the title of Mahdi. Most notably, the Twelver Shiʿites, who focus on the role of the twelve descendants of Muhammad, believe that the last Mahdi went into hiding, or occultation, in 874 and will return at the end to establish a messianic kingdom.

Speculation about whether the Mahdi had indeed appeared would occur multiple times in subsequent Muslim history. For example, the Báb, the founder of the millennialist Bábi movement and one of the prophets of the Bahá’i religion, declared himself to be the Mahdi in 1844 ce (ah 1260 in the Islamic calendar). Also, Mizrā Ghulām Ahmad (1835–1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam, declared himself to be both the Mahdi and the promised Messiah.

Asian Millennialisms

Some aspects of Hindu traditions—such as the division of time into four successive yugas, or cosmic ages, which progress from a golden age to the current age of disruption and violence—bear structural similarities to various millennialist schemas. Only in the modern era, however, do movements emerge that explicitly employ millennialist ideas, often in syncretistic combinations with other religious concepts and practices. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931–1990), for example, fled India in 1981 after a conflict with the authorities and established a religious commune on a ranch in Oregon. At the time, he identified as the Messiah for whom America had been waiting. After conflict with the local Oregon authorities and accusations of sundry criminal actions, he returned to his ashram in Poona, India, in 1987. There he adopted the new name of “Osho” and began to preach what he saw as a new, universal spirituality for the new millennium. The contemporary guru Satya Sai Baba (1926–2011) has also been cast in a millennialist light. Sai Baba has been identified with both the figure riding a white horse in the book of Revelation (Rev. 6:2) and the avatar of Vishnu who will appear at the end of the final kali yuga and portrayed as the figure who can save the world from its current crisis.

Elements of Buddhism, along with Taoism, have given the greatest impetus to millennialist movements in Asia. When Buddhism reached China in the 1st century ce, the vast cosmic cycles known as kalpas were compressed into shorter periods and combined with the idea that the Buddha’s teaching, or dharma, had been in decline from his time to the present. The role of the future Buddha, Maitreya, also took on new aspects. Maitreya would appear at the end of the final period to rescue his followers and initiate the recreation of the world. That complex of ideas fueled several different Chinese millennial movements. Maitreya (or “Mireuk”) also figured prominently in Korean millennialism after Buddhism reached Korea in the 4th century ce.

In some instances, elements of Christian millennialism were blended with other traditions. In China, for example, the large and very destructive Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864) was sparked by a would-be civil servant, Hong Xiuquan (1814–1864). After multiple failures on the rigorous exams for the Imperial Civil Service, in his twenties Hong experienced several dreams, including an ascent into the heavens in which he was adopted as God’s second son (after Jesus) and given the task of cleansing the world of demonic influence and establishing the new Jerusalem described in Revelation. Drawing on Taoist ideas, Hong would then create the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. By 1850, Hong asserted that Jesus had exhorted him to “fight for heaven.” After extended warfare, Hong’s followers eventually captured the city of Nanjing in 1852, renamed it Tianjing (“Heavenly Capital”), and set up their new dynasty. That earthly millennial kingdom lasted until 1864.

In Japan, the Buddhist religious reformer Nichiren (1222–1282 ce) also saw himself as living at a crucial juncture of history. He was convinced that the third and final cycle of Buddhist law was unfolding. In the first cycle the True Law of the Buddha had flourished, in the second cycle Buddhism had become formalized, and in the third cycle it had degenerated. In addition to his pessimistic perception of the state of Buddhism, Nichiren was also troubled by a military defeat suffered by the imperial Japanese forces in 1221. Also, Nichiren traced religious, social, and political ills to a general failure to maintain proper religious belief and practice. He was particularly critical of the dominant schools of Buddhism in 13th-century Japan, arguing that they had all gone astray and were misled.

Nichiren’s goal was simple, but all-encompassing. He wanted to establish the “True Law” throughout Japan. In a fictitious dialogue between a host and his guest, On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land (1260), Nichiren has the host review several sutras that list series of calamities and declare that the world awaits only the last in the series. For example, the host argues that “And of the seven disasters listed in the Benevolent Kings Sutra, six are now upon us in full force. Only one has not yet appeared, the calamity that occurs ‘when enemies rise up on all four sides and invade the nation.’”13 In order to avoid foreign invasion, the guest is exhorted to “quickly reform the tenets that you hold in your heart and embrace the one true vehicle, the single good doctrine [of the Lotus Sutra]. If you do so, then the threefold world will become the Buddha land, and how could a Buddha land ever decline?”14 For Nichiren, religious reform could therefore avert catastrophic destruction and implement millennial bliss.

Many new religious movements, particularly in Japan, have a pronounced millennialist character. For example, in 1944 near the end of World War II, Kitamura Sayo (1900–1967) founded Tenshō Kōtai Jungūkyō. She took the American bombing of Japan as a sign that the end was near. She prophesied: “oh, bring on the bombs—bring on the bombs— / May they exterminate the maggots of this rotten world, / And burn all their lairs to ashes, whereupon / Let there appear God’s new kingdom!”15 In the early postwar period, Sayo accumulated several million followers, testifying to the appeal of her millennial vision.

Soka Gakkai, a contemporary Buddhist organization in the Nichiren tradition, emphasizes a form of progressive millennialism. Originally founded in 1930 as an educational organization critical of established Japanese practices, Soka Gakkai took a religious turn when its second president, Josei Toda (1900–1958), experienced enlightenment while reading the Lotus Sutra. Soka Gakkai, which in the early 21st century claims members in some 192 countries and territories, focuses on the development of a peaceful world through practices such as the study of and chanting of praise to the Lotus Sutra. Soka Gakkai aims at nothing less than a “human revolution” in which “the inner transformation of an individual will cause a positive change in one’s circumstances and ultimately in society as a whole.”16

The most notorious contemporary example of a Japanese new religion is Aum Shinrikyō, founded by Shōkō Asahara in 1984. Although Asahara initially claimed to teach the doctrines of “original Buddhism,” he quickly became much more eclectic. Drawing on his experience of enlightenment in the Himalayas in 1986 and his achievement of complete comprehension of the New Testament in 1991, he began to preach about the imminence of Armageddon. Like many other millennialists, Asahara saw the signs of the end all around him. In 1990, he claimed that “It becomes very clear if you analyze the situation in the Middle East. Also the coming of Haley’s comet, the frequent appearances of UFOs, the Soviet Union’s democratization and its introduction of the presidential system, the unification of Europe, and so forth . . . are telling us that the world is getting ready for Armageddon.” But Asahara also held out hope for his followers that “After Armageddon the beings will be divided into two extreme types: the ones who will go to the Heaven of Light and Sound, and the ones who go to Hell.”17

Over time, Asahara gradually moved the date of the end even closer to the present, from 2005 to 1995. Asahara, however, was not content to wait for those events, no matter how near he thought them to be. Escalating pressures from external investigations of Aum and the fragility of the group itself led him to take dramatic action. On March 20, 1995, members released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in an attack that killed twelve and injured some five thousand in a spasm of desperate violence designed to hasten the appearance of the millennial kingdom of Shambala. But as with all other millennialists, Asahara’s hopes were not realized. Moreover, Aum was reviled throughout the world and Asahara himself was executed on July 6, 2018, for his crimes.

Modern and Contemporary Millennialisms

Despite the power it holds for leveling a thoroughgoing critique of the status quo and posing enticing scenarios of the way the world might be, millennialism contains the seeds of its own undoing. The more specific millennial predictions are, the more likely they are to be decisively disconfirmed. Conversely, the vaguer they are, the more difficult it is to mobilize people in support of them. It is difficult to keep millennial fires burning when events thought to be imminent do not transpire. No prediction of the end of the world has yet proven true. But that has not extinguished the millennialist hope.

One of the most poignant examples of that sobering truth comes from the Millerite movement. Begun in New York State in the 19th century by a Baptist layman, William Miller (1782–1849), who became convinced that he fully understood the prophetic message of the Bible, the Millerites dared to set a date for the end of the world. At the urging of his followers, Miller focused first on the period between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844, and then, when those dates passed, settled more specifically on October 22, 1844, as the date for the Second Coming of Jesus. When the October date passed without any observable events, the Millerites suffered what came to be known as the “Great Disappointment.”

Yet out of the Great Disappointment arose millennialist traditions that continue to this day. Fairly quickly, for example, a group of disappointed Millerites coalesced around Hiram Edson (1806–1882); James White (1821–1881); and James’s wife, Ellen (1827–1915), who quickly became recognized as the primary prophet of the group. Ellen White’s teachings would become the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was formally established in 1863. The Seventh-day Adventists retained the Millerite anticipation of the imminent return of Christ. Their practices focus on preparing both the soul and the body for the prospect of salvation in the near future. The Adventists also institutionalized the idea that a prophet might appear in any generation to deliver “present truth” about the scriptures. Like the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), which also has roots in the Great Disappointment, the Seventh-day Adventists have managed to maintain their focus on the imminence of the Second Coming even as their institutional history has stretched into a second century.

The continuance of the Adventist hopes, despite the disconfirmation of Miller’s prophecies, shows that an initial failure of prophecy is rarely sufficient in itself to extinguish fully millennialist expectations. Miller’s own strategy when first greeted with disconfirmation on March 21, 1844, was to check his calculations and reset the date for several months in the future. Miller’s movement, however, could not survive the second specific disconfirmation of the date of the end. The Whites and Edson took another approach. They asserted that the events of the end actually had begun to unfold, but in heaven rather than on earth. They rationalized apparent disconfirmation by locating significant events to another, invisible, stage, thus making decisive disconfirmation much more difficult. The Seventh-day Adventists’ relocation of the millennialist drama to another realm helped them to maintain a sense of urgency without risking the damaging effects of having a specific date pass without incident. That form of rationalization keeps millennial hopes alive even as it defers their realization.

A well-known example from the broad Adventist tradition in the late 20th century shows how millennialism can flare up again when fanned by an individual claiming prophetic status. Early in 1985, a high school dropout named Vernon Howell underwent a profound religious transformation on a visit to Jerusalem. He returned to the United States convinced that he had been chosen to play a central role in the last days as the Lamb of God mentioned in Revelation 5. Howell leveraged his experience to assume leadership of a previously obscure, small offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, then known as the Branch Davidians. He led the group of eager Bible students at the Mount Carmel Center, near Waco, Texas, in marathon “Bible studies” that were designed to show how every text of the Bible clarified the message of the book of Revelation, particularly the scroll sealed with seven seals mentioned in Revelation 5.

In 1990, Howell changed his name to David Koresh, for the first king of Israel and the Persian king who in 538 bce granted freedom to the Jews held captive in Babylonia, to signal his crucial role in the unfolding events of the end. Koresh claimed to be the only person who could disclose the meaning of the seven seals. In his view, the events described in the scroll were taking place and would soon culminate in the return of Christ to inaugurate the millennium. Koresh and his small band of dedicated Bible students became notorious when a conflict instigated by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) caused the death of four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians. A tank and gas assault by agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation on April 19, 1993, produced a massive fire that consumed the Mount Carmel Center. Seventy-six Branch Davidians died and only nine escaped.

But even such a devastating event could not extinguish the millennialist impulse in the trajectory that linked the biblical tradition to the Millerites, the Seventh-day Adventists, and their various sectarian offshoots. After Koresh’s death, one of the survivors of the fire claimed for himself the mantle of prophecy and the ability to deliver present truth. He styled himself the Chosen Vessel. Again, he predicted that the end was very near. In a book published in 2007, he indicated that 2012 would see the beginnings of the end. As that year grew nearer, however, he waffled while still maintaining the conviction that the end was imminent.

The broad Adventist tradition shows clearly how the hope for the dawning of a new, ideal millennium can persist even in the face of chronological disconfirmation, continually deferred realization, and the near-total destruction of millennialist communities. Both the hope for a new, better world and the impulse to excoriate the evils, injustices, and imperfections of the current world do indeed spring eternal. Out of the ashes of one movement another can easily arise, especially when the anticipation of a clarifying word of prophecy is woven into the fabric of a particular tradition.

The adaptability of millennialist themes, motifs, and narratives can be seen in various contemporary examples. In the eyes of many Rastafari, for example, the concern of texts like Daniel and Revelation with the oppression of native populations by dominant imperial powers captures vividly their own situation. They claim not only to understand fully the import of biblical millennialist texts but to see themselves as Israelites, the Daniels and Moseses of the present time. As one Rastafarian woman puts it, “We see ourselves as ancient people, people of ancient times.”18 Broad biblical themes of captivity and liberation resonate deeply with Rastafari. They see themselves as captives in Babylon, subjected to the Babylon system of domination established through the practice of slavery and maintained by its postcolonial aftermaths. Like Daniel, the Rastafari see themselves as poised on the edge of God’s (Jah Rastafari’s) vanquishing of those who oppress them, complete renovation of the world, and their restoration to their rightful homeland of Ethiopia.

In contemporary Papua New Guinea, the millennialism of Revelation has also helped some indigenous groups make sense of their current situations. The negative effects of colonial and postcolonial regimes have been rendered intelligible by drawing on both traditional and imported wisdom. One scenario of decline from the Huli-speaking people from the Southern Highlands puts it this way: “Count swiftly, for everything is coming to a close. Truly it is now the time of deafness and we shall all die. This was my father’s mana (religious knowledge) and it has come together as one with the mana of the church.”19

The combination of elements from the book of Revelation with traditional religious wisdom in New Guinea shows that ancient Western millennialist images, tropes, and narratives now reach a global audience and can be combined with other materials in innovative ways. For example, the individual who claims to have succeeded David Koresh as the contemporary prophet who can unlock the meaning of the seven seals of Revelation seems also to have been influenced by the idea that the calendar of the ancient Maya had predicted a great world transformation in 2012. The Chosen Vessel originally set the date for the beginning of the end times in 2012 and then deferred it until 2014, and then later. The purported Mayan prophecy itself, particularly as it was understood by figures such as John Major Jenkins (1964–2017) and José Argüelles (1939–2011), attracted a global audience that expected some sort of dramatic event to transpire at the end of 2012.

Speculation about the Mayan prophecy frequently pitted enthusiastic amateur millennialist interpreters of the evidence against scholars who debunked any prophetic interpretations of the Mayan calendar. But many amateurs took the rejection of their views by the establishment as proof of their credibility. Like others on the social fringes, who, for example, focused on UFO contacts or conspiracy theories about the establishment of a new world order as harbingers of the millennium, they developed a form of “improvisational millennialism” that draws eclectically on multiple sources.20 In their elaborate schemas of end-time events, they endorse the general statement of a contemporary prophecy writer that “If we could learn to read life rightly, almost everything is a sign.”21

Millennialist theories about the catastrophic imposition of a new world order draw on two different strands of thought. Christian millennialism furnishes the terrifying figure of the Antichrist (see 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:2–3; 2 John 1:7), who in new world order narratives is identified as a figure who will deceitfully achieve world domination and other elements of the end-time scenario. A more diffuse set of ideas concerns secret cabals (often identified as Jews) who actually direct world affairs. That idea informs claims that, for example, the United Nations is secretly plotting to impose a single world government that would deprive nations and individuals of self-determination through various means such as the implantation of computer chips to aid surveillance and mind control. A well-known example of where those two strands of thought come together is in the enormously popular series of Christian “Left Behind” novels that dramatize the Rapture and the subsequent tribulation.

Theories about the new world order aim to have individuals wake up and see the signs that are all around them. Then they can take steps to avert the unfolding catastrophe. Just as Nichiren warned Japan that a catastrophe was coming that could only be averted by the embrace of the Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra, conspiracists who warn about the unfolding imposition of a new world order aim to have their audience take actions that will forestall, at least for a while, the impending apocalypse.

Other conspiracy-minded millennialists have attempted to initiate the events that would destroy the current world and initiate a new one. Inspired by the neo-Nazi and white supremacist William Pierce’s (1933–2002) novel The Turner Diaries and disturbed by what he saw as a government assault on private citizens at the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas, in 1993, Timothy McVeigh (1968–2001) thought that his bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 could spur a second American Revolution.

Other groups with both political and religious motivation have also acted violently. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS yearn to return to the golden days when the Islamic caliphate reached as far as Spain in the West. In part, at least, the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the ongoing violence perpetrated by ISIS aim to destroy an old world characterized by the foreign domination of Muslims and the impurity that it breeds and restore Muslim life to the purity it achieved in the time of the prophet.

Observers have debated the relative importance of religious and political motives in the actions of individuals like Timothy McVeigh and groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. But politics and religion have been intertwined in millennialism since its origins in the ancient Mediterranean world. Different groups, at different times, may tilt more in one direction or the other. But the desire to see an imminent, total, collective transformation of the world, particularly when it enlists superhuman or divine forces to make it happen, clearly involves both religion and politics. Millennialist movements may be wholly secular, such as some forms of catastrophic ecological millennialism, or wholly religious, but most often are mixes of the two.

Review of the Literature

There have been many studies of individual millennialist movements or figures—too many to mention here. This section will focus on a selection of influential scholarship that treats millennialism in general or major themes within it.

The study of millennialism has always been interdisciplinary, drawing on the work of anthropologists, historians, political scientists, psychologists, scholars of religion, and sociologists, among others. Important contributions in the period after World War II came from medieval historians, such as Norman Cohn.22 Cohn proposed that salvation was viewed by millenarians as collective, terrestrial, imminent, total, and miraculous.23 That definition has been subject to revision, such as the notion that salvation could also be heavenly as in the desire of the group known as Heaven’s Gate to be elevated to the Evolutional Level Above Human. But Cohn’s characterization of millennialism has remained influential. In his survey of movements of the “rootless poor” in western Europe between the 11th and 16th centuries, Cohn observed that “again and again, in situations of mass disorientation and anxiety, traditional beliefs about a future golden age or messianic kingdom came to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities.”24 Cohn’s association of millennialism with the lower classes and his proposal that the medieval movements he studied were the precursors of modern revolutionary movements both set an agenda for further studies.

Another prominent contribution to the study of millennialism came from anthropologists who studied so-called cargo cults, primarily in Melanesia. In The Trumpet Shall Sound, which surveyed groups throughout the area, Peter Worsley interpreted many cargo cults as precursors to political action.25 Kenelm Burridge also contributed a book-length study of the Mambu movement in the Madang district of New Guinea. More importantly, he proposed a comprehensive theoretical treatment of millenarian movements in New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities.26 Burridge argued that such movements should be viewed as “attempts to make a new kind of society or moral community, rather than as oddities, diseases in the body social, or troublesome nuisances to efficient administration.”27 In Burridge’s view, central to the process of turning vague yearnings into a coherent movement was the ability of a prophetic figure to articulate the new assumptions about power and redemption on which a new moral community could be based. Such prophetic figures both present an image of what the new person could be and undertake the “quarrying into tradition” to find the authentic principles that can be applied to the current situation.28

Historians have continued to make substantial contributions to the study of millennialism. In When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, Paul Boyer argues that belief in prophecy and a focus on eschatology have been far more central in American thought than many have recognized.29 He charts the growth and influence in American life of Christian dispensational premillennialism, the view that history can be divided into a series of epochs leading up to the imminent end times. Boyer analyzes widely read texts like Hal Lindsay’s The Late, Great Planet Earth, which carefully aligns contemporary events and biblical prophecies, and more obscure, sometimes self-published, tracts that circulate within a millennialist subculture. Boyer pays particular attention to the period after World War II and shows how fears of nuclear war fed millennialist expectations.

Arguing for the “near universality” of millennialism, Richard Landes focuses on movements that are directly related to neither Judaism nor Christianity. Landes describes millennialism as a type of “perfectionist social thinking” that follows an “‘apocalyptic curve’ of inebriating acceleration out of, and disorienting free-fall back into, ‘normal time.’”30 Like many others, Landes observes that millennialist movements must inevitably cope with the failure of their expectations and predictions, but he suggests that their strategies for dealing with disconfirmation have produced “‘new’ religions, empires, revolutions, even modernity.”31

The growing field of the study of new religious movements has also contributed significantly to the understanding of contemporary millennialism. Though acknowledging that the majority of millennialist groups have been peaceful, Catherine Wessinger has surveyed the relation of a range of groups to incidences of violence. In How the Millennium Comes Violently, Wessinger distinguishes assaulted groups, which themselves are the victims of violence, from fragile groups, which may turn violence inward, lash out against perceived enemies, or both, and revolutionary groups, which develop intentional programs of violence.32 Although she acknowledges that her categories can overlap, she identifies the Branch Davidians as an assaulted group, Peoples Temple and Heaven’s Gate as fragile groups, and various groups on the Euro-American radical right as revolutionary groups.

Wessinger has also devised categories that facilitate the comparison of millennialist groups across cultures. Abandoning terms like “premillennialism” and “postmillennialism” as too closely tied to the Christian tradition, she instead distinguishes catastrophic millennialism, the pessimistic expectation of an imminent violent end of the world, from the more optimistic progressive millennialism, which sees a gradual improvement of the human lot until the ideal society is achieved. Many millennialists, from the ancient authors behind texts like Daniel and Revelation to their contemporary heirs, fall into the apocalyptic or catastrophic category. However, Joachim of Fiore espoused something near progressive millennialism, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the social gospel movement, and various strands of the New Age have also expressed a progressive form of millennialism.

Primary Sources

Given the dispersal of millennialist movements and ideas throughout history and across cultures, it is difficult to point to any single anthology or collection of texts as a comprehensive introduction. Both print and online (such as the BibleGateway website) translations of the biblical texts are readily available. The best source for translations of Jewish and Christian apocryphal and pseudepigraphical millennialist texts is James H. Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1.33 The Dead Sea scrolls appear in multiple English translations.34 Other Greco-Roman millennialist texts can be found either in anthologies or in individual editions. That goes for texts from other traditions and time periods as well. In fact, the best way to locate trustworthy translations of any primary texts about millennialism, from Nichiren to the Rastafari, and from the Asclepius apocalypse to contemporary Islamist movements, is simply to work through the references in general presentations like this one, as well as secondary sources on individual movements.

Further Reading

Barkun, Michael. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.Find this resource:

    Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

      Burridge, Kenelm. New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.Find this resource:

        Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.Find this resource:

          Cook, David. Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 2002.Find this resource:

            Cook, David. Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

              Festinger Leon, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schacter. When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1956.Find this resource:

                Graziano, Frank. The Millennial New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

                  Hall, John R. Apocalypse: From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2009.Find this resource:

                    Landes, Richard. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

                      Landes, Richard, ed. Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements. New York: Routledge, 2000.Find this resource:

                        McGinn, Bernard, John J. Collins, and Stephen J. Stein, eds. The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. 3 vols. New York: Continuum, 1999.Find this resource:

                          Robbins, Thomas, and Susan J. Palmer, eds. Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements. New York: Routledge, 1997.Find this resource:

                            Simpson, William Kelly, ed. The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry. Translated by Robert K. Ritner, William Kelly Simpson, Vincent A. Tobin, and Edward F. Wente Jr. 3rd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

                              Stone, Jon R., ed. Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy. New York: Routledge, 2000.Find this resource:

                                Urban, Hugh B. Zorba the Buddha: Sex, Spirituality, and Capitalism in the Global Osho Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015.Find this resource:

                                  Wessinger, Catherine. How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven’s Gate. New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2000.Find this resource:

                                    Wessinger, Catherine, ed. Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

                                      Wessinger, Catherine, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:


                                        (2.) 1QSa 1:1 in Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 44.

                                        (3.) 1QS 4:18–19 in Wise, Abegg, and Cook, Dead Sea Scrolls, 131.

                                        (4.) 1QSa 1:6, 17, 21 in Wise, Abegg, and Cook, Dead Sea Scrolls, 145, 146.

                                        (5.) 1QM 1:5 in Wise, Abegg, and Cook, Dead Sea Scrolls, 152.

                                        (6.) See Jonathan Z. Smith, “Wisdom and Apocalyptic,” in Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions, by Jonathan Z. Smith (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1978), 67–87.

                                        (7.) The translation is in Brian P. Copenhaver, Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 81.

                                        (8.) Copenhaver, Hermetica, 83.

                                        (9.) As quoted in Moshe Idel, “Jewish Apocalypticism: 670–1670,” in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 2, Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: Continuum, 1998), 229.

                                        (11.) As quoted in Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 338.

                                        (12.) As quoted in Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 341.

                                        (13.) See Nichiren Daishonin, “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” in The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, 24.

                                        (14.) Nichiren, “On Establishing the Correct Teaching,” 25.

                                        (16.) See “Daily Practice,” Soka Gakkai International.

                                        (17.) As quoted in David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshall, The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia (New York: Crown, 1996), 48–49.

                                        (18.) See Renee Romano and Elliott Leib, Rastafari: Conversations Concerning Women (San Diego, CA: Eye in I Filmworks, 1984), video.

                                        (19.) As quoted in Chris Ballard, “The Fire Next Time: The Conversion of the Huli Apocalypse,” Ethnohistory 47 (2000): 217.

                                        (23.) Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, 15.

                                        (24.) Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, 17.

                                        (25.) Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of “Cargo” Cults in Melanesia (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1957).

                                        (26.) Kenelm Burridge, New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities (New York: Schocken Books, 1969); see also Burridge, Mambu: A Melanesian Millennium (London: Methuen, 1960).

                                        (27.) Burridge, New Heaven, New Earth, 9.

                                        (28.) Burridge, New Heaven, New Earth, 162.

                                        (29.) Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More.

                                        (31.) Landes, Heaven on Earth, xvii.

                                        (33.) James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983).

                                        (34.) For example, Michael A. Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1996).