[Not for the typical A.D.D-afflicted LLer, this is a long article.]
Will the LHC cause the world to end? Here are some other occasions when reports of the Earth's demise have proven to be premature..
The beginning of the first serious experiments using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider this week has given rise to a welter of fanciful scare stories about the obliteration of the Earth by a pocket black hole or a cascade reaction of exotic particles. Similar predictions have been made around the launch of several other particle physics experiments and even the first atomic weapons tests.
Predictions of the world’s end are nothing new though. We’ve picked out 30 of the most memorable apocalypses that never, for one reason or another, quite happened.
1: 2,800BC: The oldest surviving prediction of the world’s imminent demise was found inscribed upon an Assyrian clay tablet which stated: "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common." Wherever more than two people over 30 are gathered together, expect to hear remarkably similar sentiments.
2: 1st century AD: In Matthew 16:28 the following interesting quotation is ascribed to Jesus: "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." The clear implication is that the final judgement would occur within the lifetimes of those present. The Book of Revelation too rather suggests an imminent rather than distant date for the last trump. "Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me to reward every man according to his work." (Revelation: 22:12) These statements are the wellspring of more than 2,000 years of millennial Christian cults, as we will see below.
3: 2nd century AD: The Montanists, founded in around 155 AD by a chap called Montanus, were perhaps the first recognisable Christian "end of the world" cult. They believed that Christ’s triumphant return was imminent and established a base in Anatolia, central Turkey where they waited for doomsday. Montanus was an immensely charismatic leader, given to speaking in tongues, and despite the failure of all his prophecies, his sect endured for hundreds of years after his death. Tertullian, an early Christian thinker who coined terms like the Trinity, and the Old and New Testaments, became a devotee of Montanism in later life.
4: Mar 25, 970 AD. The Lotharingian computists believed they had found evidence in the Bible that a conjunction of certain feast days prefigured the end times. They were just one of a wide scattering of millennial cults springing up in advance of that first Millennium. The abbot of Saint-Benoit of Fleury-sur-Loire sent a letter to his king complaining about the Lotharingians: “For a rumour had filled almost the entire world that when the Annunciation fell on Good Friday, without any question, it would be the End of the World.” The millennial panic endured for at least 30 years after the fateful date had come and gone, with some adjustment made to allow 1,000 years after the crucifixion, rather than the nativity.
5: 1284: Pope Innocent III predicted the Second Coming for this year. He based his prediction on the date of the inception of the Muslim faith, and then added 666 years to that.
6: Botticelli’s Mystical Nativity: To this painting, which hangs in the National Gallery in London, Botticelli added a Greek inscription which characterised the early 1500s as a pre-apocalyptic period known as the Tribulation and anticipated a Second Coming in or around the year 1504.
7: Feb 1, 1524. Panicked by predictions made by a group of London astrologers, some 20,000 people abandoned their homes and fled to high ground in anticipation of a second Great Flood that was predicted to start from the Thames. Proving that this was not just the error of a London-centric media, the German astrologer Johannes Stoeffler then made a similar prediction for later in the same month.
8: 1648: Having made close study of the kabbalah, theTurkish rabbi Sabbatai Zevi predicted that the Messiah would make a miraculous return in 1648, and that his name would be Sabbatai Zevi. With 1648 having come and gone without any appreciable apocalypse Sabbatai revised his estimate to…
9: 1666: A year packed with apocalyptic portent. With a date containing the figures commonly accepted as the biblical Number of the Beast and following a protracted period of plague in England, it was little surprise that many should believe the Great Fire of London to be a herald of the Last Days.
10: 1794. Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that the world would come to an end in this year, thus concurring with the Shakers who also anticipated a final reckoning.
11: Dec 25, 1814: In Devon, a self-styled prophet named Joanna Southcott averred that she was the expectant mother of a new Christ-child to which she would give birth on Christmas Day 1814. That she was a virgin and well over 60 did not appear to weaken her faith that this would come to pass. She was at least correct that something momentous would occur on the fateful date: she died. Despite this disappointment, a large cult continued to believe in Southcott and, as late as 1927, a sealed box said to contain an important message left by Joanna was opened in the presence of the Bishop of Grantham. It contained a lottery ticket.
12: 1836. Notwithstanding his brother's erroneous estimate, the Methodist leader John Wesley expected the End Times to commence in 1836, with the appearance of the Great Beast of Revelation.
13: Aug 7, 1847. The leader of a small, largely forgotten German religious cult called the Harmonists, "Father" George Rapp was convinced that Jesus would return before his death. To his credit his faith in this event was unshakeable right up to the end of his life: "If I did not know that the dear Lord meant I should present you all to him, I should think my last moment come," he said. Only the latter assumption proved to be true.
14: 1874 : Memorable for being the first of a long line of dates posited for the End of the World by the Jehovah's Witnesses.
15: 1881 : Another estimated apocalypse by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and also by pyramidologists who used the peculiar geometry of the Great Pyramid to extrapolate various world events using a form of numerology. The renowned 16th century seer Mother Shipton was also said to have predicted: “The world to an end shall come, in eighteen hundred and eighty one” That this verse was subsequently proven to be fraudulent did not deter the credulous few from engaging in the now fully-fledged custom known as millennial panic.
16: May 18, 1910: Despite a number of previous documented appearances having caused no deaths, the 1910 return of Halley’s Comet was widely perceived as a threat to mankind – allegedly due to noxious vapours emanating from its tail. This may be the first apocalyptic panic founded on a scientific, rather than religious misapprehension. Interestingly, the American author Mark Twain who was born in 1835 – another Halley’s Comet year – and correctly predicted that his own death in 1910 would coincide with the dirty snowball’s return.
17: Dec 17, 1919. Albert Porta, a meteorologist, averred that a rare conjunction of planets would create a powerful gravitational or magnetic flux drawing draw a giant solar flare out toward the Earth, incinerating the atmosphere. Some credulous souls, on hearing this, apparently chose suicide rather than be killed. Which is rather odd once you think about it. Another failure for the scientific method.
18: 1967 : A banner year for apocalypse: Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, and UFO contactee George van Tassel all independently arrived at the conclusion that the Summer of Love would be the end of us all.
19: Apr 29, 1980. Leland Jensen, leader of a splinter group from the minority Bahá'í faith, announced that this day would see a nuclear exchange between the superpowers resulting in the deaths of millions. In fact 1979 and 1983 would have been the two most likely years for this to have happened, with nuclear strikes averted by sheer fluke on both occasions. Finding himself alive on April 30, the prophet fell back on the traditional "This is [only the] start of the Tribulation" excuse.
20: Mar 10, 1982. In a near repeat of the erroneous 1919 prophecy, a popular "science" book, The Jupiter Effect, expostulated that a planetary conjunction would cause earthquakes, or a solar flare, or both. In fact, the only appreciable effect of the gravitational pull of all the planets combined was a possible higher tide measured in some places – peaking 0.04mm above average. Two years earlier, the televangelist Pat Robertson had also predicted this, saying: "I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world".
21: Apr 29, 1987: The irrepressible doom-monger Leland Jensen was back with more portents of extinction, this time as a result of a collision between the Earth and that old favourite Halley’s Comet.
22: 1988: Another rash of predictions nominated this year as our last, chiefly influenced by best-selling 1970 book The Late, Great Planet Earth, which interpreted a passage from the book of Matthew as indicating the return of Christ
within 40 years of the founding of the state of Israel.
23: Sep 28, 1992: "Rockin" Rollen Stewart, an eccentric evangelist who started the craze for holding up signs representing bible verses at public events [John 3:16 was the most popular of these] was certain that The Rapture would occur on this day. He went on to instigate a campaign of stink-bombing churches and other religiously inspired acts of madness, which culminated with his imprisonment for kidnapping.
24: March – May 1997: The year of the comet Hale-Bopp gave rise to a welter of "end of the world" theories all based on a mistaken observation by amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek. When his assertion that the comet was being trailed by a companion object found its way onto Usenet message boards, it was magnified by the full power of the then-young internet into a worldwide hullabaloo. Another contributory factor was the suggestion that the Solar System was about to pass through a mysterious and entirely imaginary region of space called the Photon Belt. The Heaven’s Gate cult seized on these combined rumours as their signal to commit mass suicide in March of this year. It was also the 6,000th anniversary of the Creation, as calculated by Bishop Ussher, leading to another wave of "Last Days" panic.
25: 12:01am, Mar 31, 1998. One of the more precise predictions of the Second Coming. Hon-Ming Chen, leader of the Taiwanese cult "The True Way" - claimed that God would announce his imminent return on every television in the USA at this moment, prior to an actual landing in his spacecraft. Chen had the good grace to admit his mistake and offer to be crucified when the deity failed to materialise, but no-one seemed enthusiastic.
26: 1999: Throughout 1998 and 1999 the predictions of Apocalypse came so thick and fast as to dwarf any previous doomsday craze. For Nostradamus, arguably the best-known seer of all time, July was the chosen date of Armageddon. No sooner was the July panic over when the rumour began to spread that the Cassini space probe would crash to Earth, spilling its radioactive fuel and fulfilling the prediction in Revelation 8:11 “And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”
27: 2000: No less a luminary than Sir Isaac Newton believed that the year 2000 would see the events foretold in the Book of Revelation as detailed in his book Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John.
28: Feb 12, 2006: Clinton Ortiz claimed on his website that Prince William, whom he suggests is the Antichrist of Revelation, would come to power on this day. He also quotes William’s mother – Diana, Princess of Wales – as having said: "I believe Wills can rebuild Camelot and I will be his Merlin. Together we will return to the chivalry, pageantry, and the glory that was King Arthur's Court. William will remake the Monarchy by showing love, leadership, and compassion."
29: Friday 13th April 2007: An un-named punter placed a £10 best at 10,000/1 with Ladbrokes, the bookmakers, that the world would end on that day. It is unclear how he expected to collect.
30: Mar 21, 2008. A minor Christian sect The Lords' Witnesses announced this date for the end of days on their website, which is still online.
Credits: A number of websites proved invaluable in research for this piece, most notably The Times Archive, A Brief History of the Apocalypse and Religious Tolerance.org
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