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The Xenophile Historian

K. U. P.

(Kimball's Unauthorized Perversion)

Doomsday in 2012?

(A commentary written on November 16, 2007.)

There always seem to be some folks around who believe they are living in the "end times," the last generation of history.  Past predictions had the world ending in 1000 A.D., 1914, 1988, 2000 or whenever.  Often these predictions came after an announcement of "signs in the stars"; in the 1970s it was a lineup of the planets that occurs only once every 175 years; in the 1980s it was the return of Halley's comet.  Well, one thing I've learned about predictions of the future is that most of them are wrong, and some of them have been really off the wall. Because nothing said about the above dates came to pass, now there is interest in the possibility that 2012 A.D. will be the year when the doomsayers finally get it right.

The Maya Factor

The current boom in doom started with an announcement by a New Age philosopher, José Argüelles, that according to the Maya calendar, a critical cycle in time will end on December 21, 2012.  The Maya calendar is a marvelous timekeeper; more accurate than our own calendar, it is the most impressive achievement of that ancient American civilization.  For everyday use, the Maya had a short count that combined a 260-day calendar (Tzolkin) with a 365-day one (Haab).  Using a base-20 numbering system, both calendars had months of 20 days each; the Haab added 5 "unlucky days" after the 18th month to get an accurate 365-day year.  After exactly 52 years, The Tzolkin and the Haab would begin a new year on the same day, and the short count would start all over again.  With life expectancy being what it was in pre-Columbian times, that worked for the typical peasant, because he probably didn't expect to live long enough to see more than one cycle.

For monumental inscriptions, the Maya also had a long count, which counted days all the way back to August 11, 3114 B.C., on the Gregorian calendar.  What happened in 3114 B.C.?  The Maya thought that was the date of the world's creation.  One of my favorite authors, David Rohl, has suggested something else of major importance could have happened then--Noah's Flood.  As for what I believe, I have tentatively calculated the Tower of Babel incident to 3182 B.C. (363 years before the first pharaoh of Egypt), so for me 3114 B.C. could either be the correct date for Babel, or the date when the ancestors of the American Indians settled down, after fleeing from Babel's confusion.

Anyway, the long count calendar expresses dates as a combination of numbers from a 20-day cycle (Uinal), a 360-day cycle (Tun), a 7,200-day cycle (K'atun), and a 144,000-day cycle (B'ak'tun).  December 21, 2012 will mark the end of the 13th B'ak'tun since the long count began, hence the interest in that date.

the critical date in Mayan glyphs

The Maya saw the end of the current cycle coming, but they never made it clear what would happen when it did.  All they were planning to do was throw a big party, if their civilization survived until then.  Their most famous myth, the Popul Vuh, stated that this is the fourth world to have been created by the gods, and the third one lasted for 13 B'ak'tuns, so today's New Agers read into the story the idea that our world will end when the 13th B'ak'tun is complete.  Some will also point out that December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere, and that on that day, the earth faces both the sun and the center of the galaxy at the same time.

Personally I won't be holding my breath on that day in 2012.  Past predictions of natural disasters didn't happen (e.g., we didn't get massive earthquakes when the planets lined up, a quarter of a century ago), so I'm not expecting them here.  As for the sun and the center of the galaxy being in the same part of the sky, well, that happens every year, and most of us enjoy Christmas instead.  Of course, we still could have a war begin on that day, see an alien invasion, get hit by an asteroid or comet, or have a major volcano blow its top.  If any of those happen, all bets are off!

Frank & Ernest cartoon about the Maya calendar
This "Frank and Ernest" cartoon appeared in March 2011.

Recently our local newspaper ran a story about an author, Lawrence Joseph, who claimed that if the world ends in 2012, the town of Berea, Kentucky, which is about 30 miles south of here, will be the place most likely to survive.  Why?  He puts together several facts and opinions to come to that conclusion.  First of all, it's named after a place described as "more noble" in the New Testament (Acts 17:10-14).  Second, he likes Berea College, and the city's attempts to be one of the most environmentally friendly communities anywhere.  Third, there aren't too many disasters that could strike this neighborhood.  Hurricanes can't come this far inland and still be dangerous, there are no volcanoes nearby, and with the nearest geologic fault at New Madrid, Missouri, earthquakes aren't much of a threat.  And during the ice age, the closest the glaciers got to here was Cincinnati, so Berea is safe from climate change, too.  Thunderstorms and tornadoes are a possibility, but they're not likely in winter.  Unfortunately Mr. Joseph doesn't say how the world is supposed to "end," so if we go to Berea, which apocalypse are we to prepare for?  One thing I do know is that Berea isn't protected from accidents on the highway; a really bad one stopped up traffic and kept me there for three hours last June!

The oreo centennial, something worth celebrating in 2012.

The Nostradamus Factor

In October 2007, the History Channel entered the prophecy game, by airing a documentary which asserted that Nostradamus also predicted the end of an era in 2012.  For those not familiar with him, Nostradamus is the Latin name for Michel de Nostradame, a French astrologer who lived from 1503 to 1566.  He started out his career in medicine, but when he wrote an almanac in 1550, it was such a roaring success that he concentrated his efforts on the occult after that.  He wrote two or three almanacs a year, and composed a thousand "quatrains," or four-verse poems, for a total of no less than 6,338 prophecies.  This has given him a devoted following ever since, with fans calling him the "man who saw the future," or the greatest prophet of all time.

"Nostradamus has a cult following for his more than 6,000 predictions. His groupies give him credit for predicting the rise of both Napoleon and Adolf Hitler, the French Revolution, both World Wars, the bombing of Hiroshima, the moon landings, the death of Princess Diana and maybe Lindsay Lohan falling off the wagon."--Tom Dorsey, columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal

Now a lost book of his has supposedly turned up in a Rome library.  Dated to 1629, the manuscript contains more than eighty pictures and bears the title NOSTRADAMUS VATINICIA CODE.  Therefore everybody is assuming Nostradamus was both the author and illustrator, and that the book was discovered recently because it has warnings for our time.  One picture, for example, shows a castle tower burning, and the History Channel psychics assume that is a representation of the World Trade Center on fire.  It sure would have helped a lot if somebody had come to that conclusion before September 11, 2001!  Why is it that so many prophecies don't make sense until after the event they talk about passes?

The lost book also has numbers in several places, leading to predictions involving numerology.  The numbers 2 and 9-11 keep popping up, for instance.  I mentioned here and here that I have a problem with numerology, because you can prove anything with numbers if you juggle them around enough, and those folks who accept numerology are so caught up in themselves that they don't make much sense at all.  For any numerologists reading this, I'll make it clear:  please talk or write in plain English.  If I can't understand what you're saying, how can I believe it?

Most of what Nostradamus wrote is deliberately vague, and he admitted to it.  After all, he lived during the Reformation, and a lot of his predictions had to do with the Catholic Church, so he didn't want the Inquisition breathing down his collar.  But when you're vague, people may take your words to mean all kinds of things.  In 1841 Charles Mackay, writing about the nonsense of the nineteenth century, commented that "The prophecies of Nostradamus ... take so great a latitude, both as to time and space, that they are almost sure to be fulfilled somewhere or other in the course of a few centuries." (From Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, pg. 280.)  A more recent skeptic, James Randi, wrote in The Mask of Nostradamus that Nostradamus gave us so much material that you can always find something that has to do with current events; if you look hard enough, you "can find Mickey Mouse in the Bible and Kermit the Frog on the moon."

To give another example, Nostradamus predicted a great war between Christians and Moslems; you can call it "the Crusades revisited."  Well, there have been Christian-Moslem wars in nearly every century that both religions have been around.  In Nostradamus' time, the Ottoman Turks tried to conquer Central Europe.  They tried again in the seventeenth century, and Poland saved the day for Christianity at the gates of Vienna.  Religious wars were out of fashion in the eighteenth century, but in the nineteenth century there was the Mahdist revolt in Sudan, and the conquest of most of the Islamic world (Africa, Central Asia, India and Southeast Asia) by Christian Europe.  Then in the twentieth century we had Christian vs. Moslem wars in Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, Chechnya and East Timor.  Finally, we've had the global War On Terror since the twenty-first century began.  So when Nostradamus talks about a great leader rising up in the Islamic world, is he talking about Suleiman the Magnificent, Osama bin Laden, or somebody else altogether?

The truth of the matter is that Nostradamus has a poor track record.  In The Complete Prophecies of Nostradomes, H.C. Roberts juggled facts and dates to make the seer look good, but failed badly when Nostradamus tried to give exact dates.  For example:

1.  He predicted that astrologers would be persecuted in 1607.  This didn't happen, and Roberts made matters worse by saying Nostradamus didn't mean 1607, but 1932.  Oops, they weren't persecuted in 1932, either.

2.  The downfall of the Catholic clergy in 1609.  There is still a pope in Rome, so I don't think that has happened yet.

3.  By 1700, China "would subdue the whole northern section" of the world.  In the late 1600s, China had an outstanding emperor named Kangxi, who conquered Taiwan and Mongolia and signed a treaty with the Russians that gave him much of present-day Siberia.  However, after him the Chinese surge petered out; they couldn't beat the Westerners when they arrived in force, or even stop the Japanese from trespassing in their front yard.

4.  By 1792, Venice would become a great power and influence, not only in Italy but throughout the world.  This is a case of a prediction coming after the fact, not before.  Venice was a very important city in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but then Napoleon destroyed its thousand-year-old republic in 1797, and it hasn't amounted to much since then.

5.  Beginning in 1792, persecution of the Catholic Church would be more severe than previous persecutions of the Church in North Africa.  Well, there was persecution of the Church during the French Revolution, but whereas the North African Church ceased to exist, except in Egypt, the Catholic Church is still going strong today.

Some of the predictions made on the History Channel special have been made before, and like #1 above, have simply been recycled with new dates.  I remember a book from the 1980s, Nostradamus Predicts the End of the World, by Rene Noorbergen, that laid out a blow-by-blow account of what would happen during World War III.  Among the events Noorbergen interpreted from the quatrains were these:

1.  Russia would discard communism and become friendly to the United States.

2.  The war begins in 1992, and ends in 1996.  It involves the Americans, Russians and most of Europe on one side, and the Chinese and Arabs (the "Eastern Powers") on the other.

3.  An asteroid slams into the Indian Ocean, causing a tsunami that devastates much of Africa and Asia, and that would be the trigger that starts the war.

4.  As the Eastern Powers advance, they will make heavy use of germ and tactical nuclear weapons, decimating the human race in the process.

5.  Israel would be one of the first countries destroyed in the Eastern offensive.  Turkey and Africa would be overrun next, followed by assaults on Europe from the Mediterranean.

6.  The pope would be captured, and eventually he dies in an Albanian prison.

7.  The UK would be eliminated when all of England except London sinks into the Atlantic.  Eventually Europe would be conquered, except for Russia, with the advancing armies finally stopping at Bruges, Belgium.

8.  When the Chinese attack South America and Russia, the desperate Americans and Russians unleash their nuclear arsenal, literally bombing China back to the stone age.

9.  Now that the Arabs are alone, the tide of war turns against them.  The liberation of Europe begins with landings in Scotland.  A French general becomes commander of the Western forces after his country is freed.

10.  The final battle of the war is fought in eastern Iran, mostly likely in the Dasht-i-Kavir desert.

With all those predictions, the only one that came true was #1.  Now the dates for World War III have been moved back, from 1992-1996 to 2008-2012.  If at first you don't succeed . . .

The Daniel Factor

Personally I think 2012 could be a red-letter year, and it has nothing to do with the Maya calendar or Nostradamus.  Instead, I'm wondering about a prophecy in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Daniel.  I’m quoting from the Blue Letter Bible, in case you’d like to check out the verses for yourself:

Daniel 12:11 = "And from the time [that] the daily [sacrifice] shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, [there shall be] a thousand two hundred and ninety days."

Daniel 12:12 = "Blessed [is] he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days."

A lot of people think the 1,290 days mentioned in 12:11 is the Great Tribulation, the terrible time right before the Lord comes. But in other verses of Daniel and Revelation, 1,260 days are assigned to the Great Tribulation, not 1,290. My church in Florida chose a different interpretation: the 1,290 "days" refer to years, like the "seventy weeks" in Daniel 9, and the "Abomination that maketh desolate" refers to the time when Jews cannot pray or make offerings on the Temple Mount, due to the Moslem shrines up there. They went on to suggest that "1,290 days" means the years from 677 to 1967; at the end of that period, the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated in the Six Day War.  The Dome of the Rock was built near the beginning of that period, most likely in 691, so what could have happened there in 677? Perhaps that was when the other major site on the Temple Mount, the Al Aqsa Mosque, was converted into a Moslem holy place; previously it had been a church.

Now assuming all this is right, what about the "1,335 days" mentioned in the 12th verse? If we follow the same logic, then the 45th year after the end of the "1,290 days" is important. That would be the year 2012 (1967+45=2012). Will this be the year when the Jews finally work up enough courage to take back the Temple Mount, something Gershon Salomon and the Temple Mount Faithful Movement have been calling for since Moshe Dayan gave it back to the Arabs in 1967? Or will this be the year when Israel finally achieves a just and lasting peace? I don’t think it will happen the way today’s politicians want it, through negotiations alone. In the past, true peace only came through victory, when one side beat the other so badly that the loser said, to quote Chief Joseph, "I will fight no more, forever." Especially in the Middle East, where "cease-fire" means the same thing in both Hebrew and Arabic: "RELOAD!" Will 2012 be the date of the last war in the Arab-Israeli conflict, perhaps even the Armageddon many expect to see on the eve of the Messiah’s arrival?

I’m not going to declare that 2012 will be the year when the Messiah comes, because Jesus said in the Gospels that He is coming at a time when nobody will expect it. Still, I have a feeling that the next five years are going to be special, whatever happens. Stay tuned!

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