Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages

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9780674040809: Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages

Apocalyptic visions and prophecies from Zarathustra to yesterday form the luxuriant panorama in Eugen Weber's profound and elegant book. Beginning with the ancients of the West and the Orient and, especially, with those from whom we received our religions, the Jews and earliest Christians, Weber finds that an absolute belief in the end of time, when good would do final battle with evil, was omnipresent. Within centuries, apocalyptic beliefs inspired Crusades, scientific discoveries, works of art, voyages such as those of Columbus, rebellions and reforms. In the new world, American abolitionists, who were so critical to the movement to end slavery, believed in a final reckoning. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries' apocalyptic movements veered toward a lunatic fringe, and Weber rescues them from obloquy. From this more than two millennia history, he redresses the historical and religious amnesia that has consigned the study of apocalypses and millennial thought to the ash heap of thought and belief.

Weber, a master storyteller, turns detective in this latest book as he finds these alternative rationalities in the West, Asia, Africa, and South America. He writes with profound respect for the millennial pulse in history while never losing his urbane and witty style of writing. As we approach our second millennium beset by a host of apocalyptic predictions and cults, this book offers a map of understanding of the creeds we ignore at our peril.

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Review:

Plagues, fires from heaven, worldwide computer failure--apocalyptic visions are nothing new. Indeed, they may well be a necessary part of life. As historian Eugen Weber points out, "apocalyptic prophesies are attempts to interpret the times, console and guide, and suggest the future." In Apocalypses: Prophesies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages, Weber presents a history of end-of-the-worldisms, such as the panics during the sack of Rome in A.D. 410, multiple medieval Second Comings, Yeats's prediction of a "Celtic Armageddon" in 1899, and late-20th-century fears. This is no mere laundry list, however; Weber analyzes each of these beliefs and uses their historical contexts to make them more understandable. Weber's witty prose is tempered by an obvious respect for those with "alternative rationalities." Most readers, however, will enjoy watching these millennial beliefs recur throughout history--and perhaps breathe a sigh of relief. As Weber argues, St. Augustine's advice continues to ring true today: rather than trying to reckon the years before the end of the world, "relax your fingers and give them a little rest."

From the Inside Flap:

Eugen Weber delivered the Barbara Frum Historical Lecture, based on Apocalypses, at the University of Toronto in March 1999. This annual lecture "on a subject of contemporary history in historical perspective" was established in memory of Barbara Frum.

Apocalypses

Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages

The Barbara Frum Historical Lectureship

A national bestseller

What drove eminent historian Eugen Weber to write Apocalypses? His desire to redress the historical and religious amnesia that has consigned the study of apocalyptic and millennialist thought to the lunatic fringe. An absolute belief in the end time was omnipresent until the 17th century, and retains many adherents even now. Apocalyptic visions and prophecies inspired crusades, scientific discoveries, works of art, voyages such as those of Columbus, rebellions and reforms. Elegantly written, as witty and entertaining as it is profound, Apocalypses displays Eugen Weber's talents as a stylist and historical detective; this is more a travel book of the apocalypse than a definitive academic treatment. On the eve of a billennium beset by a host of apocalyptic predictions and cults, Apocalypses offers a sympathetic review of creeds we ignore at our peril.

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