12-21-2012: Apocalypse Now, Later or Never?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Will the year 2012 spell the end of life on Earth as we know it?

Columbia Pictures’ upcoming disaster movie 2012 suggests that it will. Based loosely on interpretations of the Mayan long count calendar, which ends its 5,125-year cycle on December 21, 2012, the movie’s trailer features the tagline, “Mankind’s earliest civilization warned us this day was coming.”

But judging by the track records of other ancient apocalyptic traditions, we probably have nothing to worry about, says Allen Kerkeslager, Ph.D., associate professor of theology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Kerkeslager has taught courses dealing with the apocalyptic traditions of other ancient cultures including Persian Zoroastrians and early Jewish groups.

Those drawn to concepts of the apocalypse for religious and cultural reasons have often pointed to various events in history as signs of a coming Armageddon, Kerkeslager says. “People who want to emphasize an apocalyptic end often look at natural disasters as signs,” he says. “They’ll say earthquakes, famines, floods and wars signify an imminent end, but the problem with that is there have always been earthquakes, famines, floods and wars.”

The desecration of the Jewish temple in 168 B.C. is one such historical event.  This led to apocalyptic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Daniel, which predicted a coming apocalypse in the following 1,290 days, Kerkeslager says. However, it was an apocalypse that never happened.

However, according to Kerkeslager, prophecies of a coming annihilation, like Daniel’s, have been wrong regardless of the religion or culture from which they originate for the simple fact that there has yet to be a great watery or fiery end, despite thousands of years' worth of prophecies.

And what about concerns of a possible 2012 doomsday?

“If anything does happen it’ll be pure coincidence,” says Kerkeslager. Apocalyptic prophecies are not completely without merit, however. Though they’ve proven to be inaccurate and unreliable, they at least provide the framework for blockbuster Hollywood disaster movies like 2012, as Kerkeslager notes.

Media Contact

Kerkeslager can be reached for comment at allen.kerkeslager@sju.edu, 610-660-1121, or by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222, ucomm@sju.edu

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