Byline: DAVID HAGGITH
MANY have predicted the end of the world, but the most disturbing and awe-inspiring prophecies of all lie in the Bible's Book of Revelation. In a provocative new work, the respected American Bible scholar David Haggith unravels the book's dense symbolism to produce some astonishing conclusions.
In Saturday's Mail, he provided a compelling new reading of the story of the Antichrist. Today, he finds fascinating new insights in the Bible's account of humanity's last days ...
HE WAS a man in his 90s, very near death, imprisoned in a penal colony that was the Alcatraz of its day. His only crime had been to stay true to his religious beliefs. But now, on a rocky island under the merciless Mediterranean sun, he was forced to work as slave labour, quarrying marble to beautify the palaces of his captors.
Half-starved, cut off from his friends and followers, he endured conditions that must have pushed his body to the limits of endurance. Much younger slaves had died under the same whip.
But this prisoner of conscience refused to buckle. His name was John the Evangelist, and it was while he was a Roman prisoner on the island of Patmos around AD96, that he wrote his Apocalypse - a vision of the end of the world so terrible that it has haunted Man's imagination ever since.
Apocalypse does not mean 'holocaust' or 'catastrophe', as many suppose. It means a prophetic revelation of truth, and comes from a Greek word that translates as 'the lifting of a veil'.
Together with other apocalyptic works - particularly the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament - John's Book of Revelation provides what many Christians see as a precise guide to the form and timing of the Earth's destruction.
That idea will seem preposterous to many in our sceptical age. But I believe that John's description of the natural disasters that will herald the world's end tie in with the latest discoveries of science.
And events in recent decades offer compelling evidence that the apocalyptic clock is ticking - and that we could discover the truth of John's prophecies sooner than we might think. To learn why, we need to look more closely at the circumstances in which the Book of Revelation was written.
JOHN had probably been sent to Patmos for refusing to worship the Roman emperor Domitian, though some scholars believe he was exiled earlier under Nero.
If the Romans had hoped to silence him, they failed spectacularly.
Ironically, it may have been the sheer intensity of his suffering at their hands that helped him to write his great book.
The conditions imposed on John were merely an intensification of the ascetic life chosen by Christian prophets. Fasting and isolation were seen as the route to achieve the altered state of consciousness in which visions could be achieved.
John's agonies as a prisoner of the Romans may have had much the same effect. Without doubt, the strange and terrifying images that fill his book suggest that - momentarily at least - he had escaped this world and seen into the next.
But in other ways, his book was rooted in the political realities of the world around him. He was writing at a time of great turmoil, following the destruction of Jerusalem and the sacred Jewish Temple by the Romans in AD70.
This is one of the most important moments of Jewish history. The first Temple had been built by King Solomon and laid waste by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.
Rebuilt by Herod, it was the glory of Israel and a place so holy that even the high priest could enter its inner sanctum only once a year.
Destruction descended after the Jews staged a revolt against the Roman empire. A band of extremists known as Zealots seized the Temple as their stronghold, in an act of desecration that prompted fellow Jews to turn against them.
A GREAT slaughter ensued …