Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millenial Rhetoric

Article excerpt

As THE YEAR 2000 APPROACHES, fascination with the Book of Revelation, and with apocalyptic ideas generally, will continue to grow. In this book O'Leary applies rhetorical theory to select moments in the history of Christian apocalyptic thought, including the Book of Revelation itself and Augustine's "antiapocalyptic eschatology," but focusing on the Millerite movement of the 1840s (William Miller predicted the end of the world in 1843-44) and the writings of popular contemporary author Hal Lindsey (the formation of Israel in 1948 started the "countdown to Armageddon"). O'Leary offers a sympathetic rhetorical analysis of apocalyptic argumentation, which centers, he thinks, in the claim that "the world is coming to an end." He suggests that narratives concerned with the End stem from the human need to make sense of the reality of evil; the solution is to announce the imminent end of time, which will also entail an end to evil's reign. Paradoxically, this announcement produces a community of believers who-as the End fails to materialize-must draw a new map of their place in history. …