Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil

Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil

Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil

Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil

Synopsis

In this timely and sweeping exploration, one of the greatest living historians of Christian thought traces the concept of Antichrist from its Judeo-Christian origins to the present day. Rooted in Second Temple Judaism--a period of intense religious and political disruption--Antichrist developed out of belief in malevolent angelic and human forces. McGinn demonstrates how Antichrist has often reflected the human need to comprehend the persistence of evil in the world, and examines how it has haunted popular imagination in both the form of indivuduals--such as Nero, Napoleon, and Saddam Hussein--and groups--Jews, heretics, Muslims.

Excerpt

One generation in three has the chance to witness the end of a century, but only one generation in more than thirty gets to confront the close of a millennium. However skeptical the contemporary “postmodern” world may think itself to be about the possibility of knowing the future, it is likely that this final decade of the last century of the second millennium of the Christian era will produce an abundant crop of predictions regarding the coming third millennium, as well as fears that the end of history itself may be near.

According to a view popular in the nineteenth century, the turn from the first to the second millennium C.E. was greeted by terrors throughout western Europe as the populace awaited the onslaught of Antichrist and the coming of the Last Judgment. Upon waking up on New Year's Day in 1000 C.E. (it should really have been 1001, a thousand years from the traditional date for Christ's birth), the supposed universal relief that the world had not ended gave rise to concerted efforts to begin building a new and better world.

Historical fables like the “Terrors of the Year 1000” have a way of reproducing themselves as real events. In all likelihood some will view the approaching year 2000 in terms of such foreboding, perhaps even fearing the imminence of Antichrist. If they were to search hard enough, these contemporary speculators could even find ancient prophecies predicting the end of the world for the year 2000. For example, a treatise of one Scheltco à Geveren, translated into English in 1578, adapted Talmudic passages on the six-thousand-year duration of the world as follows: “Two thousand Vayne, two thousande Lawe, two thousand Christe. And for our sinnes whiche are many and marveylous, some yeares which are wantyng, shal not be expired.” The “many and marvelyous” sins of the sixteenth century were apparently insufficient to shorten the end, but the Protestant . . .

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