End of Days: Predictions of the End From Ancient Sources
Considering the challenges humanity faces today, from total environmental destruction to the continuing threat of nuclear annihilation, could we really be facing the end of the world as we have known it this time? And, if we survive, will our future be utopian or dystopian? More
Considering the challenges humanity faces today, from total environmental destruction to the continuing threat of nuclear annihilation, could we really be facing the end of the world as we have known it this time? And, if we survive, will our future be utopian or dystopian? The author explores these issues, and then details the eschatological traditions of Judeo-Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, the Maya, and prophecies of the end in other ancient cultures.
All major world religions have an apocalyptic myth similar to the New Testament book, Revelation. All of the myths have the same story elements: evil rises, good decreases in the last days. Destruction of the old world is inevitable and where things are at their worst, a messiah figure arrives to the lead the forces of good against the forces of evil. This is a cosmos-wide war, and evil will ultimately be vanquished. All of humanity is judged at this point. Those who have done good during their lives inherit a new world in which even the possiblity of evil does not exist. Those who have done evil will be cast out of human society forever.
This myth orginated in Zoroastrian, the ancient religion of Persia, and from there spread to India, where it can be found in the Vishnu Puranas, which influenced Buddhism.
Jews who had been taken into captivity in Babylon were eventually freed when Persia conquered Babylonia. When they returned the came back with the Zoroastrian belief that no evil can exist in God so there must be a second cosmic force of evil that is opposed to God. This was heresy, since in the Old Testament, God contains, and is responsible for, both good and evil.
A scapegoat was needed, so the returning Jews picked Satan who, in the Hebrew Bible, is not a fallen angel, much less an adversary of God. Indeed, Satan was God's secret agent testing humanity.
In this way, radical dualism entered into Judaism not long before the time of Jesus, and Satan was reinvented as the leader of an evil empire. This heresy passed into Christianity, and Satan was blamed for all enemies and heretics.
Evil's personification was an invention of late Judaism, and entirely incompatible to the Bible, AKA The Old Testament. By the time of Jesus, this radical dualism gave rise to Judeo-Christian and Islamic myths about the end of the world as we know it.
Eschatological myths are very violent and predicts destruction, but each myth is ultimate founded on the hope for the perfection of humanity. Eschatology and apocalypticism in the end is actually optimistic and utopian.