Posted by: ken98 | November 18, 2009

The End of the World: 112 or 2012?

Day 69 – Ken here
(DEF v.1, ch.15, pp.460-470)

It’s not midnight, it’s not even dinner time yet (well, now it is – after I’ve written/rewritten all this over and over again), so I AM writing earlier in the day – a sign of incipient discipline perhaps.

I have to say (and complain) the next 2 chapters may be a little slow blogging-reading-wise, and blogger-wise (complain, complain) unless your’e a fundamentalist theology student (which I kind of used to be), in which case, you’ll be as incensed as the first readers of these chapters were in England in the 1770’s. Gibbon’s chapters on Christianity (15,16) are not for the faint-hearted – he’s at the 18th century near-cutting edge of combining history, reason, and Christianity together to see what shakes out. A man of the Enlightenment, (in a word), he’s a man on the edge, he’s got Reason and he’s not afraid to use it.

I don’t know about these 2 chapters. I had a ton of History of Christianity and Medieval and Late Antique History, and all of this seems pretty obvious to me (and, of course, I am living almost 250 years of research later). I have to say, though, when Gibbon says it all (even if it’s somewhat predictable), with his wit, sarcasm, and eminent reasonableness, he makes it enjoyable, and relatively effortless to read (even the footnotes – no especially the footnotes – the footnotes are where are all the action is).

But enough of this preamble – on to today’s reading…

The Story

Reasons for Growth of Christianity – Zeal of Christians

  • Brief description of Christians and the extent of idolatry – sacrifices/polytheism pervaded civic life – made life very difficult for early christian converts
  • Reasons for Growth – new emphasis on immortality of the soul
  • Reasons for Growth – very imminent approach of the end of the world, Millenialism
  • Gibbon briefly discusses why John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) was not accepted, but got into the Bible by a backdoor
  • Saint Denis (patron saint of Paris) holding his head in the left portal of Notre Dame in Paris.  In Latin, St. Dionysius, he was confused/conflated with Pseudo-Dionysius, who had previously been confused/conflated with Dionysius the Areopagite, the converted judge in Acts in the Bible - whew!!!

    Saint Denis (patron saint of Paris) holding his head in the left portal of Notre Dame in Paris. In Latin, St. Dionysius, he was confused/conflated with Pseudo-Dionysius, who had previously been confused/conflated with Dionysius the Areopagite, the converted judge in Acts in the Bible - whew!!!

    How the Apocalypse snuck into the Bible
    What an intricate and strange story!
    Gibbon spends over a page and some significant footnoting showing how the book made it into the Bible. Actually, the list of approved and unapproved books varied considerably over the centuries. Gibbon makes the point: “In the Council of Laodicea (about the year 360) the Apocalypse was tacitly excluded from the sacred canon, by the same churches of Asia to which it is addressed… and that their sentence had been ratified by the greater number of Christians of (that) time.” (DEF v.1, ch.15, p.468-9, fn.67). So, its NOT in the Bible.

    Wrong. The Greek church (separate, and greater than the Roman church in the 300’s-600’s because it had THE imperial city, Constantinople, as its center) set the standard books of the Bible in the late 500’s through a mystical philosopher/theologian Psuedo-Dionysius the Areopagite who somehow wrote and claimed to be the same judge (Dionysius) of the Areopagus converted to Christianity in the book of Acts 500 years earlier.

    In the West, where Dionysius is translated (in French) as Denis, the pseudo-Dionysius of the 500’s was confused and conflated (mixed together) with Saint Denis, martyred in 250 (during our friend the emperor Decius reign) and the patron saint of Paris. Somehow, Dionysius left Athens in Greece and died in northern France 200 years later during a persecution. His work was venerated, honored, copied, and saved for being all of the above 3 famous people in one.

    Later, the bishops attending the Council of Trent, in a move to restrict the new power of the schools (ex. Paris, Oxford) and their new theology, ruled that the then-current books of the Latin Vulgate (including at this point in history, the Apocalypse) were infallible. Thus, in a back door kind of way, letters and books collected as a part of a single book (the Bible) became holy and incontrovertible.

    Council of Trent

    Council of Trent

    Apocalypse - Albrech Durer's woodcut - The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - one of my favorites, even if it wouldn't have been approved by the Council of Laodicea

    Apocalypse - Albrecht Durer's woodcut - The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - one of my favorites, even if it wouldn't have been approved by the Council of Laodicea


    What the end of the World originally meant
    As Gibbon points out: “It was universally believed, that the end of the world, and the kingdom of Heaven, were at hand.” (DEF, v.1, ch.15, p.467). This means literally “very soon” – no ifs, ands, or buts. The attitude of the early church was that in a short period of time – one or two lifetimes at the most, the world would end and Jesus return. Gibbon continues, tongue in cheek: “the revolution of seventeen centuries has instructed us not to press too closely the mysterious language of prophecy.” *DEF v.1, ch.15, p.467). And now, we stand, 20+ centuries out, and our society is gaga over Millenialism. You’d think we’d know better. Especially with the amount of research that has now been accomplished in Late Antique history, and the much better understanding we have know of the book of the Apocalypse – a pretty iffy book to start out with.

    AND now its a major motion picture too – 2012! (now that’s a conflation – of continents, cultures, and centuries – I guess Millennialism is a sure-fire seller no matter what society your’e a part of – 1st-Century Roman, or 21st Century American)

    2012 Poster for Film - another Apocalypse - not Biblical, not Mayan, it's Hollywoodian

    2012 Poster for Film - another Apocalypse - not Biblical, not Mayan, it's Hollywoodian

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