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the year 2000
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PAUL BOYER

With all of this interest at the end of this millennium, what is the difference between the millennium, the year 2000, and when we talk in apocalyptic terms about the Millennium?

Boyer is the Merle Curti Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

(more about Boyer)

There's a lot of confusion about the meaning of the word "millennium," because literally it simply comes from the Latin word for one thousand. So every time the calendar turns over a thousand years, a new millennium is beginning. There's another meaning entirely, which is the sacred meaning from the Bible. In the Book of Revelation we find reference to the thousand year reign of Christ when he returns to earth. That's the big Millennium, the Millennium with a capital M. I think what's happening in the popular mind perhaps is a confusion between this small-m millennium, the year 2000 beginning, and the biblical thousand year reign of justice and peace.

How prevalent is the belief that the year 2000 will coincide with the Millenium, do you believe?

On New Year's Day in 1987, and I was picking up a friend in Los Angeles at the airport. And being a good academic, I had taken along some research to do. And I happened to be reading a paperback called How To Recognize the Antichrist. I went into the lounge to wait, and there was a couple at the bar, having a drink, laughing, talking, not paying any attention to me, so far as I could tell. As they left, the man approached me, saw what I was reading, and said very seriously, "Do you think you will recognize the Antichrist?" And I said, "Well, I'm not sure. I haven't finished the book yet." And he continued in a very serious vein, and said, "Well, I think he's coming very soon, and so far as I'm concerned, the sooner the better," and disappeared into the crowd. It was one of those moments when, you know, all the research I had been doing sort of suddenly connected with the real world. And I realized, yes, there are millions of people who take this belief system very, very seriously. ...

I think there are probably people who believed that Bible prophecy belief was going to gradually fade out, particularly with the end of the Cold War. I don't see it. As I sort of sense contemporary trends in our culture, it strikes me that if anything, it's gaining momentum. Certainly the fact that the year 2000 is nearly upon us, the fact that there's so much attention to the Y2K issue, has added to the general sense of apprehension, the general sense of edginess in our culture. Assuming we get safely past the year 2000, it may be that there will be a slackening off. But at present, it seems to me, the level of intensity associated with apocalyptic belief is really almost at an all time high in our culture.


EUGENE GALLAGHER

What do you think is going to happen in Jerusalem at the year 2000?

Gallagher is the Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College.

(more about Gallagher)

Among the things that might happen, with the year 2000, maybe not precisely on January 1st, or the December 31st, - January 1st period, but throughout the dates that would mark significant events in the history of Jesus, for example, is a large influx of Christian pilgrims into Jerusalem. Some of those Christian pilgrims, some authorities fear, may want to hasten the end of the world by taking some kind of action, either against Jewish holy places or against Muslim holy places, or simply at Christian holy places. If those things turn violent, that would be a problem. I think that is widely acknowledged to be an expectation only of the most marginal members of the Christian groups that will be coming to Jerusalem for the year 2000. ...

Be prophetic for a moment. What's going happen over the next couple of years? There's a lot of expectation focused on this time.

I tend to think that what characterizes this apocalyptic moment is more the general public's awareness of the moment, than the rate or sheer number of apocalyptic movements. I think that apocalypticism has been one of the most powerful streams of thinking in western history, and it has rarely been absent in any decade for twenty-five hundred years or so. But that the government's and general public's attention to apocalyptic movements has ebbed and flowed. So what I think characterises this moment, now, is that more people are paying attention to it. Not necessarily that more people are doing it. ... What's happening is that we have an apocalyptic spotlight being turned onto groups that have previously acted in the shadows. Now the question becomes whether that inflames the groups and drives them to more apocalyptic fervour, or whether it simply just brings them to our attention. And that's something that we won't know until things play themselves out. I expect that there will be certain prominent apocalyptic incidents in the next year or two. I certainly hope they don't involve any loss of life, either through groups turning against themselves, or through less carefully thought out responses by law enforcement and governments. But I think that when the year 2000 starts to fade into the distance behind us, that doesn't mean at all that millennial groups will do the same. They'll still be there. The general public might not be paying as much attention to them, but they'll definitely still be there. They're not gonna go away.

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