apocalypse!

As the third millennium approaches, what are your thoughts about this FRONTLINE report on the enduring power of apocalyptic belief?

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Dear FRONTLINE,

I have seen the pbs specials on Bibical topics in the last couple years and I find them deceptive and dishonest. As a student of many of these subjects I am aware of that there is little consensus in modern scholarship on many of these topics, yet these specials present the information as if all the scholars agree. As one familiar with these disagreements, I can even see the various view points the given experts have, but the nararation and dialouge are woven together to present the information as if the scholars agree on what is presented. Not acknowledging the wide diversity of opinions is what I find dishonest and deceptive.

Dave Vanderpol

Dear FRONTLINE,

You show completely left out the Islamic thoughts and traditions on the subject. As a Muslim American, I thought the conclusion was biased and only put forth the ideas in Christianity and Judiasm. The show did not reflect on the Islamic thoughts or traditions which could have made this show more interesting and educational. And it would have also shown how closely Islam is aligned with Christianity and Judiasm.

Rashad Chowdhury
Rockville, Maryland

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think the Bible has a lot of good in it, but I am very concerned that an American power structure not be assembled that is based on any "literal" reading of ancient documents with the exceptions of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Otherwise we dive into looneyism. Sorry if that offends; it is nonetheless as true as anything you'll ever read anywhere. Great show, please play it again.

Tom Paterson
Houston, Tx

Dear FRONTLINE,

Fascinating collection of information on the subject. Congratulations to this web page, which would be a statement to those who came after us if there was an end to us. Just a suggestion on completeness, search on Ragnarok Ragnar–k which in Norse Mythology describes a period of three winters with no summer in between, the sun goes black, etc. These well documented beliefs are worth mentioning as well, for the Vikings who influensed 2/3 of Europe during the early middle ages.

Michael Ahlberg
Brisbane, Queensland

Dear FRONTLINE,

After reading many of the letters you have received, I would like to comment more on people's perspectives rather than your show. Although I believe some of your theologians and scholars were decidedly biased against Christianity, I think that the content was well put.

However, to take on a considered "religious issue" and try to make it "secular" is impossible. Therefore, I would suggest not to hide certain biases, but to use those in a discussion to better make opinions known rather than disguising it as fact.

Jessica D'Amico
Franklin, TN

Dear FRONTLINE,

While there was good treatment of some of the information presented, I was bothered--as I was with this production group's earlier presentation on Jesus--with the way in which scholarly opinion was presented. One cannot simply say "biblical scholars believe..." and then present one unified opinion or interpretation. To make the interpretation of the Bible's apocalyptic material seem as uniform as did the program is a disservice to scholars and viewers. In the Jesus programs, it was even worse, with scholars from a certain perspective chosen as though all would agree with them.
It was also annoying to have so much focus again paid to the opinions of Dr. White. Why is he the primary voice in both programs? Why were the thoughts of other scholars--some with much more recognized reputations in the world of biblical studies--reduced to what amounted to sound bites?
Some of the viewer responses have commended you for your evenhandedness and written off criticism as the result of closed minds. This is rather unfortunate. While viewers have no doubt come away with more information about apocalyptic, they have not been exposed to other reasoned, scholarly interpretations. You would serve viewers better if you either included more varied schools of thought OR prefaced your programs with the acknowledgement that the ideas presented are not necessarily held by all scholars or even by all adherents of faiths and sects that may be presented.
Thanks for listening--and keep trying. We're rooting for you and appreciate your attempts for quality journalism.

Alan Howe
Berkeley, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline:

I think that Frontline should have examined the assertion by one of your interviewees that David Koresh aka Vernon Howell had "had studied with Orthodox Rabbis " while in Israel. Koresh-
a High School drop out never documented the type of Hebrew language fluency that is a prerequisite to such study and it seems highly unlikely that any Orthodox Rabbis would accomodate Koresh's fanatical Christian milleneism into Orthodox Yeshivah study.

Stuart Andelman

Dear FRONTLINE,

In an excellent presentation of apocalyptic history, you demonstrate that some segment of every generation needs an apocalypse. Apocalyptic teaching has always been based on two fundamental principles: 1you will find relief from the oppression and suffering which surrounds you and 2the onesthat cause your oppression will be destroyed through some miraculous intervention.
At one time or another, all of us have felt a desire to be "redeemed" from our suffering. For many, religious apocalyptic theology is the perfect channel for seeking this redemption. Maybe that explains a multi-billion dollar industry. Tell the oppressed what they want to hear.
One final thought. You had the perfect opportunity to query a current leader in apocalyptic teaching about his timetable of the end. Hal Lindsey and those in his camp have made much about the rapture, tribulation and final victory occurring sometime in the 1990s. It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on January 1, 2000.

C.A. Downing
Hampton, Va

Dear FRONTLINE,

I thought this evenings' "Apocalypse" program was actually fairly balanced at least by 'Frontline' standards; however, I don't think a comparison can be drawn between David Koresh and Heaven's Gate. Koresh was probably mistaken about the Bible, and maybe even delusional, but being wrong about the Bible until recently isn't grounds for an armed attack. This was a media event gone wrong, and subsequently covered up. The Branch Dividians are, in my view, a modern version of Wounded Knee.

Bill Wilmeth

Dear FRONTLINE,

Ah Frontline! So eloquent. So graphic. So abominably "left sided".

Well, at least it can be said that you share valuable information and give your viewers much to think about.

What I just can't understand is your narrow focus, that is, your obsession with only one brand of Biblical scholar...all of the same ilk we might say.

Just an example or two:
1. You actually put your name to the B.C. 164 hypothesis of Daniel???
Even a cursory glance at archeology would have given you a case of apoplexy. It's been decades since the discovery of Belshazzar and a host of other proofs that embarrassed the "old view" of the 2nd Century date for Daniel. The problem is simply that if Daniel indeed lived 600 years before Christ---well, then we've got to deal with something out of the ordinary, and that seems a bit too steep a hill for the "unbiased liberal" scholar to climb...

2. The nuances! Yes indeed, the nuances!
I guess it's fun to paint "Revelation Proclaimers" with one brush, kinda like a half-finished research paperÖ
Could FRONTLINE really keep a straight face with some of the outrageous generalizations and "combinations" that pockmarked your program?

If one had truly been conversant with Millerism maybe to be fair? it would have been ethically impossible to even remotely link the movement with the fervor of Koresh and Crowd. I won't take time to detail all the reasons, but let me just blurt this: Koresh and his henchmen built a movement out of hate, guns and fingerpointing; Miller built whether one agrees or not a movement based on a conviction that a Friend by the name of Jesus Christ was dropping by for an important visit. And while both movements expressed fervor, Millerites never barricaded themselves in literal confrontation with society...Millerites were simply focused on a goal---even if misapplied---and only found themselves "different" when they happened to "glance around" and see that all were not participating. Now those behaviors and beliefs can hardly be compared with a guy holing up in a building with stacks of guns and ammo...

'Nuff for now...no, on second thought, one more thing: Seventh-day Adventists, contrary to your web site, never had to disassociate with Davidians as the 'naughty child' because its proponents had been expelled from the church in 1938 which, by the way, even you note in a backhanded way.

In other words, for over 50 years there has been NO connection, other than harassment by Davidians, with the Seventh-day Adventist Church....Adventists never have countenanced "Annie-get-your-gun" behavior

Will wrap it up for now...

Sincerely,

David Grams

David Grams
Lima, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

I just watched part 2 of Fronline, The Apocalypse. Although much of the program was well done it often left false impressions. Probably the most glaring false impression was the idea that Martin Luther invented the identification of the Pope as the Antichrist. In fact that identification was popular in Medieval times among those who wished to reform the church. It is found, for instance, in Dante's Purgatorio, canto 32. Luther merely took up an old theme for his new reformation movement.
Other misleading bits include the idea that 1260 years was derived from complicated mathematical juggling of dates from the book of Revelation. In fact the number comes direct from one verse of Revelation 12:6and is usually equated with the "42 months" and the "3 1/2 years" also mentioned in Revelation. The leap is to identify the "days" as years, not to do any calculations.
Likewise the methodology of William Miller was not new to the New England farmer, but had a long history including such commentators as Sir Isaac Newton.
The viewpoint of this series could have been a bit broader.

Jim Miller
Madison, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

It is refreshing to get a reasonable historical perspective regarding this subject. In day to day readings, conversations,religious shows, etc., there is usually so much emotional energy involved which prevents a rational discussion of such topics.

George Pennington
Elizabethtown, KY

Dear FRONTLINE,

Although this proposal might get you in trouble given the political and religious disputes that rage in the US, I think FRONTLINE has an excellent opportunity to help its viewers gain a better understanding of the divide between right and left in American Christianity on subjects like Biblical inerrancy, divine inspiration, prophesy, etc. Many Christians totally speak past each other without understanding, and some of the e-mail you're getting illustrates the divide. Why not help viewers gain insight into this so that they can engage in conversation rather than heated argument? Your past treatments of Jesus and apocalyptic belief make you well-suited for the task. The people who have insight into the reasons for this divide are ensconced and unheard in our theological seminaries, and hearing their voices would shed primarily light not heat.

This would be a fascinating topic, given the historical roots of America's various denominations and the doctrinal/liturgical decisions they have made. In fact, the different versions of the Bible NRSV, NIV, KJV, etc. that are in use serve as useful, tangible flags for these different perspectives that anyone who owns a Bible will be interested in hearing about.

Well, FRONTLINE, what would you say to the idea of a 4-hour piece on the subject? Break new ground!

Clint Brass
Arlington, VA

Dear FRONTLINE,

After perusing the many dismayed Christian responses, I would like to make a couple points. First, Christian philosophy often promotes the position "If you're not for us, then you're against us." Thus, a non-biased analysis of anything biblical will be seen as anti-Christian, atheistic, blasphemous, secular, liberal, etc. Second, this has led some to wrongely suggest that PBS consult with pro-Christian theologians, somehow implying that a Christian perspective will give balance to history. Let us not forget, these shows achieve objectivity by remaining exclusively historical and considering only the non-negotiable facts excepting, of course, the Orthodox Greek-Book of Revelation issue, which has been promptly resolved. If these somehow challenge a particular faith, then perhaps we should wonder why history denies rather than confirms that faith. Displeasure with Frontline's content should not necessarily be attributed to misconduct on the part of PBS. I believe Apocalypse! effectively places Christianity in the context of historical reality, nothing more and nothing less. Well done, PBS!

Stephen Guilliot
Nashville, TN

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thanks for the wonderful program on the Apocalypse materials.
As with many of these programs, the only focus is on the Christian interpretation of Revelation. At least two other major world religions, Islam and the Baha'i Faith, also accept these books as part of their revelation but have markedly different interpretations of the apocalyptic predictions held in this one part of the New Testament. For both of these other religions, many of the predictions have already been fulfilled, including those of the End of Time and the return of Christ.

While your balanced and measured approach to the variety of Christian interpretations is laudable, it would be helpful to have programs like yours take a less 'ethnocentric' approach.

Paul Bujold
St. Albert, AB, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,


The show provided interesting history of people that interpreted events in their day as being signs of the end of the world. But people still make a grave mistake when interpreting the book of revelations based on any past or future assignments of biblical phrases to current events.

The most reasonable and well presented commentary on Revelations that I've seen was in the book Paradise Restored, by
David Chilton, which suggests that the prophetic language be understood based on usage of similar usage found elsewhere in the Bible. He writes that "the real question [is],Shall our interpretation be Biblical or speculative?"

Essentially, as was somewhat described in the show, much of what American Christians think of as future events were actually descriptions of events that followed shortly after John recorded his vision.

One of those associations identified the beast of Chapter 17 as being the Roman empire. And,by understanding most of these events to have occurred historically, only a minority number of chapters, say from 19-22 actually apply to "end times."

The final chapters are all in God's hands, so that current and future Christians suffer no harms or challenges with respect to coming events.
Anyhow, the recognition of Revelation as a historic book more than a book of future events would be antithetical with a show focused on end times.

As a final thought, its as much a mistake for viewers to dismiss Christianity based on highlights of some malformed end-time interpretations as it would be to dismiss the medical profession since they believed so strongly in healing patients by blood-letting.

mike whitney
costa mesa, ca

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