After his May 21 prediction of the Rapture got a lot of press attention and failed to occur, radio evangelist Harold Camping, recalculated and announced that yesterday, October 21, would be the big day. It came and went with not only no Christians flying naked through the air to rendezvous with the Lord, but with barely any public attention. Qaddafi’s corpse on display in Libya and thousands of Americans marching and occupying Wall Street and cities coast to coast pushed the non-event off of the front pages and the evening news.
It was Camping’s third attempt to predict the End of the World. After the first failed to happen in 1996, he went back to the drawing board to come up with the dates this year. Many of his followers followed his advice to quit their jobs and sell or give away all of their possessions in anticipation of immanent glory. That left a lot of them in a pickle last May. They were probably really hopping that yesterday would solve all of their problems. Sucks to be them.
Camping was just following in a great American tradition of end-of-the-world excitement. The most famous, and probably the most widely anticipated, event was supposed to happen on October 22, 1844.
Baptist preacher William Miller developed a large following based on his interpretations of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel 8:14 “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Millerite congregations sprang up after Miller began to preach his doctrine of the Earth scourged by fire and the “Second Advent” of Christ come to save believers in 1831. He calculated that Jesus Christ would return to earth and appear to the saved some time in 1843-44. The movement spread over much of the northern states which had previously been gripped the religious frenzy of the Second Great Awakening.
Although Miller never set a precise date he argued that the Advent would occur during the Jewish Year 5604, between March 21, 1843 and March 20, 1844. Many of his followers, like those of Camping nearly 170 latter gave up all of their possessions to await the wind. When March 20, 1844 came and went without either Fire or Jesus, many of his disciples were discouraged. But many kept the faith, even when Miller admitted he had been in error, and sought explanations.
At a Millerite camp meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire in August Samuel S. Snow, announced that he had discovered the error in Miller’s original calculation, which were based on one day=one year from 457 B.C. when Artaxerxes I of Persia granted permission for the Jews to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. Using the calendar of the Karaite Jews instead of the Rabbinic calendar consulted my Miller, Snow determined that “The tenth day of the seventh month [Jewish] of the present year, 1844” as the true date. He equated that with October 22, 1844.
Aided by sensationalized press accounts, Snow’s prediction spread like wild fire. Not only was it accepted by—with Miller approval—the sect, but it spread to other Evangelicals. On October 22 tens of thousands gathered, on high ground if possible, surrounded by their families. Many, taking a cue from Scripture wore white robes for the Rapture. When nothing happened they drifted off facing rebuilding their lives. They called it the Great Disappointment.
Many, if not most of the Milerites abandoned their faith and returned to the conventional and orthodox denominations from which they had come. Those who had not been committed Milerites, but accepted the prophesy were especially bitter. Milerite churches in several towns and cities were attacked or burned and adherents violently attacked. Miller himself commented on the cruel mockery of small children he had to endure.
But a core group remained true believers. However they soon split into three factions. The first faction, initially the largest, believed hat Oct. 21 had “shut the door to salvation” to all but the “Wise Virgins—those who believed in the message. This group awaited daily rapture.
The second group soon eclipsed the first. It held that the Oct. 21 date was in err. Led by Joshua Hines who eventually recruited Miller himself, argued that since the door was not shut, people newly coming to the faith might also be saved in an imminent, if unknowable, Second Coming. This group eventually founded the Advent Christian Church.
The third group was the most successful of all. The believed that Oct. 22 was a correct and significant date, but that it had been misinterpreted. The “sanctuary” cleansed that day was not on Earth but in Heaven. Eventually a “light would be given and their disappointment explained.” Out of this group arose the Seventh Day Adventist Church and all of its many splinters, each with its own interpretation.
Oddly the Baha’i incorporated Miller’s prophesy and identified the return of Christ with their avatar the Báb who proclaimed himself in Persia in 1844.
Miller, the founder of all of this excitement, died in 1849 still waiting daily for the End.
There other reported “ends of the world” in American history. Notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the end in 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1942. They were wrong, too. As were Chuck Smith and Edgar Whisenant in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s.
It is apparently a game anyone can play. Anybody up for an End of the World pool? Winner takes the pot and has eternity to spend it.