About the dating of the Millennium
This was written in 1996, on the buildup to the Millennium
The Millennium was one thousand years ago. That is, if we take 'The Millennium' to mean literally 'one thousand years after the birth of Jesus'. There were indeed major disturbances across Europe in the few years before the year 1000. Preachers ran riot with people's fears and hopes. People expected The Last Days and The Judgement, knowing that they had long omitted to live in pristine obedience to the Law of God and to spiritual purity, as their religion had taught them they should. Much blood had been spilt, and the lilies in the field had not been remembered. A lot of praying went on, hand in hand with duplicity. Absolution of sin fetched escalating prices. Fear of consignment to Hell acted as a major social force, and localised pockets of panic broke out.
The End of the World was nigh and the Last Judgement was on the threshold. In certain areas, things got quite hair-raising. This panic was confined to Europe, owing to its unique calendrical system – other cultures established their dates differently, often in terms of cycles, dynasties or reigns. The Judaic, Islamic and Christian dating systems all started from a point in time and progressed therefrom, except that they had each started at a different starting point.
However, for Europeans the year 1000 Anno Domini indeed was something of a turning-point inasmuch as the immature, once-barbarian European culture was then on the edge of lift-off, on its way to becoming a notably distinct and creative civilisation of its own right. When the year 1000 passed by and the promised Last Days did not come, Europeans subconsciously felt they had been pardoned or blessed. Their way of life had been validated and legitimised, even favoured by the Almighty. Or at least they felt they might be able to get away with what they were doing.
Within a century after 1000, great churches and universities were being founded, trade fairs were growing, kingdoms were being expanded and overseas Crusades were being mustered to reclaim the Holy Land from 'the infidel'. The Apocalypse hadn't happened. The Kingdom of God had not come – so it was now time to establish the Kingdom of Man, or at least, certain men. This kingdom was the nascent medieval order which nobles, clerics and other beneficiaries regarded as a breakthrough.
Europeans felt divinely licensed to treat the Earth as a playground for adventuresome entrepreneurs and conquerors. For most, toil and never-ending gruel continued. But for some – such as the bold Normans, who invaded England and parts of Italy and infiltrated the courts of many lands – there was a growing sense of sanction to achieve wealth and power by any means. It was this sense of escape from Judgement which gave European culture a feeling of exemption from natural law. This was the psychological basis on which the Renaissance was built 500 years later, on top of which the Industrial Revolution was built 300 years after that.
Nowadays the date 1000 is given little attention in the history books, apart from wryly condescending comments on the superstitions of uneducated early-medieval people and the ravings of eccentric monks. Yet it did represent a major psychological turning of the tide for the fledgling Europeans. Millennialism, as a complex belief-system, carried on well into the Middle Ages, to embed itself in the European psyche and then to manifest in multifarious forms over the coming centuries. The Millennial cosmology has carried on, in ripples, to this day. Here it comes again, gaggled this time around the year 2000. A new book of Nostradamus' largely-incomprehensible predictions is published every two years – Nostradamus is a perennial good seller.
However, the idea of Millennium is not necessarily to be taken literally. In ancient thinking, 'one thousand years' means 'a very long time'. Only in the last 500 years, with our clocks, statistics and machines, have we become so quantitatively precise in our numeracy that 1,000 years literally means exactly 1,000 years.
Additionally, the popular idea of Millennium is distorted: the sequence of events described in the Book of Revelations describes a specific set of conditions which would follow 'the Last Days'. The Last Days were to involve the dreadful coming and the eventual defeat of an Anti-Christ – the ultimate in worldly badness and domination. This was to be followed by the parousia or the Second Coming of the Christ – the ultimate good guy who would save us all from ourselves as well as the Anti-Christ. The Millennium was to start after the Second Coming. It was to be a period of bliss, peace and wonder, lasting a thousand years and preceding the final Reckoning and the dissolution of the world. And the world, in those days, was reckoned to have existed only a few thousand years.
In other words, most of us have got it all wrong. Since, as far as we know, the Second Coming hasn't yet happened, the Millennium hasn't even started – and therefore it is mistaken to observe its ending. Additionally, there is no inherently sound linkage between Year 2000 and 'The Millennium': it happened ten centuries ago! The connection between Year 2000 and 'The Millennium' is a misconception dreamed up by evangelists, populists and sloppy thinkers long ago.
The most rife period of millennial cult activity in Europe was from the 1100s to the 1500s, using no connection to calendrical dates at all. Millennial mythology, adopted by Christians from earlier origins, is derived from the ancient Persian mythology of Manichaeism - a belief that the world is made up of dark and light forces, and that we must bolster the light against the dark. Manichaeism was syncretically adopted by the ecclesiastical compilers of Christianity, which was very much a put-together religion derived from the crossroads of Eurasia. They used various ancient Middle Eastern strands and traditions to give Christianity universality, in the centuries following Jesus' radiant yet blighted life.
If indeed the date of the birth of Jesus the Nazarene does have a bearing on current global affairs, and if indeed we're talking about millennia or, more accurately, two millennia, then the years 1994 or 1995 are likely to be eschatologically far more important than the year 2000. This might sound odd, until one appreciates that, according to most of the best current thinking amongst scholars, Jesus was born around the years 5 or 6 BCE – not in the year 1 (1 AD or CE), as our calendrical system would have us believe. The initial setting of the Year One was probably a mistake – or a cover-up to lose a few years of Jesus' life-story. Our current dating system was initially checked by Sextus Julius Africanus in the 200s CE and later by a Scythian (Ukrainian) monk living in Rome in 533 CE, Dionysius Exiguus, who was commissioned to check back through history year-by-year, comparing Roman and Jewish records, to fix the beginning of the era.
Both researchers had omitted to reckon in the four years Octavian had ruled Rome alone (31 to 27 BCE) before he officially became Emperor Augustus. This error skewed the chronology of the time of Jesus. As a result, the historical reckoning and dating system was some four or more years inaccurate. No one had checked or corrected it until the above-mentioned ecclesiastics came along. Since the dating system was already widely used and had been authoritatively validated as an article of faith by successive Vicars of Christ in Rome, and since it was found to be ecclesiastically impolitic to alter things at this stage, it was found by Exiguus and his employers to be easier to stay with an incorrect system than to change everything around. The public might fear the consequences of a perceived loss of time or of ecclesiastical authority.
In a time when the Church claimed moral authority and absolute knowledge of divine verities, admission of an error in dating would be politically unthinkable. There could be a risk of setting further investigations in motion, which might unveil other uncomfortable historical issues – such as the twenty-six or so Gospels omitted from the Bible. These had been edited out while the Bible was being properly compiled from the disparate records left by earlier Christians. The editorial job was carried out in order to construct a consistent authoritarian religion – so many of the religions prior to that time were a jumble of doctrines and teachings which the Christian bishops now sought to simplify – and render more uniform and controllable.
This was done mainly by the Council of Nicaea of 325, called by the Roman emperor Constantine (Constantinus). Constantine recognised the psychologically-centralising value of a written doctrinal ideology, a state religion, to bolster the next wave of civilisation he was seeking to create – Byzantium, successor to Greece and Rome. He saw himself, not Jesus, as the Messiah and the embodiment of the Second Coming, and he was intent on constructing an all-embracing state religion synthesised out of a number of cults, including Mithraism, Sol Invictus, Manichaeism, Christianity and Judaism – with the help of the Christian bishops, whom he coopted to his cause with funds and favours.
Even today, the public believes that Jesus was born in the Year One. Few are bothered to research the matter, even though only a little logic is called for. As we know from Biblical lore, Herod vowed to find and capture the new-born boy king when alerted by the Wise Men from the East (probably Babylonian astrologer-sages). Yet Herod died in 4 BCE. "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king...", stated the Gospel of Matthew. Cyrenius (Quirinius), governor of Syria during the census which caused Joseph and Mary to journey to Bethlehem, ruled Syria 10 to 7 BCE. Thus, a reasoned estimate fixes Jesus' birth around 8 to 4 BCE.
The Jupiter-Saturn-Uranus threefold conjunction in Pisces in 7 BCE qualifies as a front-runner to be the Star of Bethlehem (incidentally, Uranus was known to the ancients, contrary to oft-cited modern orthodox knowledge). Whatever the date of Jesus' birth – somewhere between 8 and 4 BCE – it is certainly not 1 CE (and there wasn't a Year 0, since our dating system hops directly from 1 BCE to CE 1). Thus the true Millennium (or bi-Millennium) is likely to have been around 1993-95! We have already passed it! Were you there?
However, all this does not invalidate the enormous psychological impact on the world's population of the coming of the calendrical year 2000. Our dating system, now politely internationalised as the Common Era, leads us to a major calendrical turn of a millennium which has no inherent cosmic or natural chronological basis (despite efforts by many to find one), yet it does indeed have a raw numerical basis into which enormous significance is naturally invested.
This is special. Thought-provoking! What adds to its psychological charge is the old Christian notion that the coming of the Kingdom of God accompanies the Millennium. This is a legend of which the whole population is subconsciously aware, thanks to the influence of evangelical preachers, Nostradamus and a steady stream of millennialists. However, this underlying investment of meaning in a Christian religious belief derives from but a loose and unfounded association of ideas.
The whole edifice carries echoes of the well drummed-in notion of 'Repent, for the End is Nigh'. This has been heard for centuries. This glowering religious threat has stirred so many God-fearing into dread, awe and unquestioning faith. It is fascinating how widespread this notion still is, even in these scientistically secular days – the notion, like Christmas, has even been adopted by non-Christian Orientals. Only affluence staves off the immanency of fear hovering round the emblem of the Millennium.
Whether or not the Judgement Day is attached to the millennial shift of Year 2000, its very arrival causes us to re-examine our personal lives and the very nature and meaning of life, history and civilisation. It invokes a vision of a grand sweep of time, a quest for meaning in the course of history. The year 2000 gives rise to anxious anticipation. Not without foundation, since its coming coincides with an enormously vexatious and potent period of history in which change is racing ominously fast and intense. Issues for re-examination and alteration increasingly overwhelm effective solutions, in all niches of the world stage, affecting all actors hereon.
Amidst these confusing, urgent times, nothing less than miracles are called for – overriding accustomed expectation – in order to render the world into a state of wholehearted confidence in the future. A smooth, gradual and rational world transition is unlikely because too much needs to change too quickly. Since miracles are a paranormal occurrence – that is, they break the rules – the collective psyche seeks imagery suggesting miracles – or showdowns such as the Apocalypse. Unconsciously, it seeks the Big One. The total situation draws in every individual, every species, every atom.
There are dilemmas in every area of life – evasion does not make them disappear. The coming of the calendrical Millennium prompts every individual to think carefully about all that has happened in the last ten centuries since the year 1000. The 20th century, the first known global century, is ending. For many, this could be a great relief.
© Copyright Palden Jenkins 2002.
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