SUMMERTIME... AND THE PUNDITRY IS EASY
Monday, August 24, 2009
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Well, it's fast getting close to the time when this summertime cookout is going to have to come to an end... the Sun is getting lower in the western sky while Summer itself is soon to be coming to an end: all day long, the rising-falling-then rising again whirring of the cicadas has seemed to grow ever louder and, after dark, the katydids will prove to be just as incessant- where not also insistent- with their own "chatter"...
I have been talking about the "Fear itself" that seems to be gripping a large proportion of the American population since the election, and then the inauguration, of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America and how it might well play into the 2010 Federal Midterm Elections as well as the 2012 Presidential Election beyond.
Back on 9 June of this year- as this very Summer was only just beginning- the actor Jon Voight spoke before a Republican fund-raiser in Washington. However much, or little, the media in general paid to the substance of Voight's 10-minute-long dissertation, much was made, indeed, of Voight having referred to President Obama as both a "false prophet" and a "soft-spoken Julius Caesar", all of this in the context of Voight's own "most pressing concern at this hour" being "the safety of Israel".
No, Voight never did call Obama "the Antichrist" in what was, after all, a speech before a gathering of (well-- at least for the most part [;-)]) mainstream Republicans--
though he might as well have done so, for having so woven together "Israel", "Caesar" and "false prophet" into a single rhetorical web, Voight was- however inadvertently- citing elements of that very "Fear itself" which are at least apocalyptic in tone, where not also eschatological in spirit!
No matter, though: for a simple utilization of the terms "Obama" and "Antichrist" in a search engine locator field yields more than its share of websites and blogs so earnestly discussing the notion that the current President is, indeed, the Antichrist (though some of these suggest he is merely the precursor of same)...
oooh, scary stuff!...
sad is the fact that many otherwise educated people actually take this stuff seriously. To explain why they do (and then go on to discuss how just such attitudes fuel the very "Fear itself" about which I have been opining in this series of Commentaries), one has to have at least an outline knowledge about four interrelated things:
first, the Western system of Chronology: that Christian, or Common, era we here in the United States- along with most of the rest of the World (or at least the world of global business)- use every day;
I ask the reader's indulgence as I go through all this: for this is not at all stuff that one can present in "30-second sound bite" style and, while I personally think the whole of what I will- for sake of brevity, as well as clarity- refer to by the overarching rubric "Obama as Antichrist" is just so much utter nonsense, there are lot of people out there who don't in the least think it is such utter nonsense at all and these are people who have tended to vote Republican (at least in Federal elections), so the whole basis on which this aspect of "Fear itself" is built must be most fully examined in order to then more fully understand it.
FIRST, as to the Western system of Chronology (the Calendar of the Christian, or Common, era):
The system of Chronology that has me producing these very words during the month of August in a calendar year designated 2009 did not originate nearly 2,010 years ago, as this system itself would imply; rather, it is an indirect consequence of activities dating back only to the early 6th Century of that very chronological system. (Then again, no matter what chronological system might be used to designate years within same, it is always interesting to note that those who happened to be alive during Year 1 in any such system themselves seem to have had absolutely no idea this might actually be the case!-- with the notable exception of the short-lived French Revolutionary Calendar of the late 18th Century, of course).
Around the year 525 in that same Western chronology for which he must be largely credited (though he himself would not yet have known, of course, that it was sometime around the year 525!), a monk named Dionysius Exiguus (the name can be fairly translated into English as "Dennis the Small") came up with what he believed to be a perpetual table of the dates of Easter (besides its being the most important Holy Day in the Christian church calendar, the date upon which Easter falls in any given year also determines the dates a whole host of religious observances- the "Moveable Feasts"- from Septuagesima [9 Sundays prior to that of Easter] through Pentecost [7 Sundays after Easter] and 'Trinity Sunday' [a week after that]). Easter is defined (and was already so defined by Dionysius' time) as the Sunday immediately following the date, each year, of what is called the "Paschal full moon"- which itself is defined as that full moon which falls either on or soonest after the date of the Vernal Equinox (which, in turn and for purposes of calculation, is ever determined to be 21 March): thus, in order to know the date of Easter in any given year, one has to know the date of the Paschal full moon (as above defined) and, in addition, know on which day of the week said Paschal full moon occurs.
Dionysius' innovation- and that which, indeed, made his table of Easter dates "perpetual"- was in his utilization of a particular combination of two different, and otherwise unrelated, cycles of years:
the first such cycle is known as the Solar Cycle, one that repeats every 28 years precisely because, every 28 years- so long as one does not skip Leap Year every fourth year:
a.) the days of the week match the same dates of the calendar; and
For example: the calendar year in which I am typing this, 2009, has exactly the same calendar as was the case back in 1981 (28 years before); in addition, just like 2009, 1981 was also an odd-numbered year immediately following a Leap Year! Yes, the calendars of other years in between 1981 and 2009 also happen to match up-- but neither 1987 nor 1998, for instance, happened to be odd-numbered years immediately following a Leap Year (1987 immediately preceded a Leap Year, while 1998 isn't even an odd-numbered year at all!).
Meanwhile, the other cycle in question is the Lunar Cycle which repeats every 19 years- precisely because, every 19 years (again, assuming that one adds the requisite extra day to the end of February every fourth year), the phases of the moon return to approximately the same dates.
For instance: during this very month of August 2009, a Full Moon occurred on Thursday the 6th (well-- on most of the planet: in a handful of Time Zones, it actually fell on 5 August); a Full Moon also occurred on 6 August 1990 and 6 August 1971 (look it up in an ephemeris!), 19 years apart each time.
Why are these Solar and Lunar Cycles so important to the determination of the date of Easter Sunday? Because, in order to so determine the date of Easter, one has to know on what date the Paschal full moon occurs (hence, one has to know where one might be in the 19-year Lunar Cycle) and one must know the day of the week on which the Paschal full moon falls (thus, one also has to know where one is in the 28-year Solar Cycle).
Unlike previous tables of Easter dates used by the Christian Church, Dionysius' table was "perpetual" because he utilized a combination of the two cycles: for, if you multiply 28 by 19, you get what we might term a 'Grand Cycle' of 532 years: that is, every 532 years (again, so long as Leap Year every four years is not at all ever skipped), the dates of the phases of the moon will not only return to the same dates, they will also return to very same days of the week! Put another way: Dionysius- in those ancient days before the printing press- only had to figure out the data necessary for determining the dates of Easter for each of 532 consecutive years and then his tables could be used anew in the 533rd year- the data for which would be the same as for the 1st year in his table- and, theoretically, the table would begin to repeat again in the 1065th year, the 1597th year, the 2129th year, and so on.
(As things turned out, by the way, Dionysius' tables of Easter were not perpetual [although, in at least one sense, they are- for these are still used to determine the date of Easter for the Eastern Churches, which is why Eastern Orthodox Easter most often differs from the date of same observed in the West (by Roman Catholics and Protestants) by a week- and, sometimes, by as many as 5 weeks]: this is because the civilized world of Dionysius' time was using the Julian Calendar- one which utilized Leap Year, no matter what, every four years; but, as the centuries wore on, the actual onset of Spring was seen to be occurring earlier and earlier relative to this Julian Calendar. By the late 16th Century, the astronomical Vernal Equinox was taking place some 10 days before the now-artificial Vernal Equinox of 21 March being used to determine the date of Easter: to correct for this discrepancy, Pope Gregory XIII- on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, of course- ordered that 10 days be lopped off the calendar [though this would not at all affect the days of the week: Thursday 4 October 1582 was simply followed immediately by Friday 15 October that year] and that, henceforth, Leap Year would be skipped 3 times every 400 years [to practically effect this without too much effort by those using this 'Gregorian Calendar' (what we nowadays more usually simply call the Western Calendar), only "Century years"- those ending in '00'- wholly divisible by 400 would be Leap Years: thus, 2000 was a Leap Year (because dividing 2000 by 400 produces a whole integer), but 1900 was not- nor will 2100 be]. Rather obviously, this skipping of 3 Leap Years every 4 centuries rendered Dionysius' 532-year cycle of Easter dates thoroughly useless [though only as regards the Churches in the West, as noted earlier]).
Obviously, if one is going to so propose a "perpetual" table, reusable every 532 years, one is going to have to designate a starting point- a year "1" of the cycle- and our interest, for purposes of discussion, is as to just which year Dionysius happened to utilize as the beginning of his 532-year cycle. (By the way, this 532-year 'Grand Cycle' derived by combining the Solar and Lunar cycles is known as the 'Dionysian Period'- thus, named for Dionysius Exiguus himself- but he himself did not discover it and was merely applying something that was already known before his own time).
The determination of the date of the Paschal full moon (the first step in then determining the date of Easter Sunday, as I've said) in Dionysius' table was based on Epacts: a given year's Epact is simply the so called "age of the Moon" (that is, how many days a date in question is beyond the immediately preceding New Moon) at the very start of that calendar year: if one knows the Epact of a given year, one can then- by calculation- determine the approximate dates of all the phases of the moon throughout that same year (including the Paschal full moon).
Dionysius chose, as the year "1" for his table (the very first year in his repeating cycle of 532 years), a year that happened to have had a New Moon occur on its very first day (which made perfect sense, considering his use of Epacts) but he also purposely chose just such a year that he believed to be at least reasonably close to that of the Incarnation (the Birth of Christ) and, therefore, declared it to be Anno Domini ("the Year of Our Lord") 1; his tables of Easter dates were presented to the Church so they could begin to be used but a few years after he had first written them up (by hand, of course)- beginning in the year A.D. 533, a year which would also have a New Moon on its very first day (as it would be the 1st year of a second cycle of 532 years beginning with A.D. 1).
Historians, to this day, debate just how much- or how little- Dionysius at all justified his position that A.D. 1 in his system was, in fact, the same as the first full year in the life of Jesus of Nazareth (there has been much discussion, for example, over Dionysius' reliance- or not- on Luke 3:1 ["In the 15th year of Caesar Tiberius"= A.D. 28 into 29] and 3:23 ["Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30 years of age"], though these two references are not directly related to one another by the author of that Gospel): for nowhere in the accompanying documentation- which included a "cover letter"- did Dionysius specifically relate his A.D. 1 to any existing chronological system then already widely in use: it simply seems that his A.D. 1 was "close enough [to the Birth of Christ] for Jazz" (plus, again, it allowed his tables to actually be used in the first year of his 532-year cycle [again, A.D. 533]). Had Dionysius actually attempted to relate his A.D. 1 to chronological systems then in use, he would have rather easily discovered that he was off by at least a couple years (for, although the precise date was subject to at least some discrepancy, it was already known- in Dionysius' time- that Herod the Great had died at least some time before the 25th of December immediately preceding Dionysius' A.D. 1, thus that particular December 25th could not have been the date of the Incarnation in any event- that is, if the story of the Birth of Christ as told in the Gospel of Matthew was, in fact, true).
Indeed, Dionysius may well have been aware of this discrepancy but, if so, it mattered not: for it seems that neither Dionysius, nor the churchmen for whom he had done his work, at all expected his system of "Years of Our Lord" to evolve into a widely-utilized chronological system that would end up spreading around the Globe- as the dating system used by, among other things, international business- by our own time. Instead, it seems that his years A.D. were meant for internal Church use only (so that its clerics could then determine the dates of Moveable Feasts on their own) and not at all intended as a method by which ordinary folks would, say, someday date their various and sundry everyday activities (or, for that matter, their personal correspondence: as I've said, Dionysius himself dated his "cover letter" utilizing existing chronological systems of his own time, not A.D., and it does not appear that Dionysius ever utilized his system of "Years of Our Lord" himself, nor did he urge others to do so).
Thus, for at least another two centuries, the general population within Christendom continued apace, blissfully unaware that they were living through (and being born, and dying, in) this or that year Anno Domini!
An English monk known to History as the Venerable Bede is generally given the credit for, however inadvertently, causing the spread of Dionysian Anno Domini chronology. In the early 8th Century (though, as I've said, most people of the time were most unaware they were even in the 8th Century), Bede brought forth his Ecclesiastical History of England which contained the years A.D. (which, as a cleric, he could easily determine) in the margins of paragraphs containing various and sundry events; even given the limitations of bookcopying by hand, Bede's work was to become, over the course of a generation or so, the closest thing to a "Best Seller" early Medieval Europe was to have and, by the end of the 8th century Anno Domini, learned men and their rulers (who, even if illiterate themselves, had learned men telling them that which they could not read themselves) already knew that it was the end of the 8th Century A.D. (it was, therefore, no accident that Charles, King of the Franks, appeared before Pope Leo III to be crowned "Emperor of the West" when he did- 24 December of A.D. 800- for the man who would become known in History as 'Charlemagne' honestly believed that his coronation coincided with the 800th Anniversary of the Birth of Christ: how quickly, and how widely, then had the Dionysian/Western chronology circulated in little over half a century!)
And, yes, Medieval Europe did know when A.D. 999 was giving way to A.D. 1000 [though the people of that era do not appear to have been generally concerned with a potential "Y1k problem" ;-)]; they did not, however, yet know the concept of 'zero': thus- with years prior to Dionysius' A.D. 1 already being designated as "Before Christ" by the first Turn of Millennia (we have, less than a decade ago now, so recently gone through the second such Turn)- the year immediately preceding A.D. 1 was (and still is so regarded) as "1 B.C." (thus, the traditional date of the Birth of Christ- accepting, for sake of this argument, Dionysius' original, unexplored premise as to his A.D. 1 being the first full year of Jesus' life- would have to be rendered as "December 25th, 1 B.C."; the traditional date for the Crucifixion, meanwhile, would be during the Spring of A.D. 30 [an obvious relation of Luke 3:23 to the traditional date of the Incarnation]).
SECOND, as to the Biblical Chronology of Archbishop James Ussher's Annals of the World:
The name of James Ussher [1581-1656] is somewhat unknown to most people nowadays: to those many today who might actually know the name, it is likely as its merely being that of the man who once said that the World was created in 4004 B.C. but without any concomitant knowledge as to just why, and how, Ussher might have actually come up with this particular figure. Many others today, however, do well know the name of Ussher and, further, many of these still give Ussher's chronology- as presented in his Annals of the World- more than a little weight as to its also actually being Truth!
(It has to be noted- if only in the context of that which generally gets placed under the rubric of 'Americana'- that, until the late 1960s into the early 1970s, anyone who became even reasonably familiar with a King James Version Bible placed in a hotel room or hospital room desk drawer by that group known as the Gideons would encounter Ussher's dating on any page to which he or she might turn- save for those containing the Book of Psalms; it might also be fairly assumed that there might well be a reason for the later editions of a Gideons' Bible to have quietly dropped the results of Ussher's work).
Our concern as regards this particular piece, however, is as to how Ussher actually went about determining the dates he used in his Biblical chronology and, as part and parcel of this, why.
Ussher was, towards the end of his life, Archbishop (officially, "Primate") of the Church of Ireland, itself a Protestant denomination in communion with the Church of England (at the time [Annals of the World was first published in the early 1650s], the C of E was not only the established Church in the English realm but also locked in mortal combat with the Puritan movement [which had only very recently (1649, in fact) had engendered the Regicide, the beheading of King Charles I, and the ensuing replacement of the monarchy with the "Commonwealth" of the Cromwells]) and, besides being a high cleric, was also already noteworthy as a theologian and a scholar. Like many such Protestant high clerics of his time- while he was not at all averse to the gains in human knowledge and technology being made through the study, and later application, of what was then known as Natural Philosophy (meaning, Science itself)- Ussher continued to believe a particular notion that went well back into the Medieval period: that the Earth would exist for no more than 6,000 years (in his time, of course, there was nothing yet available to Science that would directly contradict this view).
Such a notion was based on a use of 2 Peter 3:8 in the New Testament, a passage which can be rendered Do not ignore this fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is but a thousand years and a thousand years but one day. Many medieval theologians later took this to literally mean that each day of the six days of Creation (as recounted in the first chapter of Genesis) was the equivalent of 1,000 years of time: the "end of days", therefore, was seen as the equivalent of God's having rested on the seventh day, thus these theologians concluded that the World would only be in physical existence for 6 x 1,000 = 6,000 years all told. The remaining theological argument among those who so professed this was over whether the 7th "day" of 1,000 years (God's "sabbatical"-- in their thinking, quite literally!) was itself a "Millennium" of Christ's reign on Earth prior to a Day of Judgment or the last 24-hour-long Earth day of the 6,000th year was itself the End- period (such arguments would also come to color the application of what would come to be known as 'Dispensationalism' [see below]).
Obviously, however, if one (assuming the above to all be true) could- somehow- figure out just when the World had been created, one could also then calculate precisely when the 6,000th year would finally come (regardless of what it actually portended). Ussher was simply the most notable of a long line of persons- some with theological training (as Ussher himself had), others with little or none- who had long been trying to "scientifically" determine the answer to this essential question of when the World would end; Ussher himself was, again, something of the proverbial "man of Science who believed in God" and, by all accounts, he most earnestly applied the logic and reason of Aristotlean method to his calculations as derived from the text of the Christian Bible itself.
However, contrary to popular belief (including the belief of the three-time American Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who opined just such a position in his testimony in defense of Fundamentalism and against the teaching of Evolution in public schools at the "Monkey trial" of Tennessee high school biology teacher John Scopes just before Bryan himself would die in the Summer of 1925), Ussher did not painstakingly work his way back through the ages of the generations of the Patriarchs as found in the pages of the Book of Genesis in order to determine that the World had, indeed, been created in 4004 B.C.: rather, Ussher assumed this from the very start! Indeed, the World being created in 4004 B.C., along with a concomitant determination that Solomon's Temple- the First Temple in Jerusalem- had been created exactly 3,000 years later (in 1004 B.C.) were as axiomatic as the propositions that One, and only one, straight line can be drawn between two points and Two intersecting straight lines cannot both be parallel to a third straight line are to the opening paragraphs of a basic Geometry textbook used in American high schools!
By Ussher's time (again, mid-17th Century), it had already become well established- in accounts of World History- that Herod the Great had died about 3 B.C. and that, therefore, in order for the story of the Incarnation in the Gospel of Matthew to be true, historically as well as theologically, the Birth of Christ could not have occurred later than 4 B.C. (sorry, Dionysius! [;-)]); therefore, Ussher took 4 B.C. (specifically, 25 December 4 B.C., of course) to have been the date of the birth of Jesus. Then, following the maxim of each day of Creation being related to 1,000 years of World History, Ussher related the Incarnation/Birth of Christ to the fourth day of Creation, the day on which- per Genesis 1:14-19 - the "two great lights" were created, since Christ was seen as being "the Light of the World", which then gave him his initial calculation of Christ being born 4,000 years (4 days X 1,000 years) after the Creation, hence the Creation being in 4004 B.C. in Ussher's reasoning. (Meanwhile, the building of the Temple in Jerusalem in 1004 B.C. was seen, by Ussher, as coinciding with the millennial equivalent of the third day of Creation, that on which the dry land would appear [Genesis 1:9]- a "foundation" for earthlings akin to the foundation of a building, such as a temple).
Only once Ussher had already established his "axioms"- Creation in 4004 B.C., Solomon's Temple in 1004 B.C., Birth of Christ in 4 B.C.- did Ussher then set out to thoroughly peruse the text of the Bible in order to "fill in" the dates of events in between these axiomatic ones: in this endeavor, however, there was no little "fudging of the data", let alone much misinterpretation- mostly through presuming the general also applied to the particular (this is not the place for me to recount any, let alone all, such "fudging", by the way: I will only say that, for example, I can truthfully write herein that "when my mother's father was already dead" I wrote this very Commentary you are now reading, even though my grandfather actually passed away more than a dozen years ago-- yet my use of the phrase "when my mother's father was already dead" does not mean that I wrote this Commentary in the very same year in which my grandfather died- that is, before TheGreenPapers.com even came into existence a little less than a decade ago now! Ussher made more than a few similar interpretations of biblical passages in order to justify some of the dates he later determined as being those related to specific biblical events).
THIRD, as to John Nelson Darby and Dispensationalism:
We now turn to the career of one John Nelson Darby [1800-1882]- born in London, England and a godson of the hero admiral later to be mortally wounded in the Battle of Trafalgar, Lord Nelson (for whom Darby had been named). A lawyer who later became a cleric in the Church of Ireland- interestingly, the same denomination once presided over by Ussher- Darby soon found being a churchman stifling and ended up becoming a strong influence on a much more loosely organized group which came to be known as the Plymouth Brethren (Darby did not found this group- ordinary laymen within the Established [Protestant] Church in both England and Ireland were already, by 1830, meeting- as "brethren"- regularly on their own for fellowship and prayer, very much as the Wesley Brothers' "methodists" had done a century earlier; as with the Methodists, an accepted leadership would create a new denomination). The Brethren- as they were more colloquially known at the time- preached (literally!- since any member could, theoretically, do so) that an established, ordained clergy was anathema to that "priesthood of all believers" which was one of the lynchpins of Protestantism (thus, to these Brethren, anyone could be called to preach the Gospel, a notion which appealed to the increasingly anticlerical Darby) and it was for this very doctrine that the Plymouth Brethren first became well known to the British general public going into the middle part of the 19th Century.
Less attention, however, was paid by such outsiders to another doctrine being espoused by Darby- that of so-called "Dispensationalism". This term itself is derived from the English word "Dispensation", in its context as used here an anglicization of the word dispensatio- itself simply a direct translation, into Latin, of the Greek word oikonomia (which is, obviously, also the root of the English word "economy", so much in the news of late!).
Oikonomia simply means "management" or "administration" (and, by implication, direction [by an owner] or stewardship [by an agent of said owner]) of a household or business (hence its very coming into our language as "economy"). This word appears several times in the Greek text of the New Testament (generally translated as stewardship in, for example, the parable of the rich man and his steward with which chapter 16 of the Gospel of Luke opens; as dispensation in the King James Version rendering of Colossians 1:25 where the Apostle Paul says, of himself, that he has been "made a minister according to the dispensation of God"). But a "dispensation" was also- in Canon Law of both Roman Catholic Church and its wayward (to the Vatican) stepchild, the Church of England- a waiver, as it were, specifically granted by some ecclesiastical authority allowing for an individual violation of a principle therein without at all repealing the principle itself (something Darby himself knew as having once been a Church cleric). Thus, to Darby, a "dispensation" was both a charge or responsibility given (a "stewardship" such as that given by the owner of a chain of stores to the manager of a specific retail establishment within that chain) as well as an opportunity to receive a waiver from the rigors of religious law; to the anticlerical Darby, "dispensation"-as-waiver had to be granted by God Himself.
Darby's application of this notion to the establishment of a whole series of God's "dispensations" throughout all of History was largely based on the King James Bible's rendering of Ephesians 1:9-10 in which the Apostle Paul wrote that God made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him. Darby's claim was that he had confronted this very "mystery of [God]'s will" and, thereby, worked out just how said "dispensation" actually worked in "the fulness of times" (that is, throughout the course of History): Darby did not invent the idea that "dispensations" had been granted Mankind by God throughout History (this is yet another concept that can be traced back to Medieval scholarship); Darby's contribution to such Dispensationalism was his having systematized it.
Darby identified seven such "Dispensations"- seven periods (in actual historical time, or at least what Darby and his followers considered to be historical time [for Ussher's chronology still reigned]) of responsibility ("dispensation" in the first sense, as stewardship or administration) granted by God to Mankind, after which, should Mankind pass just such a "test", Mankind would be saved (the second meaning of "dispensation" as waiver): God owned the household- the Universe; it was Man's responsibility to be a good steward: failure to be such inevitably led to divine punishment. As things turned out- at least according to Darby- Mankind ever failed, six times, to be that good steward: thus, the first of Darby's Dispensations was 'Innocence'- Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (as recounted in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis); when they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though specifically told not to by God himself, they were driven out of the Garden (before they could also eat of the Tree of Life)-- with that the punishment of Expulsion from the Garden ended this Dispensation, necessitating the implementation of a second (Conscience), which also failed (with the punishment for this failure being the Deluge, necessitating Noah's building of the Ark), and so on- on through Government (# 3), Promise (# 4), Law (# 5) and Church (#6).
The historical place of the world of John Nelson Darby was that of Church, but- to his (and his Brethren's) anticlericalism- the Church (meaning the "religious institution of scale", as opposed to the much larger "church" of true believers) had strayed and was about to meet its just desserts, after which the seventh- and final- Dispensation could take place: that of Kingdom, the inauguration of Christ's reign on Earth which could not, by very definition, fail to redeem as had the previous six Dispensations.
Darby was enamored of Ussher's chronology (it appears that, like many of his time who would not at all have accepted his system of God's Dispensations, he believed it to be accurate [though it is less clear whether Darby specifically accepted that A.D. 1997 (6000-4004+1= 1997; 1 has to be added because, as I've already noted, A.D. 1 is immediately preceded by 1 B.C.) would itself be the last year of a 6,000-year cycle of earthly existence beginning with Creation in 4004 B.C.). But, whereas Ussher had dated the Crucifixion of Christ in A.D. 33- basing this on the Book of Daniel's "seventy weeks of years" (Daniel 9:24: Seventy weeks of years are decreed upon your people and your holy city. to finish the transgression, and to put an end to sin and to make restitution for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up both vision and prophet, and to anoint the most Holy [Ussher saw the Resurrection as the very fulfillment of this prophecy])- that is: 70 x 7 = 490 years, which we shall come back to shortly and which begin with "the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem" (Daniel 9:25a: Ussher had taken the commissioning of Ezra to go to Jerusalem "in the seventh year of Artaxerxes" [Ezra 7:7]- assuming that this was referring to the first of two Persian kings named Artaxerxes- as this starting point, thus 458 B.C.: (490 - 458) + 1 (again, A.D. 1 being the year immediately following 1 B.C.) = 33)- Darby had his own twist to add to Daniel's "seventy weeks":
Daniel 9:25-27 states- in dividing up this "seventy years of weeks" (again, 490 year) period- that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks: then the streets and the wall shall be built again, even in a troubled time. And after sixty-two weeks the anointed one shall be cut off, but not for himself; and the people of the prince that is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary: its end shall be with a flood, and to the end of the war, desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with the many for one week; and in the middle of the week he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.
Darby took the position that, after the first 69 of these "seventy weeks of years" (that is, after the first "seven weeks and sixty-two weeks"), the clock based on Daniel 9:24-27 simply stopped... in other words, according to Darby, the final "week of years" had yet to occur, if only because what Darby himself preached as the coming events of the seventh, and final, Dispensation had not yet occurred (Ah, yes... the last, safe refuge of the quintessential "conspiracy theorist": "what I say is shown, by ordinary examination, to be improbable, let alone impossible: therefore, it is not really either improbable or impossible- for there must be something wrong with those who say it's either improbable or impossible, else what I say could not be true, when it is!").
Darby accepted, as had Ussher, that the "anointed one, a prince", the coming of whom ended the 69th "week", was Jesus Christ and that his being "cut off" corresponded with the Crucifixion some three and a half years (if one accepts the apparent chronology of events in the Gospel of John) after his Ministry began (thus, it took place in "the middle of the week": halfway through a 7 year-long "week of years"= 3 1/2 years) but, to Darby, the major events of the final week of Daniel's seventy weeks of years- the "strong covenant with the many" and the "overspreading of abominations" leading to both a place "ma[de] desolate" and the "decreed end of the desolator" were yet to come while he, Darby, still lived and breathed... and, as it turned out, even thereafter.
Of course, all this merely means is that Darby, and anyone who accepted his system of Dispensationalism, could keep on predicting the imminence of Armageddon, theoretically, indefinitely (the prophecy that keeps on prophesizing [;-)])! "It hasn't happened yet, therefore it will happen this way"; then again, I myself could predict that a coin I'm flipping will land "tails" each and every time that coin, instead, lands "heads" on a number of consecutive tosses, yet- eventually- I will be correct!
Now, I want to make it most clear that there is nothing inherently nonsensical about one's believing in ordinary Christian Eschatology; I intend no conflict whatsoever herein with those who believe, as Christians generally do, that there will someday be Christ's Return in Glory on Earth concomitant with Final Judgment... the problem ensues when one tries too hard to argue- and, through said argument, urge on others to accept that (and, by extension, act as if)- said Day of Judgment is imminent- "just around the corner", as it were- and, further, to then try and discern- from the "tea leaves" provided, perhaps, by current events as regularly reported in the daily news- "proof" that such is, indeed, the case. With such practices, what is originally a concept of "prophecy" as understood by one of the World's Great Religions- in this case, Christianity- merely devolves into just so much "self-fulfilling prophecy". Yet, Darby's Dispensationalism went a long way towards enabling just such practices!
FOURTH, The Mark and Number of 'the Beast' and President Obama:
I also want to make it most clear at the start of this section that many, if not even most, believing Christians do not- in fact- at all accept the concept of 'Dispensationalism' as described above; indeed, there are many devout, God-fearing Christians (I know such as these personally) who are, frankly, more than a little perturbed at the many pronouncements that the "End of Days" is, indeed, imminent and even more disturbed at those who might be trying to so discern various and sundry "signs and portents" within current events in seeming direct violation of Jesus' recorded admonition to the effect that, as to exactly when "Heaven and Earth will pass away", of that day or that hour no man knows- no, not even the angels which are in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mark 13:32).
It is all too easy for those supportive of Obama and upset at those who use the epithet "Antichrist"- or an equivalent- to describe the President, thereby inordinately tainting his Administration, that Administration's policies and even Obama's political Party and ordinary supporters "on the ground" to paint, with far too broad a brush, most- if not all Christian "evangelicals"- with some kind of strong inclination towards the very kind of "Fear itself" of which I have been writing herein. Characterizations such as these by those most supportive of President Obama are just as patently unfair as "Obama as Antichrist" itself is!
Not every Gospel-believing Christian who might have voted for President Obama but would hesitate to do so now were they each to have a chance at a "do over" of the 2008 Presidential Election is seeing the clouds of Armageddon gathering on the horizon both here at home as well as abroad; not every politically conservative Bible-literalist Christian who might not have voted for Obama in the first place seriously thinks the President is the Antichrist whilst, at the same time, most seriously contemplating the potential negative effects of too much governmental meddling in Health Care on themselves.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that "Obama as Antichrist" has a fair amount of cultural resonance in many parts of these United States of America, even absent concomitant elements of Darby's Dispensationalism-- where Dispensationalism- particularly where it is also combined with what has come to be called the 'Rapture' culture- is in play, moreover, such resonance is even the more so resonant!
Darby was to be a prophet with not all that much honor in his own country- a man whose theology was considered so marginal in his own homeland in, and after, its time so as to merit rather short shrift in the massive Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (an edition of that particular work which scarcely leaves anything even remotely relevant to its "survey of universal knowledge" out) issued less than three decades after his death; his Plymouth Brethren, meanwhile, divided, and subdivided, much like a cell in a Petri dish (there were to be Open Brethren and Exclusive Brethren; there were even Brethren who rejected Darby's original anticlericalism). The Plymouth Brethren would, thus, eventually splinter into several groups and each of these would find a home here in America but it was to be Darby's teachings which would find even more fertile ground across the Atlantic.
The Greek word antichristos- literally "opponent of Christos (Christos being the direct Greek translation of the Hebrew Moshiach ["anointed one", originally one of the titles given to the Kings of the ancient Israelites]: the Hebrew is rendered in English as '(the) Messiah', with the Greek simply rendered as '(the) Christ')"- and translated into English as "antichrist" (and, by the way, in proper translation into English this word is never capitalized!) only appears in two of the three Letters of John-- nowhere else in the Bible.
1 John 2:18 notes that it is the last times; and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last times; verse 22 of that same chapter refers to antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son; 1 John 4:3 says that every spirit which does not confess that Jesus is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist. 2 John 7 speaks of those who do not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist.
But that's it!
Relating the concept of "an antichrist" to an all-powerful "the Antichrist" and then, in turn, seeing this last as one of "the beast"s of the Book of Revelation is, therefore, achieved solely by inference: first, the broader inference based on the premise that 'John the Revelator', that St. John the Divine to whose authorship the Apocalypse of John (as the Book of Revelation should be referred to, if only for sake of consistency with the listing of other books in the biblical canon) is ascribed, is also the author of the three Letters of John which, but for the interpolation of the Letter of Jude, would immediately precede what is purported to be his Apocalypse in the New Testament canon (thus, references to "antichrist" in the first two Letters of John can, by very dint of authorship, be broadly applied to similar- though not specifically connected- concepts in the Apocalypse); second, scriptural inferences such as Revelation/Apocalypse 13:2 in which "the dragon" (which first appears in Revelation/Apocalypse 12:3) gives "the beast" "his power, his throne and his great authority" and Revelation/Apocalypse 20:4 in which there are those "who were beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God and who had not worshipped the beast or his image" but who would, in the end (once the beast- along with his false prophet- would have already been vanquished), "come to life and reign with Christ a thousand years"-- both of which verses imply that this particular "opponent of the Christos" (the "beast... out of the sea" of Revelation/Apocalypse 13:1) is the "opponent of the Christos"... or, at least, such was the traditional concept of the Antichrist (in which the second "beast... out of the earth" of Revelation/Apocalypse 13:11 is merely the "false prophet" [Revelation/Apocalypse 16:13, 19:20 and 20:10] acting as an agent, as it were, of the Antichrist/"beast... out of the sea"), one- again- going back into Medieval Christian theology.
But along came one Cyrus I. Scofield (1843-1921), an American who became very much enamored of Darby and his Dispensationalism. Like Darby, Scofield was an attorney who later became a clergyman (one can so easily be led to the conclusion that, of course, only attorneys could come up with this stuff! [;-)]): indeed, he actually met Darby on one of the latter's last "missions" to North America before his death.
In 1909, what became known as The Scofield Reference Bible was first published, filled with "special references and helps" in the form of detailed footnotes to the King James Version text (complete with Ussher's chronology). One detractor has called Scofield's work "less a Bible than a textbook" and, indeed, on many of the pages of the original, now-hundred year old edition, said footnotes fairly crowd out the biblical text itself being so footnoted!
These footnotes themselves are also matter-of-factly authoritative in tone, even where there is no attribution to a specific biblical passage: for example, we are told- as regards the third of Darby's "dispensations", Government- that "[t]he highest function of government is the judicial taking of life. All other governmental powers are implied in that"... really?! (so much for the Federal Constitution's apparently silly- where not also Godless, I suppose- notion that the purposes of Government might include "form[ing] a more perfect Union, establish[ing] Justice, insur[ing] Domestic Tranquility, provid[ing] for the Common Defense, promot[ing] the General Welfare, and secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity"-- all of which pales in the face of justifiable [so long as it be properly adjudicated, of course] homicide!)
But the essence of Scofield's work is most seen in its footnotes to the Book of Revelation/Apocalypse of John, where we are told- confidently- that the Roman realm has never really ceased to exist (merely "the imperial form of government" came to an end) because what were once Roman provinces have ever continued as separate Nation-States, thus- it is said of Revelation/Apocalypse 13:3- the "beast... out of the sea", "his deadly wound healed", represents some future (at least as of 1909) resurgence of that Empire as a federation of ten such polities (besides seven heads, this "beast... out of the sea" also has ten horns each wearing a crown [Revelation/Apocalypse 13: 1 again])... one can only wonder at the consternation amongst users of Scofield when, say, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization first came into being, 40 years after Scofield was first published, with 10 of its original 12 members (those besides the United States and Canada) hailing from the other side of "the Pond" ("North Atlantic"... "out of the sea"... get it?)
We are also so authoritatively told- in Scofield and, again, without attribution other than that the author himself thinks this might be so- that the first "beast" (that "out of the sea") represents the last political leader prior to Armageddon, while the second "beast" (that "out of the earth", who is also the "false prophet") is the final religious leader and, hence, the true Antichrist (this in contradistinction to the traditional formulation, already noted above, in which the first "beast"- that "out of the sea"- is the Antichrist [which would seemingly leave President Obama totally out of the Antichrist "mix", as he is a political- and not a religious- leader]). But such distinctions have not stopped the term "Antichrist" from being wildly applied, by many, to both political and religious leaders alike: long, indeed, is the list of politicians and leading business, military, religious and other leaders who- throughout the History of Christendom, let alone in the 20th Century now into the early 21st- have been seen, by many, to have been either "the beast", the "false prophet" or, at the very least, "the dragon" that gave "the beast" his power (whether such power be political or economic, military-based or even church-based): President Obama is therefore, in the main, simply a most recent addition to said list of presumed contenders for the title of "Antichrist"!
Then we have the "number of the Beast"- per Revelation/Apocalypse 13:18, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast, it is the number of a man: and his number is six hundred sixty six. I have found bloggers trying desperately to link President Obama's name to this number via making sure, through variant spellings, that there are six letters in each of his names- thus, 'Barack Husain Obbama' (but, if one is going to transliterate 'Hussein' as Husain, why not also- for sake of consistency- then transliterate 'Barack' as Barak?-- simple: that doesn't at all solve that "six letters in each name" thing!)... then there is also the fact that '60606' is a ZIP Code in Obama's hometown of Chicago (though, no- not in the part of Chicago represented by Obama when he was in the State Senate [although... Obama's Hyde Park neighborhood is ZIP Code 60615 and, if you add the 1 to the 5...;-)]: this throwing in of the ZIP Code, by the way, is another "conspiracy theorist" technique- overkill: justifying one's position through more than one interpretation of data-- ok, then, which is it that determines that Obama has "the number of the beast"? the number of letters in his name or his ZIP Code?)...
but, of course, the real issue is that the number of the beast as recorded in the Apocalypse of John is, in fact, 666- as in six hundred sixty-six (or, as the King James Version itself makes most clear: "Six hundred threescore and six")- not "6-6-6" or "6+6+6" or "sixty thousand six hundred six" (which is the numerical rendering of the Chicago ZIP Code-- or was that, instead, "sixty thousand six hundred fifteen"? [;-)])... after all, our modern system of so-called arabic numerals was not yet even known to the world of John the Revelator at the time his Apocalypse was written!
problem here is: those so doing the counting of the number of the beast have, in the main, little real understanding.
And, finally, there is the "mark of the Beast" (Revelation 13:16-17: and he [this being the second "beast", the one "out of the earth" acting as, in effect, the first beast's "high priest"] caused all- small and great, rich and poor, free and slave- to receive a mark on the right hand, or on their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell. lest he had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name [hence all the '666' calculations re: President Obama's name]). Now, this is where fears related to President Obama's Health Care proposals (which I touched upon in Part Three of this series of Commentaries) really get ramped up!
"The mark of the beast"... what?... some kind of universal health care card indicating the type of health care plan each citizen has?... hmmmm!
Of course, in today's America (and, truth be told, throughout my entire lifetime), "no man might buy or sell" without utilizing coin and/or currency issued, and guaranteed, by the realm- greenback (though less green nowadays thanks to recent efforts to thwart counterfeiting) Federal Reserve notes and the "hard money"- change- once so highly prized by good ol' Andy Jackson (which is why I myself find it rather ironic that Jackson appears on a $20 bill, but not on any coinage-- a cruel joke of History played on 'Old Hickory', I s'pose-- poor guy must be rolling in his grave down in what has since become 'Music City' every time I make a withdrawal at the ATM! [;-)])- or at least something easily convertible to same...
yet every coin and bill states, emphatically, 'In God We Trust': hardly a "mark of the beast"!
The point of all this illustration, on my part, of the kind of thinking that goes into all this (and epitomized by such as found in The Scofield Reference Bible) is to show where just such a deconstruction-cum-reconstitution of History as started with Darby and reached its peak in Scofield might then lead when applied to what might be happening in "the here and now" at any given time (doubtless, many saw "the mark of the beast" in the first Social Security cards issued in the late 1930s).
Scofield's work would become a major influence on Christian Fundamentalism throughout most of the rest of the 20th Century, but I want to make it clear that not all so-called fundamentalist Christians follow Scofield (indeed, there has been more than a little "away from Scofield" sentiment seen within Fundamentalism in recent decades; meanwhile, the updated version of Scofield- published as the New Scofield Reference Bible in 1967- has, just as was the case with the later editions of Bibles placed by the Gideons in hotel rooms and hospitals, quietly done away with Ussher's dates for biblical events); I also want to make clear that I well understand that not all evangelical Christians are fundamentalists to begin with!
But this does not change the fact that millions of those who identify themselves as fundamentalist Christians find both Darby's Dispensationalism and Scofield's annotations of the Bible in the name of same necessary to their understanding of Politics and the Economy both at home and abroad. And that is precisely why such as Mr. Voigt's references to President Obama as a "false prophet" serve to fuel much of that "Fear itself" of which I write.
to be continued...