Millenarianism: An Overview
MILLENARIANISM: AN OVERVIEW
Millenarianism, known also as millennialism, is the belief that the end of this world is at hand and that in its wake will appear a New World, inexhaustibly fertile, harmonious, sanctified, and just. The more exclusive the concern with the End itself, the more such belief shades off toward the catastrophic; the more exclusive the concern with the New World, the nearer it approaches the utopian.
Complexity in millenarian thought derives from questions of sign, sequence, duration, and human agency. What are the marks of the End? At what stage are we now? Exactly how much time do we have? What should we do? Although warranted by cosmology, prophecy, or ancestral myth, the End usually stands in sudden proximity to the immediate era. The trail of events may at last have been tracked to the cliff's edge, or recent insight may have cleared the brier from some ancient oracle.
The root term, millennium, refers to a first-century eastern Mediterranean text, the Apocalypse of John or Book of Revelation, itself a rich source of disputes about the End. John of Patmos here describes in highly figured language a penultimate battle between forces of good and evil, succeeded by a thousand-year reign of saintly martyrs with Jesus, and then the defeat of Satan, the Last Judgment, a new heaven, and a new earth. This interim, earthly reign is literally the millennium (from Lat. mille, "thousand"; Gr., chil, whence "chiliasm," sometimes applied pejoratively to belief in an indulgent, carnal millennium, or "chiliad"). Not all millenarians expect an interim paradise before an ultimate heavenly assumption; not all anticipate precisely one thousand years of peace; not all stipulate a messianic presence or a saintly elite. Like John, however, they have constant recourse to images, for millenarians are essentially metaphorical thinkers.
In theory, as a speculative poetic enterprise, millenarianism is properly an adjunct of eschatology, the study of last things. In practice, millenarianism is distinguished by close scrutiny of the present, from which arise urgent issues of human agency. Once the fateful coincidence between history and prophecy has been confirmed, must good people sit tight, or must they gather together, withdraw to a refuge? Should they enter the wilderness to construct a holy city, or should they directly engage the chaos of the End, confront the regiments of evil? Millenarians answer with many voices, rephrasing their positions as they come to terms with an End less imminent or less cataclysmic. Where their image of the New World is that of a golden age, they begin with a restorative ethos, seeking a return to a lost purity. Where their image is that of the land of the happy dead or a distant galaxy of glory, their ethos is initially retributive, seeking to balance an unfortunate past against a fortunate future. Few millenarians remain entirely passive, quietly awaiting a supernatural transformation of the world; those who go about their lives without allusion to the looming End customarily escape notice. Most millenarians conflate the restorative and retributive. They act in some way to assure themselves that the New World will not be unfamiliar. Images of a fortunate future are primed with nostalgia.
A millenarian's sense of time, consequently, is neither strictly cyclical nor linear. However much the millennium is to be the capstone to time, as in Christian and Islamic traditions, it is also in character and affect the return of that carefree era posited for the start of things. However much the millennium is to be an impost between two of the infinite arches of time, as in Aztec and Mahāyāna Buddhist traditions, it is for all mortal purposes a release from pain and chaos for many generations.
To the uninitiated, the millenarian mathematics of time may seem mysteriously scaled: how can one account for that arbitrary algebra that assigns the value 3,500 years to the locution "a time, and times, and half a time" (Rv. 12:14)? Millenarian thought is figurative in both senses of that word—metaphorical and numerological. Intricate play with numbers of years is founded upon a faith in the impending aesthetic wholeness of the world-historical process. Millenarian searches for laws of historical correspondence between the individually human and the universally human bear a formal similarity to one another, whether the searchers are nineteenth-century social visionaries (the Saint-Simonian Gustave d'Eichthal, the young Hegelian August von Cieszkowski, the Confucian reformer Kang Yuwei), seventeenth-century theologians (the Puritan chronologist Joseph Mede, the natural philosopher Isaac Newton, the Shīʿī Neoplatonist Muḥammad Sadr al-Dīn), or twelfth-century monastics (the abbess Hildegard of Bingen, the abbot Joachim of Fiore, the White Lotus monk Mao Ziyuan). Each discerns a pattern of historical ages that promises both completion and recapitulation.
World religions have known two deep reservoirs of millenarian thought, one noumenal and Gnostic, the other phenomenal and nomothetic. When the reservoirs empty into each other—when mathematicians allude to secret knowledge or contemplatives allude to laws of physics (as in fifth-century southern China, seventeenth-century Western Europe, twentieth-century North America)—millenarianism waxes strong. Alchemy and astrology, nuclear physics and molecular genetics share with qabbalistic magic and Tantric yoga an appreciation for techniques of prediction and mutation. Popularly set in sharp contrast to millenarian "fanatics," scientists and mystics have in fact been crucial to the cultural continuity of millenarian thought; they have preserved an intense concern with processes of transformation and the pulsing of time.
Among the world religions we can locate two constellations of millenarian thought about an epochal pulsing of time, one Zoroastrian-Jewish-Greek-Christian, the other Hindu-Buddhist-Daoist-Confucian. In the Mediterranean littoral, an epochal aesthetic was elaborated by scribal elites who were resistant first to Greek rule (thus producing the Jewish Book of Daniel and the lost sources for the Mazdean Apocalypse of Hystaspe ), then to Roman rule (producing the Egyptian Potter's Prophecy and Judeo-Christian apocalypses such as Enoch and the Epistle of Barnabas ), and finally to Muslim rule (producing the Syrian-Christian Revelations of Pseudo-Methodius). Feasting upon a cosmopolitan diet of Zoroastrian cosmology, Jewish notions of Sabbath, and Greco-Roman ideas of historical recurrence, these literati stamped the disturbing flux of empires with the template of the divine creative week, which they saw being played out again at length in human history through a reassuringly predictable series of world kingdoms over a period of six or seven thousand years. At the end lay a millennial sabbath, transposed from a time of perpetual rest to a time of truce and earthly reward prior to the final onslaughts of the dragon, tyrant, or false messiah.
This demonic figure of imperium acquired a righteous cousin, the Last World Emperor, whose inexplicable abdication would open the way to his black kin. The dialectic between devious shape-changing evil and prematurely vanishing good, played out against a Christian backdrop that placed a redemptive event close to the center of Roman history, gradually reversed epochal theory, which had begun with a fourfold schema of decadence from golden antiquity. The upshot by the fourteenth century was a progressive tripartite schema bounded on one side by fall and flood, on the other by fire and judgment, and aesthetically framed: here a primordial earthly paradise spoiled by a fork-tongued beast; there a climactic earthly paradise spiked by a horned beast, the antichrist. Between these ran three broad historical ages, each with its bright dawn and horrid nightfall. These ages were identified with other trinities (Father-Law-Justice, Son-Faith-Grace, Spirit-Love-Freedom). Over the next centuries, the millennium itself was annexed to the third age and enshrined in historical rhetoric (classical, medieval, renaissance; feudal, capitalist, socialist). Nineteenth-century exponents of infinite progress had only to remove the limiting aesthetic frame.
Across East Asia, a millenarian aesthetic developed within contexts far less adversarial, and we find no figure antiphonal to the universal perfect ruler (the Hindu cakravartin, the Buddhist Rudra Cakin, the Javanese hybrid Ratu Adil) or to the future incarnate savior (the Hindu Kalkin, the Maitreya Buddha, a reborn Laozi). Furthermore, the epochal scheme was overwhelmingly degenerative: it fixed all recorded history within the last of the four increasingly chaotic eras (yuga s) of the aeon (kalpa ). The problem here was not to expand the prophetic horizon but to foreshorten the 4.3 million-year Indian kalpa cycle so that hundreds of thousands of distressing years of the fourth era, the kaliyuga, did not still lie ahead.
Each kalpa was to end in a cosmic disaster that would, after some blank time, initiate a new cycle whose first yuga was always a golden age. Strategic foreshortening brought present catastrophe stern to snout with a renewed world. The foreshortening began in northern India with early Mahāyāna Buddhist images of bodhisattva s, compassionate enlightened beings who chose to work in this world for the benefit of others rather than withdraw into final nirvāṇa. Almost simultaneously, Chinese commentators during the Later Han period (25–220 ce) alloyed the Confucian golden age of antiquity, the Datong, to the Daiping golden age, which according to Daoist sexagenary cycles could be both ancient and imminent, as the Yellow Turban rebels in 184 sincerely hoped. By the sixth century, the colossal four-cycle Indian cosmology had collapsed under the weight of Daoist alchemy, pietist Pure Land Buddhism, and popular Chinese worship of the Eternal Mother (Wusheng Laomu) and the bodhisattva Prince Moonlight (Yueguang Tongzi).
There were then three accessible ages, associated cosmologically with the Daoist Former, Middle, and Latter Heavens, typologically with the three Buddhas (Lamplighter, Śākyamuni, and Maitreya), and synecdochically with the Buddhas' lotus thrones of azure, red, and white. Each age begins with a new buddha and then declines, again in triplets: True Doctrine, or Dharma; Counterfeit Doctrine; and Last Days of Doctrine. Since the days of the historical Buddha, Śākyamuni (and, traditionally, of Confucius and Laozi), we have squatted uncomfortably in the dissolute Last Days, awaiting Maitreya or his predecessor, Prince Moonlight, who is due to sweep in at the height of catastrophes one thousand years after Śākyamuni's parinirvāṇa. Profitably vague as it was, such a schedule made it clear that Venerable Mother, responsible for sending each of the buddhas, intended our imminent return to the Pure Land, the Western Paradise.
The upshot of this foreshortening was an epochal aesthetic which, by the fourteenth century, called for rounded contours to a humanly proportioned history, and a millenarian White Lotus rebellion, which in 1351 drew the curtain on the Yuan dynasty and set the stage for the Ming (from Ming Wang, the Chinese name for the Manichaean "perfect ruler," the Prince of Radiance). This aesthetic survived to inform the White Lotus uprisings of the eighteenth century, the Taiping Rebellion of 1851 to 1864, the Dao Lanh sect founded in 1849 by the Vietnamese Buddha Master of Western Peace, Doan Minh Huyen, the Ōmotokyō, founded in 1892, by the Japanese farmer Deguchi Nao, and the Saya San rebellion in Burma from 1930 to 1932.
Stretched between the Mediterranean and East Asian constellations, Manichaeism and Islam transected both. Mani's lithe dualism darkened the antichrist and highlighted the Amitābha (Pure Land) Buddha and the Ming Prince of Radiance. Islam shared with the Mediterranean a demonic end-time imposter, al-Dajjāl, and with East Asia a degenerative epochal theory, but more important was its caravan of redeemers. By 1300, Shīʿī Muslims had at least four candidates for the job of world-renewer: the twelfth spiritual guide, or imām, who had disappeared in the ninth century and was in hiding or occultation; a twelfth caliph, under whose reign would appear the restorer of the faith, the Mahdi, to usher in a short golden age before the End; and ʿĪsā (Jesus) who would do military honors at the End. Ismāʿīlī and Ṣūfī emphasis on the hiddenness of the imām may have colored later Christian visions of a Last World Emperor dying (or vanishing) prematurely, and Shīʿī Mahdism certainly splashed across North India and Indonesia. Eventually, imām, caliph, and Mahdi merged; in Africa even ʿĪsā had joined ranks by the mid-1800s. Two epochal motifs also merged then, a punctual one, according to which a renewer of the faith would appear at the end of each Islamic century, and a symmetrical one, according to which the twelfth imām would reappear in the thirteenth century ah (1785/6 to 1881/2 ce), which was a century of worldwide Mahdist movements—northern Nigeria (1804), India (1810, 1828, and 1880), Java (1825), Iran (1844), Algeria (1849, 1860, and 1879), Senegal (1854), and the Sudan (1881).
Common to millenarian aesthetics in all the world religions is this epochal scenario: a calm inaugural and a riotous finale to each act; the circling of two protagonists near the End, one imperial, the other sacramental; and a time at the End that is at once encore, intermezzo, and the throwing open of the doors.
Millenarianism stands therefore in contrast to the modern pessimism that paints miniatures of global devastation yet mounts no panorama of a future marvelous world. Though flood, plague, famine, or war may summon visions of collective death, millenarians promise more than an accurate prediction of catastrophe. They promise an earth lifted beyond safety to grace. Even at their most catastrophic, millenarians insist that a classical tragedy must be fought through only to reach a genuinely good time. From this conviction of drama derive those socially uncompromising rituals of breaking—obscenity, nudity, fasting, celibacy, rebellion—so coincident with millenarian movements. At their most utopian, millenarians tone down the nightmare of the final act: the earth will be transformed by sheer unanimity. Through evangelism, prophecy, and technologies of translation (speaking in tongues, polyglot scriptures, computer mailing), people will, in the face of local despair, embrace the same faith. A single faith, warmly bespoken, must entail a universal community whose very existence will effect the harmony, sanctity, and security long sought. A time of crisis thus becomes a time of redemption.
Characteristically, millenarians are least specific concerning the millennium itself, a time of instant and perfect communication whose seamlessness makes anatomical detail unnecessary. Millenarians are, rather, diagnosticians of bodies in metastasis. It is hardly coincidental that millenarianism in such diverse contexts as central Africa, western Europe, and northeastern Brazil has been chartered by homeopathic healers, who best appreciate the dramatic working-through of crisis. Not all healers become prophets, but most millenarian prophets claim therapeutic powers that extend from the ailing human body to the ailing body politic. Themselves usually colporteurs of regional symbolic systems, the prophet-healers take millenarianism from diagnosis to prescription, from philosophy to jubilee.
If millenarian thought is curled inside calendar scrolls, millenarian movements are engraved on maps. Their rhetoric has to do less with time than with place. Just as millenarian thought focuses upon golden ages, so millenarian movements have golden places: Heaven on Earth, the Pure Land, the Blessed Isle, the Land without Evil, California (this last from a sixteenth-century Spanish romance read by Hernán Cortés). And since in most iconographies what is closest to perfect is closest to the eye of the storm, millenarians are sure that any migration they make is no retreat but a step toward the New World. Millenarian crying of doom and recruitment of the elect must be understood as the epochal duty of taking into the calm center the kernel of humanity.
Prime metaphor of millenarian movements, migration can also become the prime experience, palpable or vicarious. Millenarians encourage those sensations of the migrant that observers may mistake for motives: exile and wandering, put in scriptural tandem with the peripatetic Buddha, the Wandering Jew, the itinerant Jesus, and Muḥammad's Hijrah; nostalgia for lost lands; contrary moods of excited expectation and deep remorse; inflation of the spiritual benefits of transit, sustained by epics of a terrifying, miraculous crossing; ambivalence toward the New World as both brave and strange.
Whether a millenarian group solicits new gods or extorts aid from the old, it will confuse old home with new. Imagery of migration brings into view earlier mythical dislocations (deluge, expulsion) even as it makes evident the need to accommodate to a new land. The more intransigent the notion of home, the more people must provide themselves with apologies for imagined or actual movements away from it, and the more they will tend toward migration as a commanding metaphor.
We know that the English Puritan settlement of "New" England, like the Spanish Franciscan conquest of "New" Spain, had such millenarian resonance that neither Puritans nor Franciscans were able to acknowledge the historical integrity of the so-called Indians. We know also that for many societies, visitors of a different complexion already had a millenarian role in myths of migration and ancestry (the pink-skinned Europeans for the Fuyughe of the New Guinea highlands, the white-skinned Europeans for the MuKongo of the region of the Kongo, the dark-skinned Mongols, or "Tartars," for western Europeans). For victor as for vanquished, millenarian vertigo has conditioned initial contacts, later misunderstandings, violence, and oppression.
If millenarianism is the religion of the oppressed, it is no less the religion of the oppressor. What prompts the oppressed to envision a new moral order is likely to be the same as what, some decades earlier, prompted the oppressor to move on or over or through. So millenarianism may be both cause and result of migration. This is seen most vividly in the conjunction of Sudanese Mahdism with long-term migration south from an expanding Saharan desert, accelerated pilgrimage across the Sudan to Mecca during the thirteenth century ah, and Egyptian disruption of slave trade from 1850 to 1880.
There is, to many millenarian movements, a primary ecology dependent upon this experience of migration, whether lived or fantasized. Millenarians commonly foresee an End in which the elements of the world are used up, consumed by fire, lava, or flood. As the faithful migrate, the world does too, its elements recombining. How else could that ultimate harmony between the human and the natural be established? Although the elemental reshuffling may be divinely operated, millenarians have typically excited notice by their own human, mimetic acts of violence, their putative disregard for the wealth of the world and the bonds of social life. Cattle killing or pig killing, bonfires of earthly possessions, neglect of crops—these are more than public commitments to prophets or prophecies; they are attempts to act in concert with what seems to be a driving rhythm of history—humanity and nature cracking apart in war and earthquake or crumbling more silently through immorality and faith-lessness.
The New World implied by most millenarian movements presumes not only a new natural physiognomy but also a new human physiognomy, one that is messianic in import. We can make no easy distinctions between messianic and millenarian movements. Few messianic leaders appear without heralding an instantaneous New World. Obversely, where there are no focal messianic leaders, as in the Chinese Eight Trigrams Rebellion in 1813, millenarians usually take upon themselves a collective messianic mantle, with cloth enough to redress themselves and the world.
For those who follow prophets toward a New World already marked out—Jan Beuckelzoon's Münster (Germany, 1534), Jemima Wilkinson's Jerusalem (New York, 1788–1794), Antonio Conselheiro's Canudos (Brazil, 1893–1897), Julian Baltasar's Cabaruan (the Philippines, 1897–1901), Rua Kenana's Maungapohatu (New Guinea, 1907–1916)—the millennium begins in miniature as a sacred prologue. For civic millenarians—the Japanese of Nichiren's Tokaido region in the 1250s, the Italians of Girolamo Savonarola's Florence in the 1490s, the Americans of the 1860s in Emanuel Leutze's mural Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way in the Capitol, Washington, D.C.,—the burden of pointing the way toward the millennium lies not upon any prophetic enclave or diasporal elite but upon the entire population. The city, the city-state, the state itself becomes the vehicle for world renovation.
So millenarianism may beat at the heart of aggressive nationalism, as in the French revolutionary anthem "La Marseillaise" (1792) or at independence day extravaganzas everywhere. It has underlain beliefs in a Russian mission to redeem civilization, as promoted by the novelist Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling, the occultist Baroness Barbara Juliane von Krüdener, and Tsar Alexander I before his Holy Alliance of 1815; a Hungarian mission, as in The Entry of the Magyars, (1892–1894), a cyclorama celebrating Hungary's "millennial constitution"; a German mission—the Nazi Third Reich; and a Greek mission—the Zoeist Fraternity of the 1950s. Ancient westerly migrations from the Asian steppes by Huns, Magyars, Aryans, and Dorians have thus been rousted out of annals, written into history, and gilded to serve as a national mandate. Talk of a "Third World" as the last hope for a failing planet is a contemporary extension of the same civic millenarian ideal.
"First World" scholars tend to link civic millenarianism with modern Christian postmillennial theology, which holds that Jesus' second coming will postdate the start of the millennium, and that no great tumult will intervene between this world and the New World. Millenarians of this type may be told only by their rhythms from the gentler rocking of reformers. In contrast, premillennialists, paradoxically considered both more primitive and more revolutionary, actively prepare for the advent. The New World, inaugurated by Jesus, ruptures the historical chain and affirms the supernal nature of deity. ("Amillennialists," such as Augustine of Hippo, run the millennium concurrently with the life of the church, so that there can be no separate future earthly kingdom.)
Millenarian movements do not settle conveniently into a pre- or postmillennial stance; even within Latin Christianity, these categories had little bearing before the nineteenth century. From the time of Lucius Lactantius (c. 240–320) until the Reformation, the issue for millenarians was whether the millennium would occur before or after the advent of the antichrist. When early Protestants convinced themselves that the Roman papacy was the antichrist, their heirs had to rephrase the advent debate in terms of the reappearance of Jesus. In the seventeenth century, another generation built up historical arguments in favor of Protestantism by adducing a theory of dispensations through which God progressively revealed divine law. Their heirs mustered courage to reread the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation as if these books could at last be compassed. Such courage led John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) to lower from the flies a startlingly theatrical machine that inspired many subsequent premillennial scenarios: the "secret rapture," an unannounced ascension of the living elect while Jesus returns to do battle on the earth below (cf. 1 Thes. 4:17). Certified by the widely distributed Cyrus Scofield Bible commentary (1909; amended 1919), this machine resembles Hellenistic blueprints of the Gnostic sage's ascent to the lower heavens during world conflagration. Both tend to cloud the supposedly radical thrust of premillennialism.
In larger perspective, it is less useful to distinguish between conservatives and radical millenarians than to note that millenarian movements go through phases: an expansive phase during which believers move out to a ripening world and an astringent phase during which they pull in toward a holy refuge. These phases are equally political. In the stubbornest withdrawal to the most undesirable, inaccessible places (like Jim Jones's village in the Guyanese jungle from 1972 to 1978), millenarians become prima facie political threats, whether or not they speak of loyalty to earthly regents. Total withdrawal so often suggests cabal that the more a millenarian group seeks full disengagement, the more the ruling elite may suspect conspiracy and subversion. Similarly, in their expansive phase, millenarians may be the missionary outriders of empire (Christopher Columbus, for example, his monogram qabbalistic, his "Christ-bearing" mission self-consciously prophetic) or the counterforce to empire (the Plains Indian Ghost Dance of the 1880s, the Contestado of Brazil in the 1910s, the New Mexican La Raza movement in the 1960s); they may be the impetus for nationalism (the Tana Bhagat of India, 1915) or the barrier against it (the Watchtower and Kitawala movements in south-central Africa since 1909, Alice Lenshina's Lumpa Church in Zambia in the 1960s); they may be universalists (the International Workers of the World and their general strikes of 1905 to 1920) or ethnic separatists (Juan Santos presenting himself in 1742 as Apu-Inca, descendant of the last Inca, Atahuallpa, or the Altai Turks in 1904 awaiting the Oirot Khan's return and freedom from the Russians). Expansive or astringent, millenarian movements are inherently political but not inherently reactionary or revolutionary.
Typologies of millenarian movements
Altogether, as a system of thought and social movement, millenarianism spins on two axes: golden age or new era; primitive paradise or promised land. This oscillation leads perplexed observers to depict millenarian movements as volatile, metamorphic, undirected, and ephemeral. Journalistic or academic, administrative or missiological, works on the subject abound with images that have shaped policy. Millenarianism is described in five iconic sets:
- a contagion to be quarantined (as with Mormonism in Utah in the later 1800s);
- a quicksand to be fenced off (as in the legal actions against the American Shakers in the early 1800s and the present-day anticult campaigns against the Unification Church);
- a simmering stew to be watched, on the premise that a watched pot never boils (as in police surveillance of the group surrounding Catherine Théot in Paris in 1793 and 1794);
- a boil to be lanced (as in the English kidnapping of the prophet Birsa from Munda country in northeastern India in 1895 or the Belgian imprisonment of Simon Kimbangu and his first disciples from 1921 to 1957);
- an explosion to be contained (the German war against the Maji Maji of German East Africa [modern-day Tanzania] in 1905 and 1906 or the Jamaican government's preemption of Rastafarian music and rhetoric).
Millenarianism appears here as an epiphenomenon, a symptom of or a pretext for something more sinister. These images (and policies) have an august history. Church councils in Latin, Byzantine, and Protestant Christianity, legal scholars of Sunnī Islam and rabbinic Judaism, the presiding monks of Buddhist saṃgha s—all have long regarded millenarianism as a disguised attack on codes of behavior that are meant to govern faith and cult. Rulers and their bureaucracies—Confucian, Islamic, Hindu—have regarded millenarianism as a ritual mask worn by crafty rebels.
Present-day typologists are somewhat more sympathetic. For them, millenarianism is emblematic, a ceremonial flag waved furiously over swamps of injustice. Such an interpretation was codified by the French and German Enlightenments, then refurbished by liberals in the nineteenth century until positivist denials of a religious instinct made religion itself seem epiphenomenal. Latter-day social scientists have made millenarianism doubly emblematic, for they describe it as the sign of transition from a religious to a secular society.
Current typologies work along three scales: temporal focus, soteriology, and sociopolitical engagement. On the first scale, typologists range those movements oriented toward (1) the reconstitution of an earlier social structure (called nativist, traditionalist, conservationist, restorative), (2) the imaginative making of peace with change (called acculturative, adjustive, perpetuative, revitalist, reformative), and (3) the creation of an ideal future society (called messianic or utopian). The second scale runs from those movements concerned exclusively with individual salvation (called redemptive, revivalist, thaumaturgic) to those that demand an overhaul of economy and etiquette (called transformative or revolutionary). The third scale starts at total isolation and finishes with collective assault on the state. This scale especially has been plodded and plowed by rhetoric (re-actionary/progressive, passive/active, prepolitical/political, mythological/ideological). Like mule teams, these binary terms are hardworking but perpetually sterile, since millenarians delight in the yoking of opposites.
Dynamic typologies, plotted by such scholars as Mary Douglas (1970), James W. Fernandez, (1964), and Wim M. J. van Binsbergen (1981), are quadrivalent, balancing social pressures against social structures. Douglas uses two variables, social cohesion and shared symbolic systems. Fernandez takes acculturation as his ordinate, instrumentality as his abscissa. Van Binsbergen considers both the source of disequilibrium (infrastructural, superstructural) and the nature of the threat ("peasantization," "proletarianization"). Such typologies, more appreciative of the complexity of millenarian movements, still hesitate before the phase shifts through which most movements go.
Motives for the fabrication of typologies may themselves be classified as prophylactic or exploitative. Most typologies mean to be prophylactic. Political scientists, for example, may hope to forestall the rise of charismatic tyranny; anthropologists in colonial settings may want to persuade authorities to handle millenarian movements more reasonably and with less show of force; missionaries may wish to avoid spawning highly independent churches or syncretic cults. Other typologies are exploitative. Marxist and capitalist alike place millenarians on a sociohistorical ladder so as to direct their obvious energies upward, toward national liberation and socialism or toward modern industrialism and oligopoly. Occultists and irenic church people place millenarians on one rung of the ladder of spiritual evolution so as to draw them toward higher consciousness, the Aquarian age, or one broad faith.
Explanations for millenarian movements
Despite the many typologies, there are but two current scholarly explanations for the birth of millenarian movements. The first asserts that millenarianism arises from feelings of relative deprivation in matters of status, wealth, security, or self-esteem. Millenarian movements appear in periods of crisis, when such feelings become most painful. The crisis may be as blatant and acute as the sack of a city or as subtle and prolonged as the passage from isolated agrarian community to industrial megalopolis. Whichever it is, the crisis engenders personal fantasies of invulnerability and escape, which are transformed by charismatic individuals who are often members of displaced elites. These prophets shape public expressions of protest at a time when more straightforward political action seems useless. In the necessarily unsuccessful aftermath, millenarians master the cognitive dissonance between expectation and failure by perpetuating millenarian beliefs within a revised chronology and a new missionary plan. The underlying causes for feelings of deprivation will not have been resolved, so a millenarian tradition, halfway between social banditry and the politics of party, burns on.
The second, complementary explanation says that millenarian movements spring from contact between two cultures when one is technologically far superior to the other. Millenarianism spreads within the settled, inferior culture, whose polity is critically threatened. The newcomers, usually white and literate, disrupt traditional systems of kinship, healing, and land rights. Most wrenching are the factorial economics introduced by the newcomers, whose quantitative uses of time and money rasp across the qualitative webs of social reciprocity. The indigenes must redefine their notions of power, status, and law, or they must stave off the well-armed traders, their navies, and their missionaries. Acknowledging the superiority of the newcomers' technology but not that of their ethic of possessive individualism, the indigenes begin to speculate about the true origin of the goods and gods of the stingy, secretive newcomers. The result is the contact cult (also called a "crisis cult" or "cargo cult") devoted to frenzied preparation for the receipt of shiploads of goods (cargo) that will dock unaccompanied by whites or in the company of fair-skinned but unselfish ancestors. Already under intense pressure, the people ceremonially destroy sacred objects and standing crops. They believe that this world is ending and a new one must begin, best with the newcomers gone and themselves masters of the secret of wealth.
Contact is the sociology for which deprivation is the psychology. Contact leads to millenarianism when one group feels unalterably deprived vis-à-vis a new other. The two explanations, compatible with stock images of eruption and contagion, rely on the premise of a closed system. At the millenarian core lies frustration; out of frustration squirms fantasy, and fantasy breeds violence. Early Freudian analyses of hysteria, psychosis, and schizophrenia have been employed here to wire the circuit between individual fireworks and collective explosion.
Deprivation theories prevail despite decades of criticism for their being slackly predictive. Scholars have noted that relative deprivation does not account specifically for millenarianism; it may as easily induce fracas, sabotage, or personal depression. Conversely, millenarian movements have not "burst out" where relative deprivation has been most apparent: eighteenth-century Ireland, nineteenth-century Ethiopia, the southeastern coast of modern India. Indeed, as critics may add, where across this imperfect world has relative deprivation ever been absent or a crisis lacking?
At this point, theorists invoke a homo ex machina, the charismatic prophet who processes the raw stuff of frustration. As a person whose life portends or echoes social crises, the prophet articulates the myth-dream of the people and so becomes invested with the power to direct its expression. Wherever gambols a weak social theory about religious movements, sure to follow is the fleece of charisma. For face-to-face groups, as W. R. Bion showed in his Experiences in Groups (New York, 1961), prophetic leaders may embody group fantasies of rebirth. For larger groups—like most millenarian movements—charisma becomes narcotic, a controlled substance rather than a theory of social relations.
Theorists have given particularly short shrift to the remarkable prominence of women as millenarian prophets. In all but Islam and Judaism, women have stridden at the head of millenarian movements, with men as their scribes, publicists, and ideologues. The list is long; a few examples must do: Priscilla and Maximilla of the New Prophecy (the Montanists) in Asia Minor in the late second century; Guglielma of Milan and her women disciples in the late thirteenth century; Dona Béatrice's Antonine movement in the Lower Congo from 1703 to 1706; Joanna Southcott with perhaps twenty thousand followers in England before her death in 1814; Ellen Gould White, chief oracle of the Seventh-day Adventists in the United States, in the late nineteenth century; Jacobina Maurer of the Brazilian Muckers movement from 1872 to 1898; the visionary Gaidaliu in Assam from 1929 to 1930 and 1961 to 1965; Mai Chaza's Guta ra Jehova (City of Jehovah) in Rhodesia from 1954 to 1960; Kitamura Sayō's Dancing Religion (Tenshō Kōtai Jingukyō) founded in Japan in 1945.
Deprivation theories maintain that women, an injured group, use religion as a means to power otherwise denied them by patriarchies. This makes religion a negative (compensatory) vehicle for women and a positive (creative) vehicle for men, and it fails to explain the power that women gain over men through millenarian movements. There is as yet no sufficient discussion of female charisma. Indeed, where prophetic leadership is male, analysis customarily proceeds from the instrumental, socioeconomic background to doctrine and political tactics; where female, it proceeds from affective, sexual background to ritual and spirit possession. Active men, reactive women: a contact theory of the sexes.
Contact theories are tricky. Amazed by discoveries of previously unknown tribes in the Amazon region and in the Philippines, industrial societies exaggerate the isolation of nonindustrial people. Nonetheless, contact is always a matter of degree: from armies with bulldozers abruptly grading runways in Melanesia to pandemics of smallpox hundreds of miles from (European) vectors. Contact is never so much a shock that some prophecy or other has not already accumulated around a piece of strangeness that years before drifted in on a storm tide or fell from the clouds.
In addition, we have sparse evidence that a number of peoples—the Guaraní of South America, the Karen of Burma, the Lakalai of the island of New Britain, and perhaps the Pacific Northwest Indians—had myths, rituals, and cults whose motifs were millenarian and whose origins were prior to contact with an in-pressing "superior" (Eurasian) culture.
Furthermore, not every uneven contact lights a millenarian "fuse." While the same material imbalance between Europeans and natives faced both Polynesians and Melanesians, millenarian movements have been infrequent among the politically stratified societies of Polynesia. More loosely bunched and socially fluid, Melanesians had inadequate etiquette by which to carry out diplomacy between distinctly separate orders. The customary structure of discourse, not contact itself, seems to have been a key variable in the general absence of cargo cults in Polynesia and their flowering in Melanesia, where consistently powerful Europeans could not be dealt with as easily as could another and analogous order.
At best, deprivation predisposes, contact precipitates. There are six other factors whose presence predisposes to millenarian movements:
- permeable monastic communities and lay sodalities that extend loyalties beyond the family;
- itinerant homeopathic healers who carry ritual and rumor across regional borders;
- a mythopoetic tradition in popular drama and folktale, which makes history prophetic and the people the bearers of prophecy;
- numerology and astrology, which encourage people habitually to search out relationships between number, event, and time;
- rituals of inversion, such as carnival or exhaustive mourning, in which endings and beginnings are willfully confused;
- migration myths that call for the return to an ancestral land or for the return of the dead to a renewed land.
There are negatively prejudicial factors as well. Millenarian movements are least likely at the extremes of the economic spectrum—that is, among those who have complete freedom of mobility and among those absolutely constrained. No millenarian movements occur within groups whose positions are secure, comfortable, and protected by mechanisms of caste (classical North Indian, Japanese, and Roman aristocracies). Nor do millenarian movements occur within groups whose mobility has been severely restricted by political oppression (prisoners, inmates of concentration camps), economic oppression (slaves), physical illness (hospital patients, the starving), or mental illness (asylum inmates, the autistic).
This verges on tautology: millenarian movements happen where physical movement is possible. But the near tautology is suggestive. Where cultural ideals of physical movement differ, so, correspondingly, may the nature of social movements. For example, to be harshly schematic, Western Europeans have stressed vertical, direct, outbound motion in their sports, their dancing, their tools, and their manners; the head and shoulders lead, with the mass of the body in tow. Sub-Saharan Africans such as the Dogon have a kinesthetic of orchestral, highly oppositional, polyrhythmic motion in which the body twists at the hips. The northern Chinese have in their martial arts, their medicine and calligraphy a kinesthetic of sustained circular motion, an integrated body linked to the flow of universal energy. These differences may be expressed in the European proclivity for a tight echelon of prophets leading an undifferentiated millenarian body, the African tendency toward coextensive and fissiparous leadership, the Chinese history of generational continuity from one guiding millenarian family to the next. Kinesthetic differences may also determine the relative importance of the precipitants of millenarianism: where a society looks for whole-body motion, the triggering instances must affect the entire society; where a society looks for articulated or isolated motions, the triggering instances may be more local.
The following four factors recur cross-culturally as major precipitants of millenarian movements:
- the evangelism of foreign missionaries whose success requires the reordering of native patterns of marriage, family, diet, and calendar;
- displacement by refugees or invaders, or as a result of persecution, economic decline, or natural calamity;
- confusion about landholdings due to shifting settlement, the superposition of a new legal grid, or the advent of new technologies, as foreshadowed most particularly by census taking, geological surveys, rail laying, and road building;
- generational distortion, where the traditional transfer of loyalties and moral authority is profoundly disturbed by war deaths, schooling, long-distance migrations, or urbanization.
These are, of course, related. Threaded throughout are anxieties about inheritance, boundaries, and language (its intelligibility, its capacity for truth-telling). Set within a matrix of predisposing factors, granted some rumors and good weather, these anxieties should specifically engage the wheels of millenarianism, with its special freight of ages, places, and figures of speech. Expansive millenarianism occurs when believers are imperiled or impressed by forces within their society; astringent millenarianism occurs when the forces seem foreign.
Patterns of millenarian movements in world history
The world's great religions share a larger historical pattern of millenarian activity (although Vedānta Hinduism may be a partial exception). Founded on the fringes of empire or at the fracture line between competing kingdoms, these religions find themselves several centuries later at the center of an empire. Millenarian thought then appears in canonical form, drawing its impetus from those forces of imperial expansion that compel the recalculation of calendars, histories, distances, and sacred geography. The new arithmetic signals a shift in scales of measurement, mediated as much by mystics as by scientists. When an empire seems to have reached its limits, millenarian movements flourish, usually several generations before the dynastic collapse.
When the millennium does not arrive, or when millenarian movements are co-opted by a new dynasty, as in Ming China or Safavid Iran, millenarianism does not fade away. End-of-the-world images linger in the dreams and speech of the people, and end-time ideas are filtered through monasteries, lay brotherhoods, and scientific communities. As these are gradually attracted to the nodes of political power, millenarian movements reappear either as adjuncts of conquest or as resistance to it. Millenarian activity peaks again when the limits of territorial coherence are felt within the empire and along its colonial periphery.
This sequence may obtain for other than the great world religions (e.g., for the Aztec, Iroquois, and Bakongo), but materials are lacking that would sustain such an argument for the many preliterate cultures. It is tempting, in the same way that millenarianism itself is tempting, to offer a global explanation—such as climatic cycles—for its rhythms. The quest for global explanations, however, like the quest for a fountain of youth, tells more about the explorers than it does about the territory.
Contemporary Fascination with the End
Why does millenarianism presently seem in such need of some kind of covering law? The answers to this question have to do with the characteristics of the North Atlantic ecumene, which is responsible for most of the law making.
A first answer is that millenarians tend not to fall within the bell of the ecumene's emotional curve. Although sternly depressed about current affairs, millenarians are at the same time exultant about the prospects for a New World. European and North American psychologists interpret ambivalence as a symptom of inner discord; the greater the ambivalence, the more serious the illness. But "sensible" middle-class citizens join UFO cults, buy fifteen million copies of Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1970), and order bulk goods from End Time Foods, Inc., in Virginia. Why?
A second answer is that millenarians threaten the stability of the ecumene, upsetting the development of outlying colonies. Millenarians seem haphazardly amused by industrial investment and international tariffs. Why do they keep popping up to make a hash of foreign policy, and why do they prefer the "magical" to the "practical"?
A third answer is that the wars of the twentieth century burned the mark of the beast on North Atlantic arts, philosophy, and history. The beast roared through the no-man's-lands of World War I and the gas chambers and radioactive cinders of World War II. Apocalypse has lost its reference to millennium; it has become simply a synonym for disaster.
We can also trace the growth of a catastrophic mood in North Atlantic science over a century of work in astronomy, cosmology, ecology, climatology, and, recently, morphogenetics and mathematics (the last two united by catastrophe theory, which accounts topologically for instant changes of state). The mood has prevailed in popular science from Henry Adams's 1909 essay on the second law of thermodynamics ("The Rule of Phase Applied to History") to the syzygy scare of the so-called Jupiter effect (1974–1982).
A fourth, more upbeat answer is that archaeology, theology, politics, and the Gregorian calendar have conspired to regenerate the utopian side of millenarianism. Although no millenarian movements and exceedingly few prophecies were geared to the year 1000 (few then used such a calendar), the historical myth persisted because it seemed to many that the year 2000 would be truly millennial. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls since 1947 has underscored the contention, popularized by Albert Schweitzer in 1906, that eschatological hope was vital at the time of apostolic Christianity and should therefore be part of all true Christian belief. Israel's statehood in 1948 and its 1967 reunification of Jerusalem have convinced fundamentalist Christians of the nearness of the Second Coming, for which a principal sign is the Jews' return to Zion. So we see in the ecumene a telephone hot line for news of the latest scriptural prophecies fulfilled, an international conference on end-of-world prophecies (in Jerusalem in 1971), and a new perfume called Millennium: "In the life of every woman's skin there comes a turning point, a time when her face begins to look older. Now there is an alternative."
Outside the ecumene, detached from Christian dates, Hindu and Buddhist revivalists (Hare Krishna, Divine Light Mission, Sōka Gakkai) preach the last era, the kaliyuga or mappō. Shīʿīs awaiting the Mahdi at century's end (ah1399/1979–1980 ce) experienced instead the Iranian revolution. Mexican intellectuals of the Movement of the Reappearance of Anauak, following the Aztec calendar, find this a time of cataclysm. Marxists, flipping through an economic almanac, tear off the leaves of late capitalism.
The fifth answer, then, is that from within and without the ecumene, notions of change have taken on a prepotently millenarian cast.
The Significance of Millenarianism
Claims for the significance of millenarianism, either as a system of thought or as a tradition of social movements, range from the thoughtfully deprecatory (that it is one more index to the predicament of capitalism) to the modestly dismissive (that it is an expression of a universally human fantasy of returning to the womb and resuming unhindered power in a practically timeless world) to the complimentary (that it is a rich mode of dissent where other modes are either unavailable or unavailing) to the genuinely laudatory (that in the form of the myth of the eternal return and its rituals of cosmic renewal, it is the taproot of religion and revolution). The truth, as usual, lies athwart.
Millenarian scholarship, chiefly a phenomenon of the North Atlantic ecumene, has followed the same patterns of historical change.
During the sixteenth century, while European merchants redefined time as fortune, millenarians appeared in Roman Catholic histories of heresy and Protestant martyrologies. For Catholics and for the Magisterial Reformers, millenarianism was occasioned by lust (impatience, appetite without love); for radical Protestants, millenarianism came of a desperately loving desire to return to the apostolic model. Then, as today, the bell cows of any overview were the communalistic Taborites in fifteenth-century Bohemia, Thomas Müntzer's rebels in the German Peasants' Revolt of 1524–1525, and the antinomian Anabaptist kingdom at Münster in 1534. In these three episodes the consequences of the millenarian program were so played out that most subsequent commentaries used them to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate visions of religious and social renewal.
Early seventeenth-century histories, written in a confusing era of religious warfare, tended to describe millenarianism as the confused or gangrenous extension of piety, for which in English was coined the word enthusiasm, an outlier of the syndrome of melancholia. Melancholics seemed to resemble the age itself, mixing categories and muddling the practical, the extravagant, and the fantastic.
After the near revolutions of midcentury—the French Fronde with its illuminés, the English Civil War with its Levellers and Fifth Monarchists—millenarianism was implicated in political plotting and secret communication. So the medical figure of contagion, used earlier against witchcraft, was resurrected in works about millenarians, who might be possessed or mad or deluded but were likely first to have been infected by conniving knaves. Every one of these explanations was offered for the mass appeal of the great Jewish false messiah, Shabbetai Tsevi, who in 1666, at the height of his career, converted to Islam under penalty of death.
Eighteenth-century accounts, although sometimes pietist and sympathetic to millenarians, moved toward a vaguely biological description: millenarianism was seen as corpuscular, nervous, iatromechanical. In an era of newly accurate clocks and mortality statistics, historical source-criticism and the propaganda of Newtonian science, millenarians seemed to have lost their sense of time and power of memory.
Most modern assumptions about millenarianism were in place soon after the French Revolution. Encyclopedias of religion and dictionaries of sects sank the stakes: millenarianism was a personal reaction to internal chemical imbalance or to feelings of envy or lust; it was a social ploy or a disguise for politicking, money making, or ambition. Later in the century, under the impact of revivalism and labor agitation, millenarianism became part of the sociology of crowds; as a personal disorder it was associated homologically with dementia praecox (soon to be called schizophrenia). Anthropologists worked with Europocentric genetic metaphors: if millenarian movements occurred within Western civilization, they were classified as throwbacks to the spiritual childhood of religion; if outside, they were seen as infantile tantrums of primitive societies.
At least three thousand studies of millenarianism have been printed in this century, more and more often with a sympathetic preamble. Even so, because millenarians seem destined to inevitable disappointment, people of all political persuasions have resented the millenarian label, none more so than revolutionaries who want to make it clear that their programs for a New World are neither illusory nor doomed. Since Ernst Bloch's Thomas Müntzer als Theologe der Revolution (Munich, 1921), millenarian scholarship has been especially sharpened by political as well as religious polemic.
At midcentury, out tumbled a spate of works insisting on the centrality and continuity of millenarianism: for European culture, Normal R. C. Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957), 3 ed. (New York, 1970); for peasant culture, Eric J. Hobsbawm's Primitive Rebels (New York, 1959); for world culture, La table ronde 's full issue on "Apocalypse et idée de fin des temps" (no. 110, February 1957); and the human condition, Mircea Eliade's Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return (New York, 1954). Simultaneously, in When Prophecy Fails (1956; reprint, New York, 1964), Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter developed a theory of cognitive dissonance to explain the endurance of millenarian beliefs from the point of view of social psychology. The capstone was a conference in 1960 sponsored by Comparative Studies in Society and History (The Hague, 1958–), the journal that is still the most active in millenarian studies. The event set the agenda for at least a decade of research, prompting scholars to fashion typologies and to formulate distinctions between varieties of millenarian activity. The conference results were published in book form in Millennial Dreams in Action: Essays in Comparative Study, edited by Sylvia L. Thrupp (The Hague, 1962).
Although the works discussed above remain the most consistently cited sources in millenarian studies, their popularity is largely a measure of the comfort they have afforded a North Atlantic ecumene that is increasingly upset by liberation movements and cold war apocalypse diplomacy. Millenarianism, they assure us, has a history, a tradition, a phenomenology, a philosophy, and a psychology.
Henri Desroche's Dieux d'hommes: Dictionnaire des messianismes et millénarismes de l'ère chrétienne (Paris, 1969), although incomplete and outdated, codified much earlier scholarship. That year also saw a general turn away from theories of social pathology and mental illness to explain millenarian movements. Sophisticated analysis has turned toward the creative and polysemous nature of millenarianism. The following are some of the most thoughtful and evocative works published in English since 1969.
The oxymorons of millenarian thought have been deftly handled by Marjorie E. Reeves in The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages: A Study of Joachimism (Oxford, 1969) and Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future (London, 1976), which should be supplemented by a series of articles by Robert E. Lerner, including "Medieval Prophecy and Religious Dissent," Past and Present 72 (1976): 3–24; J. G. A. Pocock's Politics, Language and Time (New York, 1971), especially his essay "Time, History and Eschatology in the Thought of Thomas Hobbes," pp. 148–201; and Sacvan Bercovitch's The Puritan Origins of the American Self (London, 1975), which is excellently extended in his article "The Typology of America's Mission," American Quarterly 30 (Summer 1978): 135–155. Theodore Olson's Millennialism, Utopianism, and Progress (Toronto, 1981) moves heroically from the Greeks to the present, slipping and sliding along the way but always serious and sometimes passionate. Joseph Needham's purview is even broader; Needham masterfully draws out the similarities as well as the differences between European and Chinese approaches to time, in "Time and Eastern Man" in his The Grand Titration: Science and Society in East and West (Buffalo, N.Y., 1969), pp. 218–298. Like Needham, Charles Webster underlines the philosophical but also the social relations between science and millenarianism in his The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform, 1626–1660 (New York, 1976).
Social anthropologists have been at the forefront of theory about millenarian movements. Alluded to in the text were Mary Douglas's Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York, 1970); James W. Fernandez's "African Religious Movements," Annual Review of Anthropology 7 (1978): 195–234, and "African Religious Movements: Types and Dynamics," Journal of Modern African Studies 2 (1964): 531–549; and Wim M. J. van Binsbergen's Religious Change in Zambia (Boston, 1981). Highly influential for his sophistication and for his theory of differential access to redemptive media is Kenelm Burridge's New Heaven, New Earth (New York, 1969). An interesting and thoroughgoing Marxist approach is presented by Berta I. Sharevskaya in The Religious Traditions of Tropical Africa in Contemporary Focus (Budapest, 1973); more accessible may be her article "Toward a Typology of Anticolonial Religious-Political Movements in Tropical Africa," Soviet Anthropology and Archaeology 15 (1976): 84–102. Less anthropological but nicely eclectic is Stephen Sharot's Messianism, Mysticism, and Magic: A Sociological Analysis of Jewish Religious Movements (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982).
For particularly well done case studies of millenarian movements, see Mangol Bayat's Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (Syracuse, N.Y. 1982); Pierre Clastres's Society against the State, translated by Robert Harley and Abe Stein (New York, 1977), concerning the Guaraní of South America; Hue-Tam Ho Tai's Millenarianism and Peasant Politics in Vietnam (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1983); Susan Naquin's Millenarian Rebellion in China: The Eight Trigrams Uprising of 1813 (New Haven and London, 1976) and Shantung Rebellion: The Wang Lun Uprising of 1774 (New Haven, 1981); my own The French Prophets: The History of a Millenarian Group in Eighteenth-Century England (Berkeley, 1980); and Anthony F. C. Wallace's The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (New York, 1972).
Further bibliographies may be found in my "The End of the Beginning: Millenarian Studies, 1969–1975," Religious Studies Review 2 (July 1976): 1–15; Harold W. Turner's Bibliography of New Religious Movements in Primal Societies, 4 vols. (Boston, 1977–); and Bryan R. Wilson's Magic and the Millennium (New York, 1973), pp. 505–531.
Bowie, Fiona, and Christopher Deacy, eds. Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco. London, 2001.
Emmerson, Richard, and Bernard McGinn, eds. Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y., 1992.
Greenspoon, Leonard J., and Ronald A. Simkins, eds. Millenialism from the Hebrew Bible to the Present. Lincoln, Neb., 2003.
Landes, Richard A., ed. Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millenial Movements. New York, 2000.
McGinn, Bernard, John J. Collins, and Stephen J. Stein, eds. Continuum History of Apocalypticism. New York, 2003.
Robbins, Thomas, and Susan J. Palmer, eds. Millenium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements. New York, 1997.
Rowland, Christopher, and John Barton, eds. Apocalyptic in History and Tradition. London and New York, 2002.
Trompf, G. W., ed. Cargo Cults and Millenarian Movements: Transoceanic Comparisons of New Religious Movements. Berlin and New York, 1990.
Hillel Schwartz (1987)
"Millenarianism: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/millenarianism-overview
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