Apocalypse now? Virginia Tech expert talks end of the world

environmentR.E.M. sings about the end of the world as we know it, and feeling fine about it. If you’re on edge about predictions from numerologists who like to do such things warning that the end of the world is coming next Monday, worry not, says a Virginia Tech expert.

“Just within the last couple decades, we can remember the Y2K panic, the supposed Mayan apocalypse of 2012, and the relatively widespread belief that President Obama was the antichrist. Those predictions go back even further, not just in American history, but well beyond,” says Matthew Gabriele, a Virginia Tech associate professor of medieval studies and expert in stories of the end of the world.

Numerologists who have several times before warned of the approaching apocalypse cite the position of certain planets on April 23 and a passage from the Bible to support the theory that the Rapture is coming.

The idea has been debunked by scientists and experts who note that the mythical world Nibiru said to be central to the coming cataclysm is just that: fictional.

Gabriele on the end times

“Just within the last couple decades, we can remember the Y2K panic, the supposed Mayan apocalypse of 2012, and the relatively widespread belief that President Obama was the antichrist. Those predictions go back even further, not just in American history, but well beyond.”

“In the Middle Ages, for instance, astrology and numerology proved very capable of producing speculation about the nearness of the End. Annals from that period are filled with notices about ‘bloody moons’ — from Revelation 6:12 — and reactions to that phenomenon.”

“At several points, the celebration of the Annunciation of Jesus’ birth fell on the same day as Good Friday, resulting in a conjunction of Jesus’ birth and death, alpha and omega, beginning and end, all seeming quite significant. Indeed, in 1064 CE, that conjunction of dates led to a massive Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Nothing much happened, and they all just went home afterward.”

“Some of those pilgrims likely participated in the next supposed apocalypse, the First Crusade in 1095. But that’s the thing about apocalyptic expectation: the end never comes, but it always seems to be just on the horizon. Our consistent inability to predict the future never stops us from worrying — or from thinking that this time, maybe this time it’ll all be different.”

About Matthew Gabriele

Matthew Gabriele is an associate professor of medieval studies in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. His expertise includes stories of the apocalypse, the Crusades, and Christianity. Gabriele’s book “Apocalypse and Reform from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages” (Routledge) is due out this summer.