Top 10 Failed End of the World Predictions
“The Earth is degenerating today. Bribery and corruption abound. Children no longer obey their parents, every man wants to write a book, and it is evident that the end of the world is fast approaching.” -Assyrian tablet circa 2800 BC
January is winding down, which means the end of the world in 2012 is inching that much closer. So the years you spent building that Y2K bunker aren’t going to go to waste at all! But get ready for a shocker: the world isn’t going to end in 2012, just like it didn’t end in 2000 or the hundreds of predictions before that.
Most major religions have an end times prophecy, and ever since religion got thunk up, people have been trying to pinpoint the exact moment it’s all going to go to hell. Naturally, they wrote these predictions down, ready to look all smug when the skies started bleeding. Instead, they looked like assholes when the world just kept on going like it always has. Our tip? Make predictions for the End of the World As We Know It to occur long after you’re dead.
Here are our favorite End of the World Predictions that were very very wrong.
#10 – Edgar C. Whisenant is wrong: September 11-13, 1988
Believe it or not, Edgar C. Whisenant was a NASA engineer as well as a crackpot Rapture enthusiast. In 1988, he released two books; 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988 and On Borrowed Time. His 88 reasons were a number of his own calculations drawn from the Bible to come to the conclusion that the Rapture would occur between September 11 and 13 of 1988, sometime during Rosh Hashana. So confident was Whisenant in his prediction that he boldly stated, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town.”
300,000 free copies of 88 Reasons were given to ministers across America, and 4.5 million copies of it were sold. Some evangelicals took Whisenant seriously. The Christian Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) aired special instructions on preparing for the Rapture as the end date approached.
When Rosh Hashana 1988 came and went with nothing happened, Whisenant just adjusted his calculations for September 15. Then October 3. He continued to adjust his calculations until his death in 2001, but people long since stopped paying attention.
#9 – The Bible Code is Wrong: December 2, 2006
It’s part of the human condition to seek out patterns and meaning in meaningless random images. We’re really good at it. For years, people have been digging into the Bible to seek out hidden meaning and messages, because God would totally want to hide stuff from us this way, rather than spell out exactly what He wants from us in a few thousand pages. What people have been doing is essentially playing word search with pages of the Bible to pick out words in the most abstract ways possible.
In 1994, Michael Drosnin came out with the book The Bible Code, which was full of his own results using this cipher technique. His book was hugely popular, and he came out with a sequel that made some interesting predictions pulled from one of the first five books of the Bible. One of which was that the “End of Days” would come about on December 2, 2006 thanks to a “World War” that would result in an “atomic holocaust.” Me, I didn’t know there was an ancient Hebrew word for “atomic,” but this is why I’m not writing best-selling books, I guess.
Meanwhile, other skeptics were happy to predict accurate events in Moby Dick.
#8 – Rabbi Sabbati Zevi is wrong: 1648 and 1666
The Jewish faith believes that when the messiah comes, that’s it. We don’t get a second coming, we get one. Here the end doesn’t mean fire and floods where pretty much everyone dies. The world as we know it will end, but in the sense that the Messianic Age will be one of universal peace.
Sabbatai Zevi was a kabbalist rabbi who, after reading the Zohar a few times, decided that he himself was the messiah. In 1648 at the age of 22, he set about proving to his followers that he was the messiah by saying the true name of the God of Israel aloud, something that 22 year old punks were generally not allowed to do.
Sabbatai got bolder in his proclamations of messiahship, and Jewish leaders were getting a little annoyed. The Messianic Age wasn’t happening, and the local rabbis gave him the Jewish version of excommunication. Undeterred, Sabbatai said that 1666 would kick off the age of peace while his followers forged documents and spread rumors of miracles to back up his claims. He and his followers headed to Istanbul to take over, since he was chosen by God to be king and all. The king of Istanbul was less than pleased with the idea and had Sabbatai arrested. He was imprisoned, and eventually converted to Islam.
#7 – Jeane Dixon is wrong: 1980’s
Jeane Dixon was a psychic popular with presidents and celebrities. She’s best known for predicting the assassination of JFK, though her actual prediction was a lot more vague. She also picked Nixon to win in 1960, contradicting her earlier prediction that a Democrat would win. Her fame led to what came to be known as the Jean Dixon effect, which states that people are far more likely to remember a psychic’s rare hits rather than her many misses.
Dixon’s misses include the Third World War III beginning in 1958, a cure for cancer discovered in 1967, the 80’s would see a female president, and that the Russians would be the first to put a man on the moon.
But this was just a warm up to Dixon’s doomsday.
In 1970, Dixon predicted one of the worst disasters of the 20th century: “I have seen a comet strike our Earth around the middle of the 1980s. Earthquakes and tidal waves will befall us as a result of the tremendous impact of this heavenly body in one of our great oceans…” Comet never hit, and Dixon passed away before her contradictory prediction of world peace in 2000.
#6 – Pope John XXIII is wrong: December 25, 2000
Let’s start off by saying that we’ve got nothing against Pope John XXIII. He served as Pope from 1958 to 1963 and did some amazing things in his life, most notably saving Jews during the Holocaust. Today, he’s been beautified and is known as “Good Pope John.” So we can all agree that he was a great guy who did great things and truly believed that Jesus told him when He was coming back.
Good Pope John kept a private journal in which he documented his visits with the Madonna. According to him, the Madonna told him in the early 60’s that war would wind down in 1984, but would pick up again in the early 90’s, when shit would get real. Massive flooding, violent earthquakes, world-wide famine, and “the devastation will be like none ever seen, especially throughout Africa where millions will perish.”
It’s not all death and destruction, though. By 1995, “odd looking beings” would appear from the sky to save us all, and we’d live without hunger, disease, or war. Awesome. Once everything is tidy and safe, Jesus makes his appearance on his 2000th birthday. According to the Pope, Jesus was going to appear in the sky above New York City and end the world as we know it… by turning it into a paradise.
#5 – The Apocrypha is wrong: January 1, 1000
The freak-out of 2000 was nothing compared to the freak-out of 1000 AD. It was the first millennium, and Christian leaders across Europe were predicting doom. The Bible itself predicts in Matthew 24:34 that “ This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled,” which in a literal translation would mean that Christ would return in a single generation. Since a generation had long come and gone, people turned to the non-canon Biblical book of Apocrypha, which says that the Last Judgment would occur one thousand years after the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Church was accepting huge donations from their followers as people tried to buy their way out of sin before they ran out of time. Northern European Christian armies began waging war on Pagans to convert them to Christianity by force. Who wants Christ to come back and see you’ve been slacking off on spreading his word and converting everyone?
If there was an upside to this hysteria and to being a shit farmer in the year 1000 it’s that you have no idea what year it is. The hysteria wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but people were still flocking to Zion to wait for Jesus, who totally stood them up.
People got pissed at the Church who was more than happy to take all their doomsday donations, but was not refunding them. The Church responded to the criticism by killing a few heretics, and everyone settled down and got back to shit farming.
#4 -Melchior Hoffman is wrong: 1533
Melchior Hoffmann was a leader and prophet of the hugely unpopular Anabaptist movement. Anabaptism was the forerunner to today’s Amish faith, and their followers believed that a person shouldn’t be baptized until they were old enough to understand what it was all about and agree that, yeah, they believed and wanted to be baptized. In the 1520’s and 1530’s, this was considered so radical that many Anabaptists were executed. It’s not that much of a stretch to make Doomsday predictions in this kind of environment.
Hoffman deemed Strasbourg, France the New Jerusalem, and that in 1533 (not long after his prediction was made) the world would be consumed by flames upon Christ’s return and exactly 144,000 people would survive. Naturally, people wanted to be in that 144,000, so many gave their wealth to the poor, forgave their debtors, and tried to live as piously as possible before the End.
When the world didn’t end in 1533, the Anabaptists went a little nuts and started the Münster Rebellion. See, after Hoffman’s prophecy turned out to be false and he was imprisoned, a new guy named Matthys took over and said the genuine New Jerusalem was in Münster, Germany. The Anabaptists seized the city and began systematically and ruthlessly… baptizing consenting adults. It was all in preparation for the REAL Apocalypse, which was to be in 1534. When the expelled leaders took back the city 18 months later, Matthys was killed, and his severed head was placed on a pole in the middle of the town. His genitals, meanwhile, were nailed to the city gate.
#3 – Johannes Stöffler is wrong: February 1, 1524
You’ve probably caught onto the fact that the 1500’s were full of strife and end times predictions. Johannes Stöffler was actually a really smart guy for his day. Since those days were the 15th century, that doesn’t mean a whole lot by today’s standards. Born in Germany in 1452, he was a was a priest, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, and professor at the University of Tübingen. He was also renowned for his astronomical instruments and hugely respected by his community, so you can probably see where this is going.
After spending most of his life studying the heavens and what they mean, Stöffler noticed in 1499 that all six known planets would be in conjunction in the constellation of Pisces in February of 1524. Since Pisces is a fish, this planetary alignment could only mean that THE WORLD WAS GOING TO END DUE TO FLOODING.
The kicker is that Stöffler was a well known and respected academic, so people took him seriously. Europeans went ape-shit and began feverishly preparing for the catackalismic flood that was heading their way. Property in valleys, along river banks, or on the sea coastline was sold at a loss as people fled to higher ground. Boat builders made huge profits building arks, as did savvy businessmen selling emergency supplies. In London (where the first rain was predicted to fall), an elevated fortress was built at the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great and tens of thousands abandoned the city.
1524 went on to be one of the driest years recorded. Stöffler quickly revised his doomsday calculations to 1528, but no one paid attention this time. He died in 1531 of the plague, not drowning.
#2 – The Watchtower Society is Wrong: 1874, 1878, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925, etc.
The Watchtower Society is an administrative branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and was founded in 1881 by Charles Taze Russell and William Henry Conley. It was formed after yet another failed End of the World prediction. Y’see, a man named Nelson H. Barbour predicted that Jesus would return in 1874. After his followers camped out to wait and ended up seeing nothing, Barbour, rather than admit he was wrong, decided that Jesus indeed came back, but no one saw him because he was invisible. He was totally coming back for realz in 1878, though.
After 1878 came and went, Russell formed the Jehovah’s Witnesses to get to the truth behind Judgment Day. After his own studies of the Bible and the Great Pyramid of Giza, Russell decided that the REAL End Date was going to be in 1914. As the date came closer, Russell pointed to World War I as a sign of Armageddon, or as he called it, “Gentile Times.”
By November, it was becoming clear that Russell and the WTS was wrong, so they bumped it up to 1915. And then 1918. Then, they backpedaled and decided the world would reach a violent end “before the generation who saw the events of 1914 passes away.”
#1 – Nostradamus is wrong: July 1999
Here’s the thing about Nostradamus. His “prophecies” were written so abstractly that they could be twisted and attributed to just about anything. Some scholars believe he just looked at past events, dressed them down to make them more vague, and changed all the past tense verbs to future tense. In fact, Nostradamus himself stated that he was not a prophet at all: “I do but make bold to predict (not that I guarantee the slightest thing at all), thanks to my researches and the consideration of what judicial Astrology promises me and sometimes gives me to know, principally in the form of warnings, so that folk may know that with which the celestial stars do threaten them. Not that I am foolish enough to pretend to be a prophet.” But among his most famous predictions is that of the King of Terror.
The year 1999, seven months,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
I don’t recall any terrifying sky kings that year, but I was also really into Harry Potter, so I might not have noticed. Nostradamus believers have tried to retroactively say that he was totally right, that this prediction was about the World Trade Center, and that the seventh month actually means September, and he was only two years off. Which still means he was wrong.