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A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061349879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061349874
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The question of how and when the world will end has captivated thinkers for centuries. Wars, natural disasters, social upheaval and personal suffering often send believers back to the writings of their prophets and seers, whose gift is to bring satisfying answers to such questions. The book most studied in the Western tradition is Revelation, the last entry in the Christian canon. Kirsch, an attorney and book columnist for the Los Angeles Times, takes the reader on a delightful 2,000-year journey as he explores a text he describes as "a romantic tale, full of intrigue and suspense" and shows how churches, philosophers, clergy and armchair interpreters have promoted their political, social and religious agendas based on their belief that the end was imminent. Some of this history can be quite sobering, as the powerful have waged wars and built societies based on their varying perceptions of Revelation's message. However, consistent with Kirsch's earlier literary efforts, in particular The Harlot by the Side of the Road, the author exercises great care while treating his material with both sobriety and a healthy sense of the ironic. Written clearly and for a general audience, this is a fine book that merits wide readership. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Kirsch has written an important study of the "little book" that almost didn't make it into the New Testament: the book of Revelations. For many, Revelations is a pastiche of symbolism impossible to wade through, so difficult that even scholarly St. Jerome threw up his hands. Christians have often been advised to read it symbolically, but throughout history, it has been read very literally indeed, with adherents calculating dates for the last days and condemning others to a lake of fire. Today it has a massive effect on politics, popular culture, and even foreign policy, evident especially in Lehaye and Jenkins' popular Left Behind series. Kirsch, author of the best-selling The Harlot by the Side of the Road (1997), does a masterful job of leading readers through the labyrinth of Revelations, exploring why it was written (and with sound speculation on who wrote it), what it means, and how it has affected history. Kirsch is like a tour guide, making stops in Florence, to show how Savonarola used Revelations as he stoked the bonfire of the vanities; in America, to explore how Protestants used the book's imagery; and in Israel, to elucidate how the predictions in Revelations have formed the basis of an unlikely alliance between Jews and the Christian Religious Right. Throughout, in highly readable style, Kirsch highlights how Revelations has been used as a justification for culture wars from the earliest times to the present. Fascinating--and sure to provoke heated discussion. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Perhaps this is the most compelling reason for purchasing and reading this timely book.
Jean-Paul A. HELDT
Here he tackles the New Testament book of Revelations by peeling away the Christian layers to reveal the Jewish apocalypic history and vision behind it.
J. Nelson
He seems to struggle with the concept that early monotheistic believers would not want to state that Caesar is God, even if everyone else was doing it.
Michael Bond

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 77 people found the following review helpful By RBSProds TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Three and a Half Engrossing Stars!!
"A History of the End of the World" makes it's appearance at a crucial time: when there seems to be so much war and terrorism, death and destruction, and political tension taking place across the world and in the Middle East. This book begins by citing a famous bumper sticker which says "I know the ending. God wins". This book focuses on, but is not confined to, the last book of the Bible. The Revelation (aka The Apocalypse) is a book so heavily coded that "names, numbers, colors, and images in {John's} visions are ciphers that must be decoded to yield their actual meanings". Many try to use it as comparison to today's events to determine if we are nearing "the end times" or the "left behind" phase of redemptive history.

Mr Kirsch's book diligently sorts through the optional views and influences of this magnificent biblical book of prophesy, as he digs deeper than most in this area. In fact, he surveys the history of other "apocalyptic" writings that preceded Revelation, especially noting the effect of Hellenism and Antiochus the Madman on some of those writings. And he cites the biblical Book of Daniel as a direct source for Revelation or even a mini-Apocalypse because of it's prophesies. (But Christians would state it is God who is doing the writing and the comparing.)

Many believe The Revelation was written by (Saint) John, the 'beloved' apostle. Mr Kirsch notes that despite the specific mention of John as the author, some people question the 'true' authorship of Revelation. And he makes no bones about the fact that he believes Revelation's author actually used "models and sources" from ancient biblical writings that he "knew, loved, and copied"(p.24).
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Miranda Bailey on June 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be highly entertaining. It was replete with adjectives like "weird," "creepy," and "nightmarish," and his (overzealous) descriptions of the imagery in Revelation were hair raising.

This being said, I had a few problems with the book. Primarily, I wanted the author to eventually cut the mysterious, creepy language and get to the historical point. After awhile, I grew tired of hearing about how revelation was written "like a fever dream." Rather than actually spend the book pursuing what I thought was the point, tracing apocalyptic thought in western civilization, he instead discussed how the book would make people crazy. It sounds like I'm being facetious, but that is actually what he argues.

Furthermore, I'm not entirely certain that the author is qualified to make the kind of commentaries on Revelation that he makes. For instance, when he describes to the reader (whom he assumes has not actually read the apocalyptic work) the contents of Revelation, he relies more ont he fantastic imagery of the book than on what that imagery means. He decries attempts to interpret the images, but then turns around and interprets them himself. He uses a dispensational, pre-tribulation rapture model to interpret the book in a very Tim LaHaye style, completely disregarding other, more commonly held interpretations of the book like the amillenialism found among Presbyterians. (Is he aware that so many conservative Bible scholars intrepret Revelation in this manner?)

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the work was how Kirsch would state things as fact without really explaining why he believed them. His points may have been valid, but the reader has no way of knowing how he came to his conclusions.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an engrossing study of the most enigmatic book of the Bible: Revelation, and the impact it has had over the last two millennia. I have read and studied Revelation several times over the years. As a child the idea of the Last Judgment and the end of the world used to terrify me, and as an adult I found the bizarre imagery and even more bizarre interpretations of Revelation off-putting and ridiculous. I'm glad Jonathan Kirch has provided this history, which helps to make sense out of much that seems senseless.

Revelation is supposed to have been written by the Apostle John, but as Kirsch demonstrates, that identification is highly doubtful. I enjoyed reading the first few chapters in which Kirsch analyzes the origins of and early reception given to Revelation, but the later chapters, which trace the influence of Revelation down through the centuries, were particularly interesting. I was struck by how similar so many prophets of Apocalypse seem, even when they lived many centuries apart, and by how often they misinterpreted the same segments of Revelation.

The most important parts of Kirsch's work deal with the effect Revelation has had on the present world, particularly through what I believe is its willful misinterpretation by some so-called religious and political "leaders", whose cynical exploitation of the hopes and fears of many sincerely religious people has allowed them to gain influence and power. Hopefully, Kirsch's expose of the fraudulent nature of these misinterpretations will help repair some of the damage done to our world by those who would exploit those who fear its imminent ending.
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