Customer Reviews: A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization
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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). He relates that Satan even is given a lesser adversarial role in the heavenly court prior to the New Testament and John's Revelation which paints Satan as "the Beast". And he takes issue with statements by not only John, but Jesus himself with regard to the timing of the "end times", which may upset some Christians. Mr Kirsch may have opened himself to controversy with some of his statements, but this book is more of a survey of everything rather than a definitive study taking a hard-line position. So a Christian Fundamentalist may read some things he would rather not see. OR maybe not. I know I had some trepidation, but I kept reading. And he documents well the controversy as to whether Revelation should have been included in the Bible at all, which it finally was, according to him, in most manuscripts by the tenth century. Then he documents the twists and turns of each century, including the madness of the millennial year 1000, in dealing with Revelation. Centuries of seers, visionaries, and believers each weighing in on their interpretation.

The overall focus of this book is on the influence that Revelation has had on Western Civilization. The author states it "Changed the Course of Western Civilization". A very lofty and speculative claim. The author begins to state his case, however, by citing many common everyday terms as originating in The Revelation: "Satan", "grapes of wrath", "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", "grim reaper", "anti-Christ", "lake of fire", "fire and brimstone", the number "666", "thousand year reign", "last judgement", "Battle of Armageddon", the number "7" "a great sign appeared in the heavens", "Gog and Magog" (he makes an interesting point about these terms) and so on. Add to that the centuries old guessing game of the identity of "the Beast" and you have a book that fires the imagination, but will cause the Christian adherents to brand it as a strictly a SECULAR work of biblical scholarship.

Elsewhere he cites the effect of The Revelation on western civilization and the likes of Richard the Lion-Hearted, Hitler, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. & George W. Bush (Presidents #41 and #43), among others. In light of the controversial statements, many Christians who 'walk by faith and not by sight' may find this book ultimately disappointing and they may want to be headed in the direction of Billy Graham, Dallas Willard, or Scott Hahn for a more traditional Christian treatment of The Revelation. But, even so, it serves a double purpose of being a fascinating and exhaustive history of apocalyptic writings pre- and post-dating Revelation, whether you believe Revelation is divinely inspired or not divinely inspired. Sign me up with the former. Otherwise, buckle up, dig in, and prepare to be amazed at the incredible interest in eschatology that many of us have had over the centuries. The words of Dionysius reverberate through this book, "[T]hose things which I do not understand I do not reject, but I wonder the more that I cannot comprehend". Faith must carry the day!
Three and a Half RIGOROUS Stars for scholarship and diligence, with a caution for the religious squeamish!
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on June 18, 2008
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. Many times he would state Christian doctrines derived from Revelation, when in fact they actually came from the letters to the Thessalonians or even Old Testament books like Daniel. Uninformed readers don't stand a chance against such sloppy explanation.

So, while I had endless fun writing notes in the margin of the book, I found it neither helpful nor scholarly. It might be an interesting read, but I didn't feel that I walked away from the book with a clearer understanding of the way that apocalyptic thinking was received and used by people throughout the ages. The tag line on the back of the book should have warned me: "Holy Scripture or Dangerous Delusion?" He spends much more time talking about that than "how apocalyptic thinking changed the course of western civilization." It's probably not work the $18 I spent, but if you can find it for cheaper it might be worth a gander.
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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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on August 25, 2006
I happened to come across this tasty volume by accident and found myself up half the night sucked into its pages. The author covers all aspects of Revelations and does an exhaustive, yet entertaining critique of the stories aka metaphors contained therein. For End of the World Enthusiasts and Conspiracy Buffs, some of your paranoia will dissipate. For die hards, forget it. They'll believe what they want to believe. For Evangelicals and Fundamentalist Yahoos, you might just lose some steam. This book has something for everyone. It's an intelligent cultural study of a book in the Bible that's been bandied about for centuries. There will be no absolutes when you get to the end. But you will have learned what all the fuss is about. Sure to tick off more than a few know it all holier than thou folks for its bold candor. Maybe that's why I like it so much.
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on November 21, 2006
Kirsch's book is a fast-paced zip through the grand history of Christian apocalypticism inspired by the book of Revelation. The first hundred pages are a summary of the accepted mainstream interpretation of Revelation and the last hundred pages are a KJV reprint of Revelation and loads of footnotes. This leaves only 150 pages of history, a hundred of which deal with American abuses of the text. It's not that Kirsch doesn't have details for the Medieval and Early Modern readings of Revelation, it's just that they are run through with the same velocity as a framer with a nailgun--no synthesis, no commentary, and poorly organized. It was also incredibly annoying how many times the phrase "as we shall see" was used in the first 200 pages. It was as if Kirsch wrote a superb essay on apocalypticism in America, got a book deal and had to add a bunch of preface material to meet the required word count.

All of that is why I gave it 3 stars instead of 5. Had it just been a book about American readings of Revelation it would have been excellent. Still, I enjoyed it and I'm glad that people are thinking critically about apocalyptic literature.
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on February 11, 2015
While some reviewers credit this as not a "scholarly" work, I would venture to say that it succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is the author formatting it in a chronological order. It is NOT a rigorous study of Revelations, but rather an examination of the EFFECT it has caused (even to this day) on western civilization. What pleases me most is the author has no agenda, i.e. an axe to grind in the religious sense, but conveys the historical AND psychological implications of apocalyptic thought and imagery in a smooth, no-nonsense way. Additionally, the illustrations were gorgeous, and the inclusion of the entire text of Revelations at the end was most welcome!
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on October 18, 2012
In writing down in the book Revelation the visions and dreams he was given by Jesus Himself (Rev. 1:13-19) when [John] "was in the Spirit" (Rev. 1:10), John the Revelator may NOT have anticipated that his 22-chapter literary output would be read, studied, and applied within each of its new physical, geographical, economical, social, cultural, political, ecclesiastical, and spiritual context 50 years after its first penning, even 500 years later, 1,000 years, 1,500 years later, let alone 1917 years later [which takes us to 18 October 2012; as we speak and/or write, the end of the world has NOT arrived, yet; the jury is still out on the December-22 Mayan so-called end-of-the-world prophecy, but, with a little over two months to go, we are getting very and dangerously close]!

It is quite clear that the theme of the IMMINENT second coming is very common in the New Testament. Through the writings of John, Jesus repeatedly says, "I am coming soon" (Rev. 2:16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20); alternatively, John writes, "The time is near" (Rev. 1:3; 22:10).

When Paul writes to Timothy, "I hope to come to you soon" (1 Tim. 3:14), or, reversing the roles, "Do your best to come to me soon" (1 Tim. 4:9), Paul has in mind a couple of days, or weeks, perhaps a month or two, but not much longer. Would Timothy delay his coming for 5, 10, 15 or 25 years without letting Paul know the precise reasons for his delay (e.g., sickness, disability, political unrest, etc.), Paul would have good reasons to worry about Timothy's delay, and perhaps report him as a missing person.

Other versions render "soon" as "quickly!" Whereas "soon" refers to the time lapse between the utterance and its ultimate fulfillment ("after a short time, without much delay, almost immediately, shortly, before long, presently, in a little while, in next to no time, etc), "quickly" implies the manner of His coming, i.e., "Rapidly, promptly, fast, speedily, swiftly, hurriedly, hastily," and distracts from, rather than add to, our discussion.

According to some sources, John finished writing the book of Revelation about AD 95. Now, in 2012, 1917 years passed since these prophecies were uttered, and yet, i can see no visible fulfillment of these prophecies, which we must take serious: Several possibilities come to mind:

A) Have these prophecies already been fulfilled? Some writers would date, at least partially, the second coming with the destruction of the temple in AD 70, see a) R. C. Sproul Last Days according to Jesus, The, b) John L. Bray's ], or c) Kenneth L Gentry's, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation.

B) Was Jesus mistaken, i.e., falsely informed or simply ignorant ("But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only") [Matt. 24:36], in making those failed prophecies? Some, as Albert Schweitzer (1973) in his ], contends that Jesus did NOT know the time of his second coming.

C) Do we have, in the 21st century, a wrong understanding of what Jesus meant in the 1 century when He said, "I am coming soon..." Did the word "soon" mean something entirely different in the times of Jesus than in the 21st century?

In disregarding, or failing to find appropriate answers to, these questions, Kirsch can then populate the 1917 intervening years with historical incidents, and make apocalyptic events or predictions the stuff of daily, cultural and social life throughout post-first century history.

Every generation since the second century has lived in the "time of end," at least from the perspective of John's revelation, and witnessed one or the other aspect of the "time of end": a) The fall of Roman Empire, b) the Black Death, c) the crusades, d) the inquisition, e) the 16th-century Protestant reformation, f) the discovery of the New World, g) Worldwar I, h) Worldwar II and the holocaust, i) the war in Bosnia, j) the war[s] in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.

Every generation since the second century had to grapple with a) the mark of the beast, b) the anti-Christ [of who there were several contenders, from Nero to Charlemagne, from Napoleon to Joseph Stalin, from the Pope to Mussolini ] and ], from Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden, c) the number 666, d) Babylon, e) Armageddon, and f) the four horsemen. Every generation since the second century had to address with the fear of death and obsession with the afterlife: Where will each one of us spend eternity, in heaven with God, or dead and separated from God?

How should we address these puzzling turns of events throughout the ages? Perhaps this is the most compelling reason for purchasing and reading this timely book.
= END =
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on May 11, 2014
I recall reading the last book of the Bible when I was 12 or 13 and being baffled and horrified at its total divergence from the teachings of Jesus in the rest of the New Testament. And I realize that a number of conservative Christians believe that the end of the world is nigh. So I was interested in reading this book in the hopes that it would shed some light on current usage of the concept of the end time. Alas, it really doesn't cover the current landscape. But if you're really interested in Savonarola, by all means read it. To me, the most interesting part of the book was early on, when Kirsch attempts to put the concepts into historical context. Other than that, it's mostly a litany of historical characters issuing doomsday prophecies.
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on May 14, 2015
As usual Kirsch does a wonderful job of presenting esoteric academic information in an engaging comprehensible way. Apocalyptic literature is deeply symbolic and Kirsch decodes the cryptic secrets easily and traces them as they exchange hands through history for religious and political purposes. Excellent.
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on January 5, 2007
Jonathan Kirsch offers interesting insights which allow the reader to navigate through the most mis-quoted and potentially dangerous book in the Bible. Aficianados of the "Left Behind" series beware: "A History of the End Of the World" might just change your mind about how to interpret the "Book of Revelations". Since Mr. Kirsch is a journalist by profession, the ideas expressed are in a clear and most readable manner.
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