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The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Revised and Expanded Edition [Paperback]

Norman Cohn
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 15, 1970 0195004566 978-0195004564 Rev Exp
The end of the millennium has always held the world in fear of earthquakes, plague, and the catastrophic destruction of the world. At the dawn of the 21st millennium the world is still experiencing these anxieties, as seen by the onslaught of fantasies of renewal, doomsday predictions, and New Age prophecies. This fascinating book explores the millenarianism that flourished in western Europe between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. Covering the full range of revolutionary and anarchic sects and movements in medieval Europe, Cohn demonstrates how prophecies of a final struggle between the hosts of Christ and Antichrist melded with the rootless poor's desire to improve their own material conditions, resulting in a flourishing of millenarian fantasies. The only overall study of medieval millenarian movements, The Pursuit of the Millennium offers an excellent interpretation of how, again and again, in situations of anxiety and unrest, traditional beliefs come to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities.

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The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Revised and Expanded Edition + The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization + The Little Flowers of St. Francis
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Editorial Reviews Review

At the end of the first millennium A.D., itinerant preachers crisscrossed Europe warning that the end of the world was nigh. Hundreds of thousands of people took heed, joining religious cults and anti-governmental militias in preparation for the coming war between good and evil. (If this sounds familiar, it is proof only that history is cyclical.) During this heady time, Europe exploded in religious war, peasant revolts and sectarian strife, marked by the first large-scale massacres of Jews and gypsies, the first inklings of inquisitions and holy crusades. Norman Cohn, a masterful writer and interpreter, carefully explores this extraordinary period in European history in a book that bears rereading as our own millennium approaches its end.


"Cohn uncovers interesting historical connections between millennial ideas and their use in furthering revolutionary movements started by the engine of social unrest."--The Catholic World

"Cohn's book is even more relevant today. He has added a conclusion relating [these movements in medieval Europe] to the contemporary scene....The mirage of a secularized millennium now appeals, he considers, both to the 'disoriented and desperate' in underdeveloped countries, and to an equally disoriented minority on the fringes of the social democratic state."--Times Literary Supplement

"A work of the first water...of great originality and power."--Sir Isaiah Berlin, Twentieth Century

"As valuable as it is interesting...full of historical facts which are passed over in silence in most histories."--Bertrand Russell

"Now we can understand the origins of twentieth century idiologies."--Dr. Wayne Allen, Delta State University

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Rev Exp edition (May 15, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195004566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195004564
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Revolt of the Masses in the Middle Ages. March 4, 2001
The apocalyptic imagination has always exercised great control over the mind of the Western man - from bands of Jewish zealots in the time of Josephus to the masses of poor warriors in the Crusades to take the Holy Land for Christendom to the mutual hurling of the epithet "Antichrist" between Luther and the Pope, and it has been keenly expressed in the Biblical tradition within the Books of Daniel and Revelations. _The Pursuit of the Millennium_ takes a look at the mass movements and delusions that developed out of this tradition in the Middle Ages and the period following the Middle Ages, the Reformation. Norman Cohn shows how prejudices and hatreds among the poor (especially against the Jews, the clergy, and the wealthy) were used by mystical prophetae in conjunction with the apocalyptic tradition to give rise to mass movements which resulted in much mayhem and bloodshed. For example, the People's and Shepherd's Crusades in the Middle Ages were movements of mindless zealotry which ended in mass slaughter. Cohn examines various sects that developed out of these apocalyptic traditions around such figures as the Emperor Frederick, Joachim of Fiore, and various other individuals and imposters who sought to mobilize the masses of poor. In the later Middle Ages, this type of movement was exemplified among the flagellants, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, Taborites and followers of Thomas Muntzer, the militant wing of the Anabaptists, and later the Ranters in England. Often, these movements incorporated Joachimite speculations about a coming Age of the Spirit, mystical doctrines that made one was free to sin as one pleased (Free Spirit), and communistic ideals that involved belief in a Golden Age in which all men had lived as brothers with all things in common. Read more ›
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As ever, the millennium is just around the corner August 30, 2007
By Antonio
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Cohn's "Pursuit of the Millennium" has aged well and nearing 50 years of age it is deservedly a classic. Its subjet might be considered by some to be esoteric: it deals with prophets from middle age Europe who led others to believe that the end of times was at hand, and that they had been chosen by God to purify the world in preparation for the Kingdom of the Last Days, and with pantheistic mystical anarchists who believed that they could do no evil because they had connected with their divine essences. In most cases these figures are virtual unknowns even for people who like history. The few that still turn up are Thomas Müntzer, the leader of the rebellious peasants who were exterminated in the Battle of Frankenhausen (a character in the historical fiction pastiche "Q" by Luther Blisset) and John of Leyden, the tailor who created a totalitarian kingdom of saints in Münster. For the revolutionary millennarians the tale is a bit repetitive, and it usually went like this: a former priest or a hermit with a violent disposition concludes, after meditating for a long time, that he is living at the end of times and that he is God/ he is a god/ he has been chosen by God or a god to lead the just and the good in a final, apocalyptic, war against Antichrist and his followers, to usher in the millennium of the saints announced by John the Divine, prior to the end of the world and the final reckoning. The hermit or defrocked priest finds some followers and eventually is able to take hold of a town or a castle, which he converts into a stronghold with the help of the rootless rabble. Then he proceeds to plunder from the rich (nobles and clergy) and to purge the unredeemed. Read more ›
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Millennium Bugs October 12, 2000
A friend recommended this to me as 'a great read' and I also recommend it to you for the same reason. It is rare that a work can be appreciated for its academic value, and for pure fascination. Who could not but be fascinated by the medieval flagellants, the Taborites, Joachim of Fiore, the Tafurs, the Anabaptists and the Ranters. Some groups awaited the returned of the Emperor Constantine, or Frederick Barbarossa, or even the Duke of Flanders, to herald the last days. Other preached, and practised, Free Love, and community of goods. Startingly, the Anabaptists of Munster (Germany) withstood a lengthy siege for their beliefs, while what was happening inside the walls of the city seemed to prefigure the regime of Stalin. Important to recall the limitations of medieval Catholicism, which drove many into fringe sects, and eventually helped spawn the Reformation. Not that the Protestant princes were any more sympathetic to the Prophets of the Poor. For an academic book, this is also fun to read, though its subject in places in quite grisly.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eeeeexxxxelllent, as Mr. Burns would say. August 13, 1997
By A Customer
When I first read the book, I began in the back--it's divided well so that it reads like small hilarious tales or longer, fascinating and riotous history. The tales are Monty Python-esque, especially because the best Monty Python humor is the use of straight-forward history. From the whacked out tales of Protestant reformation, utopian and distopian enclaves of cultish religious fanatics, to riveting tales of 'witchcraft and mysticism,' this isn't comedic fiction, it's unbelievable History! I love to read this book aloud to others, and that's my highest compliment
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Middle Ages and its False Messiahs
If you have not read much on The Middle Ages in Europe ,I think this book may astound you the way it shocked me! Read more
Published 5 months ago by Howard D. White
4.0 out of 5 stars The end is nigh!
It looks like a good study of the topic and contains information that I have not yet found elsewhere. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Tim Phillips
5.0 out of 5 stars I would have never believed it!!!!
When you study a lot, well, you think you know a lot! Then you read a work that causes your eyes to bulge because you "had no idea"! Read more
Published 18 months ago by Gina
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense but fascinating
This book dives in-depth to what would seem on the surface to be a highly specialized, narrow topic - apocalyptic social movies around 1000 A.D. Read more
Published on August 1, 2011 by K. P. Butler
5.0 out of 5 stars I know how it all ends
And I haven't even finished it yet!

I'm intimately familiar with "millenarian" thought processes. For decades I was right there with the worst of 'em. Read more
Published on January 14, 2011 by Merlin Douglas Larsen
5.0 out of 5 stars What Happens When New Agers Run the World
"Absolutely astounding... when people fantasize about ideal worlds and the "end of days", their thinking usually get disjointed rather fast. Read more
Published on September 8, 2010 by Rodney J. Szasz
4.0 out of 5 stars Medieval Millenarians
For a classic study of the phenomenon, Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (New York: Oxford... Read more
Published on February 27, 2009 by Gerard Reed
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful; 4.5 Stars
This relatively short book is something of a classic. Written very clearly, The Pursuit... is a combined description and analysis of Medieval millenial movements. Read more
Published on August 22, 2008 by R. Albin
4.0 out of 5 stars My impressions of "The Pursuit of the Millenium"
A scholarly work giving an insight into (Non mainstream) Christian people's attempts to predict both the timing and the intent of a millennium. Read more
Published on August 11, 2007 by Mr. Antony P. Webb
4.0 out of 5 stars How Greed and Exploitation Lead to Revolution - in Vain
I believed a history book such as this one would not get revised and ordered an old print of 1972 for an alluring bargain. Now I know better, but I was lucky. Read more
Published on August 9, 2007 by Bonam Pak
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