228: A History of the End of the World by Jonathan Kirsch

by Gerard


228: Kirsch, Jonathan. A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. 256 pp. ISBN 978-0-0608-1698-8.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 200: Religion
  • 220: The Bible
  • 228: Revelation (Apocalypse)

After vexillology (the study of flags and their designs) and ichthyology (the study of fishes), my third favorite “ology” is eschatology: the study of the end of times. It is simultaneously incredibly easy and infinitely impossible to posit what the future will hold, and even more so when talking about the end of the future. How will humanity live out its final days? Will we relocate to a new planet? Will we succumb to our own destructive forces? Or will a grand creator revisit their creation and judge those left on the last day? Jonathan Kirsch’s A History of the End of the World looks at the Biblical writing concerning the end of days and finds that a lot of the prophecies influenced culture, history, and even civilization itself.

The Book of Revelation is the last book in the Bible, purportedly the product of the visions of John (either John the Apostle or John of Patmos) and written sometime between 60 and 95 CE. These visions are jam-packed with images, symbols, numbers, and scenes that are to occur as both a warning and a part of the end times. Kirsch’s history looks at how people at different times have interpreted these writings to structure their lives. People saw signs from the Book of Revelation in the Fall of Rome, the Black Death, the Inquisition, and every 20th century war. Like the visions of Nostradamus, the human imagination is capable of gleaning symbolism from almost any pattern of events. And much like those odd visions, the end times of Revelation fail to come to fruition (at least so far). Kirsch’s tone is equal parts scholarly, arrogant, and slightly condescending, and makes for a more interesting reading of both the Bible and Western history. All in all, a very intriguing book.