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Austin Chronicle Party Like It's 2659

By Mr. Smarty Pants

MARCH 15, 1999:  Millennium, schlemennium. Stop packing your bags for the alien spaceship ride. Don't bury your gold in the backyard (because the Black Helicopter guys will find it anyway). And, unless you really have a bad case of the munchies, don't stock up on military rations -- from personal experience, Mr. Smarty Pants knows they don't taste very good.

The Millennium is not happening -- well, at least for another year and a half or so. The year 2000 is not the new millennium! There was no Year Zero, our calendar went from 1 BC to 1 AD. Therefore, the new millennium actually begins on January 1, 2001.

It is true that some computers will not enjoy the change from 1999 to 2000. But with so much media hype about the subject, it will be a wonder if people with Y2K-compliant brains don't heed the warning ahead of time. Maybe we'd all be better off if those people's computers didn't work -- Darwin's "survival of the fittest" and all that.

"Survival of the fittest" might apply in the big Y2K picture, too. Civilizations millenniums older than ours aren't stocking up on beef jerky and Sterno, and they aren't exactly freaking out about it, either. Some of these cultures even have their own unique calendar systems and have been through this millennium change thing several times. And who knows, by looking at the world through their perspectives, maybe we will have a better fix on our own.

Let's check out some of the world's major philosophies on millennium change.

Why 2000?

Because of the calendar! The Gregorian Calendar is the calendar most of us swear by. It has been with us only since 1582. Think about it -- the last millennium change in the year 1000 (later on that) wasn't even counted on the same calendar system we are using today. So does anybody really know what day it is?

The Gregorian Calendar was based on the Julian Calendar. Invented by and named after Julius Caesar, the Julian Calendar got its final touches in 45 BC (more accurately, 45 BCE, or "Before the Christian Era"). It was later accepted as the Christian calendar.

When Gregory became pope in 1572, he decided he wanted to fix the Julian Calendar because it put Easter on the same day every year. Pope Gregory wanted Easter to fall on a day closer to the Jewish celebration of Passover, which is calculated from the Jewish calendar (see below). It took many years for the Gregorian Calendar to gain widespread acceptance. In fact, Eastern Orthodox churches and others continue to use the Julian Calendar to this day.

Great Britain and the American colonies didn't accept the Gregorian Calendar until 1752. Which leads to the unfortunate situation of people like George Washington. He was born in February, 1732, at a time when the colonies were still using the Julian Calendar. When the Gregorian Calendar was finally accepted (when he was 20 years old), his birthday was changed from February 11 to February 22. Forget taxation without representation -- this would drive anyone to lead an army into revolution.

Year 1000 -- The First Christian Millennium

Some current-day scholars believe the year 1000 was a time of great change, while others believe the year passed like so many into the next. Since Mr. Smarty Pants is still working on his time machine, he will have to present both sides of the argument.

Those who support the "great change" theory, say there was increased intensity of peace councils in Europe during the decades that preceded the year 1000 and years 1023 and 1033 (1,000 years after the death of Jesus). In France, there were religious processions, mass pilgrimages, and peace assemblies that included huge crowds of peasants. In Central Europe, word of the coming apocalypse came from the rulers. In Eastern Europe, there was increased missionary activity. According to one source, Saint John had prophecies about an apocalypse 1,000 years after the coming of Jesus. Recently, author James Reston Jr., in his book, TheLast Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 AD, portrays the year 999 as a profound turning point for mankind.

Then there's the "No Big Deal About 1000" theory. One source says that Saint Augustin had prophecies of his own, which stated that the "1,000 years after Jesus prophecy" shouldn't be taken too literally. These theorists contend that most European peasants didn't have a notion of calendar time and therefore didn't even know a millennium change was upon them.

What we do know is there were several predictions around the year 1000 that obviously didn't pan out. A solar eclipse in 968 was considered a sign of the end. In 992, Good Friday coincided with the Feast of the Annunciation, considered by some to be an event that would bring forth the Antichrist. In May 1000, the body of Charlemagne was exhumed because a legend said an emperor would arise from his sleep to fight the Antichrist. A famine from 1005-1006 was considered another sign.

Of course, not all Christian prophecies about the second coming of Jesus and/or the apocalypse have revolved around millennium changes. Most prophecies are or have been related to interpretations of Revelation 20:1-7.

The Jewish Millennium

The Jewish Calendar, which is still in use today, predates the Julian and Gregorian calendars. We are currently in the Jewish year 5759, which is supposed to count back to the creation of the world. The Jewish Calendar is based on lunar cycles while the Gregorian Calendar is based on solar cycles.

According to Jewish belief, the messiah has not yet arrived, so there have been lots of Jewish prophecy theories. Like the Christians, the Jews never limited themselves to mere millennium changes. In his book, Messianic Speculation in Israel, Abba H. Silver described five counting systems used by rabbis throughout the ages to predict the coming of the messiah. These include signs in the Book of Daniel and other biblical texts; the occurrence of different events in history such as the Jewish departure from Egypt, the fall of Rome, and the destruction of the temple; the use of gematria (the interpretation of a word according to the numerical value of its letters), which is associated with the Kabbala; and the use of astrology. During the Crusades, some Jews living under persecution in Christian countries thought victory by Islamic countries would be a sign, while Jews in Islamic countries bet on a Christian victory.

According to Silver, when it comes to millennium changes, some Jews had several theories about the Jewish year 5000, which was back in the 13th century AD. Some rabbis at the time believed that the world was supposed to last for 6,000 years followed by chaos for 1,000 years. The thousand years prior to the destruction of the world (5000-6000) "would be the years of consummation and universal blessedness," said Silver. This would put the end of the world in the Jewish year 6000, or 2240 AD.

The Jews were not limited to their calendar's millennium changes. As the year 500 AD approached, some Jews believed it was a sign of the coming of the messiah -- at this time, Jews witnessed the final scenes in the decline and fall of Rome. Other Jewish theories looked to 1000 AD because it coincided with the 1,000 years since the coming of Jesus and to 1130 AD because at the time it was believed to represent 500 years after Muhammad rose. (Modern calculations put the death of Muhammad in 632 AD, so 500 years later would have been 1132 AD.)

The Islamic Millennium

In April 1999, we will be entering the Islamic Year of 1420. Like the Jewish Calendar, the Islamic Calendar follows lunar cycles. According to some of Mr. Smarty Pants' sources, Islam does not fit into a sense of time schemes involving 1,000 year intervals, so there were no predictions revolving around the Islamic Year 1000, which was back in the 16th century AD.

Like other religions, Islam has many different beliefs surrounding the apocalypse, which by the way is called eschatology, or "the study of last things." Islam incorporates concepts such as afterlife, day of judgement, the coming of an Antichrist-type character called Dajjal, and the coming of Mahdi, or "divinely guided one," who will deliver the people from tyranny and oppression at the end of time.

Of course there are always differences of opinion. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World states under its entry on "Messianism" that during the 15th century AD, owing to the approach of the first 1,000 years since the advent of the Prophet, various Islamic groups began to revive their hopes for a better future. The book says that in the cities of Mecca and Medina, religious scholars wrote opinions confirming the popular belief in the appearance of a mujadid, or reformer at the turn of the century. A Sunni journalist of the time predicted the coming of Mahdi was expected in the new millennium. The encyclopedia also states that over the years, some Islamic thinkers believed that there would not be a Muslim Mahdi, but that the role would be filled by the second coming of Jesus.

In November 1997, writer John Whalen mentioned in his article, "Apocalypse When? The End Is Near ... Maybe" that several Sufi sects have already declared 2076 as the Year of the Haj (end day) because it will coincide with the year 1500 in the Islamic Calendar. An article by Abdal Hakim Murad, "Islam and the New Millennium," confirmed this, quoting Imam al-Suyuti, the greatest scholar of medieval Egypt. At first, al-Suyuti believed the end of the world would occur in the year 1000 of the Islamic Calendar. He later changed his prediction to 1500 of the Islamic Calendar.

The Hindu Millennium

Unlike the other religions mentioned so far, Hinduism is based on a belief in more than one god. In fact, the religion does not trace its origins to one particular founder and has no institutional structure, according to the Larrouse Dictionary of Religion. In India, there are significant differences between Hindu's practice from region to region and even village to village. When India adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1957, there were about 30 variations of calendars in use across the country. The Hindu calendar, called Panchanga, is predominantly lunar, although a solar calendar has been used in southern India.

According to most sources, because of the complexity of India's calendar systems and basic tenets of Hinduism, there is no correlation to millennium changes. The only simple connection is that in Hinduism, 1,000 mahayugas, or cycles of time, equals one cosmic day, which equals 4.3 billion earthly years, which should cover most of us from an apocalypse any time soon.

However, there are those who disagree. According to What Magazine Online, Kalki, which is the name of the god Vishnu's last incarnation, will appear on a white horse at the end of the Kali Yuga (the dark age which we are currently in). This "end of the dark age" is predicted to occur between 1998 and 2001, with a restoration of the Divine Order by 2003.

According to John Whalen's article (see above), the Sree Vishiva Karma Veera Narayana Murthy, avatar of Krishna, will arrive in 2003 to establish the reign of dharma (righteousness). "He will rule over the universe for a period of 108 years, and return to His abode, Vaikunta. Preceding that, the world will be full of calamities and situations will be changing every instant."

The Chinese, Japanese, and Buddhist Millennia

We are in the year 4697 in the Chinese Calendar and in the year 2659 in the Japanese Calendar. According to Mr. Smarty Pants' research, there have been no correlations to millennium changes in Chinese or Japanese history because, in these countries, the dynasties of their rulers constitute separate time periods.

Most sources say millennium change is foreign to Buddhism because the religion has the concepts of rebirth and a cyclical view of time. One exception is the cult of Maitreya (Mi Lo Fo), which was introduced in China in the fourth century AD. According to their theories, 3,000 years after the birth of Buddha, Buddhism will have reached such a state of decline that Maitreya will appear and establish his millennial kingdom.

Another involved a peasant rebellion in 1813 led by Lin Ch'ing, who claimed he was the reincarnation of Maitrea Buddha. Ch'ing led converts to a 3,000-year-old millennial religion whose deity was known as the Eternal and Venerable Mother. The rebellion was squashed by the ruling army, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Since most of the millennium stories have been about doom and gloom, it seems appropriate to end this tale on a positive note. One source says that according to Buddhist scripture, the Japanese term mappo or Chinese term mo-fa is the "last age of the teaching." It has various historical intervals ranging from durations of 500 to 10,000 years, including specific intervals of 1,000, 1,500, 2,000, 2,500, and 5,000 years. This correlates to a Buddhist concept of millennium, the first lasting from 483 BC to 518 AD, the second from 518 to 1518 AD, and the third from 1518 to 2518 AD. The source states that every 500 years there is a period of decline followed by renewal, with the next starting in 2018.

We are currently in decline, and will soon be in renewal.

The above is information that Mr. Smarty Pants read in a book, magazine, newspaper, or on the Internet; heard on the radio; saw on television; or overheard at a party. He is not a religious scholar, nor has he even attended college-level courses on comparative religion.

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