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With that ominous-looking year 2000 fast approaching, the pop apocalyptists are issuing doomsday warnings. On the tube, former Man from U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum hosted a major prime-time series on ancient prophecies; he warned that every futurist from Nostradamus to Edgar Cayce to the architects of the pyramids to the Bible prophets has targeted the year 2000 for the end of the world. A slew of doomsday books and apocalyptic tabloids is rung up at every checkout. Even a respected evangelical radio personality like Harold Camping—aware, perhaps, at 72 that doomsday has at least personal significance (CT, Oct. 24, 1994, p. 84)—targeted that final trump for us all as September 1994, beating the 2000 marker rush with an early-bird prediction.

But 2000 on whose calendar? The current calendar in use in the West is reported to have been started by one Dionysius Exiguus in A.D. 532. His idea was to date year 1 from the time when (by his calculation) Jesus was born. Today scholars agree that Dionysius was off at least four years, which means that since Christ was probably born in 4 B.C., the year 2000 actually falls in 1997. But Dionysius was, of course, a latecomer in the calendar game.

The early church was already operating by the Julian calendar, which Julius Caesar had established because he was fed up with the errors of the Roman calendar. In the meantime, the Greeks had their calendar and so did the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Anglo-Saxons (is that what Stonehenge is?), and the ancient Mayans. Even the Muslims had to start their own calendar.

Of course, the Hebrews were operating by a calendar dating retroactively from their calculated date for the Creation: 3761 B.C. By that figuring, our year 2000 will be about ...

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In the Magazine

July 17, 1995

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