With movies, mini-series and hordes of books on end-times themes jostling for attention in the final days before Y2K, we've all got Revelation on the brain. Tonight at 9 p.m. (or check your local listings), we'll also get it on PBS in the newest "Frontline" documentary, "Apocalypse!"

The first half of this two-hour special, from the same people who created "From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians," aims to show viewers how apocalyptic thought evolved over the centuries in which the Bible was written. The second half examines how apocalyptic writings have been interpreted (or, more specifically, misinterpreted) in the centuries since. Throughout, quick cuts between pontificating scholars and authentic Middle East scenes communicate the notion that eschatological concepts did have roots in physical experience, but the magic of television also tempts the viewer to take some shaky intellectual leaps and, like many of the scholars, draw connections that just aren't there.

First, a disclaimer: Not one of the dozen or more scholars interviewed believes the Bible is what it says it is. In their view, the whole biblical text is a disjointed attempt by Jews to constantly reinvent themselves and their narratives to fit their experiences and accommodate outside influences. The Babylonian exile forced Jews to hope, for the first time, that God would one day redeem the earth. Dualism, the eternal conflict between good and evil, was borrowed from Zoroastrianism in about 500 BC. Angels and demons wandered over from Hellenistic myths. Daniel must have been written much later than originally assumed, because some of its prophecies actually came true. Jesus and John the Baptist were on roughly equal footing as apocalyptic preachers, and doubtless ...

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