The end? Ussher's calculations: There's no shortage of predictions of the world's demise.

October 23, 1997

THERE WAS a time when predictions of the destruction of the world would transfix people everywhere. On more than a few occasions, fervent believers in some such scenario would gather to wait for the end of time, only to feel left behind with little choice but to rejoin the daily routine of life.

A thousand years ago, the approach of a new millennium brought a frenzy of the-end-is-near predictions, along with a flurry of cults and movements based on the confident belief that the last days were upon the world.

There seems to be less interest in such matters as this millennium moves toward its final years. Even so, as the current exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum makes clear, the subject still inspires plenty of artists, especially the untrained but remarkable visionaries whose art inspired Rebecca Hoffberger to found a museum dedicated to their work.

Tuesday night, a group gathered at the museum to celebrate the first decade of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, to view the current exhibit entitled, "The End is Near," and to hear Robert Bergman (formerly head of the Walters Art Gallery but now ensconced in Cleveland) discuss these visions as reflected in art.

Dr. Bergman prefaced his remarks by noting that one of the best-known predictions came from Archbishop James Ussher, a 17th-century Irish Anglican. By Archbishop Ussher's calculations, the end of the world would come some two millenniums after Christ, on or about Oct. 23. Adjusting for historical inaccuracies in the calendar, the magic date would fall in 1996. But correcting further for the unfortunate omission of the year O (A.D./B.C.), Dr. Bergman noted that the date would be pushed back to 1997.

Oct. 23, 1997. Could this truly be the end?

If so, how will you, dear reader, spend these last precious hours?

As ever, we stand ready with suggestions, but on such a subject as this perhaps we should adopt a bit of modesty and simply pass on some comments we've heard from people certain of what they would do if they knew the end was near: Start smoking, stop flossing and eat desserts at every meal.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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