The movie vs. the Bible

July 20, 1998|By Joseph Gallagher

THE MOVIE has arrived. Perhaps the musical is next. With the year 2000 now less than 555 days away, many people may be wondering: Just what is this Armageddon business all about?

Armageddon is the name of a place found in a single sentence in the Bible. The 16th verse of the 16th chapter of the final book of the Christian Scriptures reads: "Then the spirits brought the kings together in the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon."

Two verses earlier we are told of three evil spirits who are going to bring all the rulers of the earth together for battle on the great day of almighty God. Such a showdown day of the Lord is a common theme throughout the Bible. Presumably, all the kings are wicked.

Destroying evil

The final biblical book, called Revelation or Apocalypse, purports to spell out God's ultimate plan for the destruction of evil in the universe. Probably written 19 centuries ago, the book is like a series of slides that are not always clearly connected or fully developed.

In this case, there's only that single sentence about Armageddon, and then the subject is dropped. An analogy would be a prophecy that predicted that all the powers of Europe would meet at a place called Waterloo. Period.

We know where Waterloo is, but were is Armageddon? In what is now northwest Israel there was once an ancient town called Megiddo. Located along an international highway, it was the site of a number of famous battles.

If you take the Hebrew word "har," which means mountain, and add it to Megiddo, you get "harmegiddo." That unique hybrid is close to the Greek word Armageddon and its several variant spellings found in ancient manuscripts.

The trouble is, Megiddo is not a mountain -- which would in any case be an unlikely place for a planetary battle. So the location of Armageddon is a scholarly puzzle -- if the word was ever meant to designate a specific place at all.

It doesn't help that Armageddon is what is melodiously known as a hapax legomenon or "once said" -- a word that occurs only a single time in a given piece of literature (in this case, the Bible).

The movie mentions the Bible twice, and asserts that its own scenario of a Texas-size asteroid about to hit the Earth is "the worst of the Bible . . . the end of everything."

In fact, the movie is a story about two physical objects heading for a collision, whereas the biblical scene depicts a moral showdown between good and evil. And its (undescribed) battle of Armageddon is only one part, and certainly not the "worst" or most destructive part, of the apocalyptic defeat of evil in the universe, a defeat poetically symbolized in Revelation.

The big one

That book predicts that one final earthquake will destroy all cities; there will be various cosmic disturbances, and a star or two will hit the Earth. But the ancients thought of stars as rather small.

So, unlike the movie, the Bible has no scenario for any heavenly object hitting the Earth and wreaking universal damage. Besides, a thousand years of peace and justice on earth will follow this purgation. So all will be well for the well-meaning, even without Bruce Willis and his oil-well drillers.

The Rev. Joseph Gallagher, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, recently published his 11th book, "Statements at the Scene," a collection of poems.

Pub Date: 7/20/98

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