Current forecasts that the world will end in an ecological disaster are nothing new. They are simply the latest in a series of doomsday visions that have haunted humankind’s thoughts since prehistoric times.
Most of the civilizations of the ancient Near East viewed time as cyclic. However, the myth acquired a new dimension when it was incorporated into world views that interpreted time as unilinear and progressive. Zoroastrianism,Judaism and Christianity all viewed history as moving toward a pre-ordained end, which would be the fulfillment of the divine intention of the world. To fit such a view, the myth of the primal struggle had to be projected forward, to the end of the present dispensation. If this world was created in a struggle with the chaos monster, then the chaos monster must rise again when it ended. True, the monster will be cast down, this time forever,but not before it has brought anguish and desolation upon mankind.
Blame it on the Jews. The apocalyptic literature produced by the Jews between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D. is largely concerned with the final overthrow of the devil by Yahweh, which is to mark the beginning, an inauguration of the Messianic age. The Devil as such, is more than the primordial chaos monster; but the chaos monster is still there, and it appears either as an aspect of the Devil or as the Devil’s confederate.
Then Christianity gets in on the act.In both cases, authority always wins. Sometimes Yahweh is described as beheading a dragon, or as carving up Leviathan for the Messianic banquet. And in certain chapters of the great Christian apocalypse known as the Book of Revelation the chaos monster occupies the very center of the scene. He is adapted of course, to this new context, but with all its original traits still clearly distinguishable. First, a great seven headed dragon appears in the heavens, and with its tail casts down a third part of the stars; then a beast rises out of the sea and takes power over the whole world. In a Hollywood ending, both are defeated by angels who conveniently, also happen to be warriors, and the evil is cast out of a regenerated cosmos forever.
The original meaning of these beings was no doubt quite unknown to the author of Revelation, yet it colors his final version: ”And yet I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was no more sea.” The chaos monster, identified with the unruly waters underneath and around the earth, has been annihilated.
Revelation inspired a number of other apocalypses. Thanks to this corpus od prohetic writings. medieval Christendom took it for granted that immediately before the Second Coming, enormously destructive forces would be loosed upon the world. These forces would be hostile to Christ and his followers, forces deployed by Satan in a last, desparate effort to frustrate God’s plan and prevent Christ’s final triumph. They were symbolized by Antichrist and by the hosts of Gog and Magog. But these beings, or entitites, still bore the lineaments of the archaic chaos monster.
Antichrist was a complex figure, constructed out of various prophecies in the Old and New Testaments.He, we are supposing, was a composite, like a fictional character cobbled together from many spare parts, the sum being of less spectacular value than the whole.Revelation identifies this figure with the beast that rises from the sea. Antichrist then becomes endowed with all the destructive power traditionally ascribed to the chaos monster.
The story of the struggle between Antichrist and the prophet Elijah shows very clearly what a chaos monster Antichrist became. As Elijah was taken up to heaven alive, the possibility of his return to earth had always been reckoned with. The Old Testament prophets expected him to return to prepare the way for the Messiah by his preaching. In Revelation he will return to preach against Antichrist and will be martyred by him; perhaps the reason he
delaying his comeback. Out of this, popular imagination composed a prophecy in which Antichrist, in effect, destroys the cosmos. Here Elijah fights with the beast and overthrows it, but not before it has wounded him; as his blood drips to the ground, the soil catches fire, and the fire spreads until everything is consumed. Perhaps this Messiah issue should be put to referendum and settled by a popular vote.
Antichrist has the hordes of Gog and magog as allies. They appear in the Old Testament as tribes. Ezekiel prophesies that one day they will come ” out of the uttermost parts of the north… all of them riding upon horses”. Originally, the idea may have been an echo of the devastating inroads of the Scythians in the seventh century B.C.; but, like the figure of Antichrist himself, it was given a new meaning by the book of Revelation.
Here are two visions that, although they occur in different chapters, obviously, due to editorial bungling, belong together. One describes how the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet send messengers to all the kings of the earth, summoning them to bring their hosts to battle at a place called Armageddon. The other vision tells how, at the bidding of Satan, ” the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, … the number of whom is as the sand of the sea,” gather together to attack ”the camp of the saints”.Gog and Magog are no longer particular peoples; they stand for all the powers except the tiny Christian community of the first century; and those powers are regarded as demonic. Even if, as is likely, Armageddon was originally Megiddo in Palestine, the siege itself is no mere military operation but is part of a prodigious drama of the Last Days. Moreover, the outcome is settled by God himself. Lightning comes down from heaven and devours the invading hordes, and Satan and Antichrist are annihilated.