One of the gifts Santa brought me for Christmas was The Real History of the End of the World. So far, I’m halfway through the book and finding it very interesting. Essentially, it’s a history of how humanity has theorized the world would end since the beginning of time.
As a former Roman Catholic, it’s interesting to learn more about world religions and ancient religions, how the Church has shaped history, and how religious thought has changed over the centuries. Written by historian Sharan Newman, the book is more than just a dry history of eschatology. It’s peppered with her own two cents — such as in Chapter Nine where she inserts her own interpretation of what the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse represent. Her insights are thought-provoking as well. She interprets Pestilence and Famine as tyranny and the tax collector, which struck a chord with me. Tyranny (the rider wearing a crown, riding a white horse) made sense to me too, but her tax collector (the rider carrying scales and riding a black horse) struck me as possibly symbolic of justice — or the lack of it.
Newman also writes with a sense of humor. Several times while reading, I’ve literally laughed out loud. My girls keep looking at me and asking if the book is really that funny. To me, it is; I might have a skewed sense of humor though. For example, in Chapter Nineteen, Newman examines the Hussites and Taborites: “In the late spring of 1415, [Jan Hus] was summoned to the Council of Constance to be questioned about his beliefs [and antipapal attitudes].” But first, she points out, the Church had to sort out “which of three claimants was the real pope.” (Emphasis mine.) Minor detail.
Newman’s book isn’t merely a history of eschatology though. It’s a history of religious thought and gives you glimpses into history itself. If any of these interests you, you might enjoy her book.