The Apocalypse and the Military History of Religion

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. –Revelation 16:16, New International Version.

See, there’s apocalypse, and then there’s THE APOCALYPSE. The word itself comes from Greek the word ἀποκάλυψις, which means revelation or unveiling, as in uncovering a sheet or veil and seeing what’s beneath.

If you really want to get literal, an apocalypse happens when a groom lifts his bride’s veil, or when you change your bed sheets. An apocalypse happened in the Wizard of Oz when Toto revealed Oz to be fraud: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

In the religious context, an apocalypse happens when a deity reveals a truth or series of truths about the nature of the world or universe. This is where divine laws, prophets, and prophesy become important, especially when written down into scripture. If you want to take a literal interpretation of the first five books of the Bible, humans did not create laws, God/YHWH/Elohim created laws for humans as a code of behavior and revealed them to chosen leaders like Moses. Somethings similar happens in the Vendidad, the part of the Zend Avesta, where Ahura Mazda tells Yima to received divine law, but apparently Yima is so good and just that he refuses and rules over the new world just fine… for time, until Ahura Mazda warns that a deadly winter is about to happen (in similar manner God warns Noah about the pending Flood).

According to Eusebius of Caesarea, an apocalypse changed the world for Christianity for the better, when Emperor Constantine dreamed of Jesus telling him to use the chi-rho sign (the first two letters of Christ’s name) against his enemies. Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα = in this sign, you shall conquer. After defeating his rivals, and bringing peace (more or less) to the Roman Empire, he ended the Christian persecutions and eventually converted to Christianity.

Eusebius, along with early church fathers like Augustine, while recognizing the validity of signs from God, they disputed THE APOCALYPSE as an allegory, or it that had already happened after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

The problem with interpreting these signs and prophecies is that they are highly personal. We have no idea if Constantine really witnessed this vision, just as we have no idea if John wrote down accurately his own vision of the final battle between good and evil, Armageddon.

Dreams are like that. Fluid with multiple meanings and signs.

So are signs and portents when one is awake.

About six months ago I drew the Death card from a Tarot deck. It was the very first card on top of the pile. Great, I said, I just drew the Death card. My friends around me didn’t seem to notice.

Did this mean I was going to die? Or was it a metaphor that my life was about to change abruptly? (Okay, since you’re probably thinking it: do I feel it predicted COVID-19?)

Yes. No. Maybe. Either way you must take my word for it, because that’s all you have.

What if I was a military commander who drew that card?

An apocryphal story exists about French King Louis VI. At the start of the Hundred Years’ War, when English King Richard III invaded France around the year 1337, Louis VI amassed a considerable host to meet the English forces and their German allies. For a time, these two feudal hosts maneuvered in northern France before they agreed on place for a pitched battle.

Richard III showed up with his host, but Louis VI was nowhere to be found. Supposedly, Louis VI withdrew his hosts because of the words of advice from his court astrologer.

Richard III tried to get his own host to pursue Louis VI, but his German allies demanded more payment, and when that didn’t happen, they went home. Then his own lords and retainers reminded them that their own feudal obligations were about to expire, and so they went home, too.

Another example: Numbers 13, where God/YHWH told Moses to send a single man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to scout the land of Canaan. God had previous revealed the land of Canaan would be their inheritance.

It’s sound military doctrine to scout the territory prior to an invasion.

The Israelites, however, discovered that the peoples of Canaan were too strong. Indeed, three powerful Nephilim (or giants) guarded Canaan, and the Israelites refused to attack.

And so God give them another revelation: everybody who was 20 years and older would die wandering the wilderness (after being driven off by their enemies first). Only the next generation would live to see Canaan, the Promised Land.

The Final Apocalypse (in the Book of Revelation) happens right after Armageddon, for a final attack against God and his forces. It’s a gathering place for armies.

Here’s the weird thing: The youth minister who conducted Bible Studies when I was young once said, Armageddon is a highland region in Israel, the perfect spot for armies to gather if they were to invade. Okay, fine. It’s sound military doctrine, for the most part, to occupy the high ground. Yet a modicum of research reveals there are no mountains or high places called Megiddo, only the plains and perhaps a low mound where an ancient fortress or city may have stood.

No wonder the forces of darkness lose, they thought they were assembling on high ground but ended up in low country.

I think we’re done (for now) talking about Apocalypses and military doctrine. The two really shouldn’t go together as a means of conducting a military campaign, but it happens anyway from time-to-time, like with the First Crusade or the War on Terror.

But those are inquiries for another time…

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