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A Free Syrian Army fighter runs after a Syrian Army tank shell exploded in the Salah al- Din neighbourhood of central Aleppo
Over the past few weeks there has been a growing sense among some Christian groups that events in Syria herald the Apocalypse. A prophecy in Isaiah 17 describes the imminent and absolute destruction of Damascus, the capital of Syria. Christian radio hosts, organizations, blogs, and authors have come forward to testify that that we live in the end times. The story has received coverage on Fox News, in USA Today, and in TIME.
While interest in the apocalypse and the end of the world among Christians tends to rise during periods of political conflict, the publication of several books on the end times by evangelicals John Hagee and James Fitzgerald has placed Judgment Day back in the news. Updated doomsday websites are being launched and apocalyptic appears to be back in style.
There seems to be little immediate cause for concern. The biblical prophecy from Isaiah used to support the current theory of imminent apocalypse likely refers to the destruction of Damascus by the Assyrians in 723 BCE. Isaiah 17 was written in the eighth century BC. This prediction is thousands of years old and has been ‘fulfilled’ many times over. Isaiah is only in the news now that global attention is focused on Syria.
Christians have been predicting the end of the world since the 1st century, and –so far –they have been wrong about its timing 100 percent of the time. We may live closer to the end of the world than we ever have done, but that statement was as true in the first and 5th centuries as it is today. We may be further, but we’re nowhere closer.
Even so, the apocalyptic worldview itself is vexing. The end of the world is a descent into political and moral chaos. The book of Revelation describes it as a time when the majority of humanity will be killed by diseases, natural disasters, and war. All of this violence is prophesied by God and ultimately lies beyond human control.
The problem with introducing the Apocalypse into a discussion of events in Syria is that it tacitly endorses war and destruction as the will of God. The deaths of tens of thousands can be chalked up as collateral damage in the cosmic battle between good and evil. This is unsavory if doomsday predictions are right and horrifying if they’re wrong. Whatever an individual’s opinion about the proper course of action in Syria, using ancient prophecies to abdicate responsibility for intervention is irresponsible.
Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.