History 4313/5313. Apocalypse Now . . . and Then:
A History of Apocalyptic Thought and Movements

Dr. Laura A. Smoller
TR 1:40-2:55 p.m., SH 408
569-8389; SH 604K
Office hours: T, 3-4; W, 10:30-11:30, and by appointment




This course offers a history of beliefs about the end of the world in the western Judeo-Christian tradition. Through lectures and readings, we will examine such topics as the birth of apocalyptic thought, the medieval development of various aspects of traditions about the End (such as the figure of Antichrist and millenarian traditions), millennial influences on the discovery and colonization of the New World, millennial movements of the last two centuries (such as the Millerites and the Mormons), and contemporary apocalyptic scenarios. A major theme of the course will be the flexibility of apocalyptic language, its ability to interpret various historical situations, and its power to move people to acceptance or action.



Week 1.
Th. August 23. Introductory meeting.


Week 2.
Tu. August 28. Discussion.


We will look at a number of newspaper clippings, magazine articles, etc. dealing with the apocalypse. We will think about numerous schedules for the end of the world (religious, nuclear, ecological, astronomical, paranoid schizophrenic?) and about what it means to think you are living near the end of time. We will also consider various motives for employing apocalyptic language in our own times (to make a political or social criticism, to enlist support, to bolster the status quo).


Th. August 30. What is an apocalypse? The birth of apocalyptic thought.



Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 1-26


Week 3.
Tu. September 4. Discussion: Daniel; 2 Esdras 3, 5:1-18, 7:1-35, 11-14


McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, pp. 1-16
Bible: Daniel 7-12
2 Esdras (=4 Ezra) 3, 5:1-18, 7:1-35, 11-14 (ER)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 27-40

Th. September 6.  Christians and Romans in the first century.



Week 4.

Tu. September 11. Discussion: early Christian apocalyptic (Revelation, Matthew, Mark, Luke, 2 Thessalonians)


Bible: Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21; 2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation (complete)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 40-44


Th. September 13. Apocalypticism and authority in the early church.


Week 5.

Tu. September 18. Discussion: Irenaeus, Lactantius


Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book V, chaps. 25-35 only (ER)
Lactantius, from Divine Institutes, in McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality pp. 17-28, 55-80 (that is skip VII.2-13, pp. 28-54)

(You will be assigned to read either Irenaeus or Lactantius. Graduate students must read both texts.)

Th. September 20. The problem of millenarian beliefs  (Paper due today, September 20)



Week 6.
Tu. September 25. Discussion: Augustine, City of God; Landes

Augustine, City of God, book XVIII, chaps. 52-54 only; book XX, chaps. 7, 8, 11-13, 19, 23, and 30 only (ER)
Richard Landes, "Lest the Millennium Be Fulfilled" (ER)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 45-47


Th. September 27. The Last World Emperor and the Muslim enemy



Week 7.
Tu. October 2. Discussion: The Tiburtine Sibyl and pseudo-Methodius

"The Tiburtine Sibyl" (ER)
Selections from pseudo-Methodius, Revelations (Latin and Syriac versions) (ER)


Th. October 4. Antichrist and apocalypse in the Middle Ages



Week 8.
Tu. October 9. Discussion: Adso; McGinn, "Portraying Antichrist"

Adso, "Letter on . . . Antichrist," in McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, pp. 81-96
Bernard McGinn, "Portraying Antichrist in the Middle Ages" (ER)


Th. October 11. The Investiture Controversy and the Gregorian Reform


Week 9.
Tu. October 16. Discussion: Hildegard of Bingen; The Play of Antichrist

Hildegard of Bingen, from Scivias (ER)
The Play of Antichrist, Introduction (at least pp. 24-40) and text (pp. 67-99)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 47-52


Th. October 18. The Abbot Joachim of Fiore: an introduction


Week 10.

Tu. October 23.  Discussion:  "Joachim of Fiore" and "The Franciscan Spirituals"

"Joachim of Fiore" in McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, pp. 97-148

Brett Whalen, Dominion of God: Christendom and Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, pp. 100-24, 270-79 (ER)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 52-60


Th. October 25. Millennial movements of the later Middle Ages


Week 11.

Tu. October 30. MIDTERM EXAM

Th. November 1. Medieval natural philosophy and the science of the future

Week 12.
Tu. November 6. Discussion: Roger Bacon, Pierre d'Ailly



Roger Bacon, from The Opus Maius (ER)
Pierre d'Ailly, On the Persecutions of the Church (ER)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 83-98


Th. November 8. NO CLASS


Media watch: Find a recent newspaper or magazine article, web site, or television or radio broadcast dealing with apocalyptic matters. Post and comment on your findings in the Blackboard discussion labeled "Media watch." (Credit will be assigned just as for discussion questions.)


Week 13.
Tu. November 13. Florence in the fifteenth century 

Th. November 15. Discussion: Savonarola


"Savonarola," in McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, pp. 183-275


Week 14.


Tu. November 20. In-class workshop: Columbus, Book of Prophecies (ER) (no reading questions due) 

Pauline Moffitt Watts, "Prophecy and Discovery" (ER)
Columbus, Book of Profecies (ER)




Week 15.
Tu. November 27. The special place of America


Th. November 29. Discussion: Numbers and Butler, The Disappointed


Ronald Numbers and Jonathan Butler, eds., The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century, selections (ER)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 167-191


Week 16.
Tu. December 4. Apocalyptic and politics in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries


Th. December 6. Discussion: Lindsey and Reagan



Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, chapters 1, 4-8, 11-13
Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at the Annual Convention of . . . Evangelicals" (ER)
Weber, Apocalypses, pp. 193-222






Course requirements for undergraduate students:

Paper. Write your own apocalypse (3-4 pg.), with an additional 1-2 page commentary demonstrating how your apocalypse fits within the genre and how apocalypses relate to their historical contexts, due September 20 (20%)


--Midterm exam on October 30 (20%)

--Take-home final exam or 8-10 page research paper, due Thursday, December 13, at 1:30 p.m. (25%)


--Weekly discussion questions; media watch (25%)


--Attendance at and active participation in all weekly discussions (10%)


Requirements for graduate students:

Graduate students must complete all of the assignments above (with the same weighting for the grade), with the following exception. In lieu of the take-home final, graduate students must write a 15-page paper on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor (due on December 13). The paper may either be a primary-source based research paper focusing on a particular problem in the history of apocalyptic thought or a historiographical survey of the scholarship in one particular area of the history of apocalypticism.


General policies:


Reading assignments are due on the day they appear in the lecture schedule.  Reading questions are due on the day of the discussion on the pertinent materials.  Late work will be penalized 10% for each calendar day late.  I do not accept emailed assignments without prior arrangement and only under the most exigent of circumstances.



Students are responsible for all material covered in and announcements made in class; attendance is, thus, crucial for doing well in the course. Participation in discussions is a critical component of the course.  The instructor reserves the right to impose a failing grade for the course after a student’s absence from four or more discussions.  (For the sake of accounting, three tardies will constitute one absence.) Students who are absent from more than five consecutive classes without excuse and without contacting the instructor will be administratively withdrawn from the course.


Books to purchase:

Bible (any translation is OK).
Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (New York, 1970). ISBN: 9780310277712
Bernard McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality (New York, 1978). ISBN: 9780809122424
Eugen Weber, Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages (Cambridge, 1999). ISBN: 9780674003958

John Wright, transl., The Play of Antichrist (Toronto, 1967). ISBN: 9780888442567

Readings designated ER (=electronic reserves) can be found on Blackboard.


Learning objectives:


At the end of this course, students will be able to


Student learning objectives for the history major:


1.  Demonstrate a significant degree of knowledge about both United States and World history through completion of a broad selection of courses in history.
2.  Ask appropriate historical questions that demonstrate an understanding of the discipline of history and distinguish it from those of other disciplines.
3.  Distinguish between primary sources and secondary sources used in the writing of history and know how to use and analyze each appropriately. Students will thus be able to:
a.   Analyze a primary source as a product of a particular historical context;
b.   Respond critically to a secondary source, taking into account the primary sources used by the historian, the historian’s methodology, the logic of the argument, and other major interpretations in the field.
4.  Present historical analysis and arguments in a clear written form, including the ability to construct an argument by marshalling evidence in an appropriate and logical fashion.
5.  Write a research paper that asks a significant historical question, answers it with a clear thesis and a logical argument, supports it with both primary and secondary sources documented according to the standards of the Chicago Manual of Style, and is written in clear and artful prose with the grammar and spelling associated with formal composition.


Students with disabilities:

Your success in this class is important to me, and it is the policy and practice of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to create inclusive learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have a documented disability (or need to have a disability documented), and need an accommodation, please contact me privately as soon as possible, so that we can discuss with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) how to meet your specific needs and the requirements of the course. The DRC offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process among you, your instructor(s) and the DRC. Thus, if you have a disability, please contact me and/or the DRC, at 501-569-3143 (V/TTY) or 501-683-7629 (VP). For more information, please visit the DRC website at www.ualr.edu/disability.



Classroom etiquette:   Please turn off cell phones and beepers before entering the classroom or set them to a silent alert; do not read or send text messages in class.  In the rare event you must enter late or leave class early, please let me know in advance.         


Cheating and plagiarism:  Cheating and plagiarism are serious offenses and will be treated as such.  ("Plagiarism" means "to adopt and reproduce as one's own, to appropriate to one's use, and incorporate in one's own work without acknowledgment the ideas of others or passages from their writings and works."  See Section VI, Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Behavior, Student Handbook, p. 39.  Copying directly from the textbook or an encyclopedia article without quotation marks or an identifying citation, for example, constitutes plagiarism.)  Anyone who engages in such activities will receive a failing grade in the course and will be turned over to the Academic Integrity and Grievance Committee for University disciplinary action, which may include separation from the University.


Copyright notice: Copyright © by Laura Smoller as to this syllabus and all lectures. Students and auditors are prohibited from selling notes during this course to (or being paid for taking notes by) any person or commercial firm without the express written permission of the professor teaching this course.


Disclaimer: The instructor reserves the right to change topics and assignments on the syllabus at any point in the semester.