Almost two years ago, I wrote a piece on the coming Mayan eschaton, i.e., how the world was presumably going to end on the 21st of December, 2012. Well, they’ve gone and made a movie about it so it’s not really all that compelling a topic anymore. However, my interest in eschatology in general hasn’t really waned over the past 20 months, and recently I had stumbled on to an ongoing effort to actually force the apocalypse to happen. An effort led by fundamentalist Christians, no less.
This particular eschatological prophecy has to do with a red heifer – an apparently ultra-rare, scarlet-hued female cow whose presence would allow the Christians to build the Third Temple, and thus facilitate the second coming of their Messiah. (That would be Jesus, to you secular folks.) The rarity of this kind of cow is puzzling – it has only appeared a grand total of 9 times throughout all of Hebrew history. The first was for Moses, he of the Top 10 list. He gave the poor animal to his priest Eleazar to be sacrificed.
Upon the heifer’s tenth appearance, the End Time – man’s final moments on this planet – will commence. Given these circumstances, we’re all quite fortunate that red cows simply aren’t indigenous to that part of the world. They’re relatively common in North America though, which, as it happens, is where this harbinger of doom is currently being bred in large numbers by one Clyde Lott. Turns out he’s been at it since the late-90’s.
Here’s how the fundamentalist Christian view of the eschaton works:
1. The Setup
Three events must occur for the Messiah to return: (1) the nation of Israel must be restored, (2) Jerusalem must be a Jewish City, and (3) the Temple must be rebuilt. (It was destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Whenever Jews break glass during weddings, they do so in memory of this cataclysmic event.) Of those three requirements, only the Temple currently remains unfulfilled.
Of course, the building of the Temple itself has its own set of requirements. The relevant one involves using the ashes of a red heifer to purify its constituents. And naturally, the heifer requirements are pretty tedious as well. Sayeth Numbers 19:
“Speak unto the children of Israel,” the Lord commanded, “that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came a yoke.”
In other words, this cow must be pitch-perfect. Not a single non-red strand of hair, and not a single day of labor to its name. Also, a heifer is by definition about three years of age, so it needs to be properly cared for until its time comes.
Clyde Lott’s breeding work has thus far produced a bunch of near-misses, but no real keepers. Each potential candidate is subjected to the closest scrutiny. When one candidate (not from Lott’s stock though) was discovered in 1996, some Jews rejoiced, while other camps called for the animal to be shot immediately, and “every molecule” destroyed. The poor calf’s tail turned white as it grew older though, solving the problem for everyone. In 2002, another calf was discovered and subsequently disqualified. One wonders if these calves are not simply willing their imperfections into existence in an act of bovine self-preservation.
2. The Buildup
Once this all-important cow is found, investigated and approved by the rabbis, it will be sacrificed on a pyre, and its ashes mixed into water. Jews will flock from all corners of the globe to be purified by this water, and the restoration of the Temple will commence.
It’s easy for secularists to write off this Jewish predilection for temple-building, but its significance does bear some explanation. The Jews believe that their Temple is the device through which God will manifest His presence to mankind. It’s not a building, it’s a conduit.
3. The Denouement
The Messiah’s return is the part familiar to most Christians. There will be seven years of great tribulation, during which an Anti-Christ will appear to wage war against the believers. One can think of this period as a great shakedown, during which the lapsed, lazy or only mildly serious Christians get filtered out (and most likely, destroyed). Jesus will, of course, eventually emerge triumphant, saving all of the true believers and kicking off a thousand years of peaceful reign.
What happens after those one thousand years are over is anyone’s guess. In my most fanciful imaginings, I like to think that the Christians will come back to find the Earth a perfect utopia ruled by the secular survivors. With no religion to hold us back, humankind has explored the solar system, eradicated disease, ended poverty, expanded the limits of human understanding beyond anything previously thought possible. Perhaps Christ’s millennial reign may end up being beneficial to both believer and non-believer alike after all.
If you enjoyed this piece, my blog is a growing collection of other oddball essays and contrarian opinions. Other eschatological pieces include the aforementioned Mayan Apocalypse, and the Doomsday Singularity, which talks about how technology will one day literally be the death of us.