Harold Camping, End Times, and the Dishonor Role

Obit Harold CampingHarold Camping, the famed – and failed – predictor of Jesus’ return, has died.

It has been 2,000 years since the promised generation of Jesus’ return ebbed away. The textual rehabilitations to “interpret” what such statements meant began back then. They continue to the present. They can be seen when gents like Harold Camping amend their predictions and retool their prognostications. And interestingly enough, even when concessions of error do occur, like Camping’s eventually did, they never quite drive deeply enough. He miscalculated the date of Jesus’ return (2011), to be sure. But I propose he also miscalculated the very fact of it. And this has been going on for a very, very long time.

Edgar Whisenant made the same mistake in 1988. And he, like Camping, also revised his numbers to take a second crack at it [13].

William Miller’s Great Disappointment of the 1840’s pushes the line further back. Observers could be forgiven for seeing a pattern, since he also revised his numbers to have a second go [13].

But how far back does this behavior extend?

Joachim of Fiore predicted the end would come in 1260 [13]. But it goes back much further than that.

In the second century, Montanus made the same sort of error, and was so persuasive that even the great theologian Tertullian bought in to the dark omens [13].

The greatest disappointment to me has been to realize that the Biblical writers of the New Testament were actually the first to make such errors. Camping and Whisenant and Montanus were only following in the footsteps of New Testament penman. The gospel writers were the Harold Campings of their day:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

~ Matthew 24:34 (ca. 80 AD)

But Jerusalem went up in a conflagration, the generation perished, and nothing really happened. But “interpretive rehabilitation” and new revelations were not slow in coming. Christian leaders bolstered their flocks, despite the fact that the Lord proved less than spritely in his return:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

~ 2 Peter 3:9 (ca. 130 AD)

The dilemma of 2 Peter, of course, is that it appears to have been written by someone else in the second century – a good while after Peter had died – and indeed, after the promise had fallen through. (Estimated at 130 A.D., see prior post on Timeline of the NT Books). Early followers really did think Jesus was coming back in the first generation; else, there would have been no reason for reassurances. Jesus himself may or may not have thought this; we have only our checkered and anonymous gospels to say so. Giving up all possessions and taking no thought for the morrow do fit in well with a Campingite/Millerite expectation. Perhaps Jesus himself was the beginning of being wrong. But then, the apocalyptic tradition was in full swing among the Jewish people long before Jesus trod the sands of Palestine [13, 52, 53].

The problem is not a question of timing. It is a question of denial.

The whole proposition was gotten wrong a few steps further back than the timing revisionists will concede. The writers of the New Testament themselves were cobbling it together as they went, and the writers in many cases were not who we long thought. So folks like Camping are actually strong carriers of the biblical tradition. We desire the end with an ardor that precludes concession and that usually walks blindfolded to our tawdry history.

All that remains now is to amend the Dishonor Role of ignoble doomsayers: a delusional company more inclusive than we would like to believe.


  1. Death Cult Christianity. In my post on this very matter i added it up and found that in the last fifty-six generations (1,700 years) there have been more than three-hundred prominent captains of Christianity who have announced with excited yips of childlike anticipation that their god was about to lay waste to all life on earth.


  2. I wonder how things would have went down if the first century Christians would have just admitted that the prophecy didn’t come true and moved on.


    • Can’t. Eternity hangs in the balance. People default to hope I think. It’s also worth considering the cross section of early believers. Same as the cross section that launched Mormonism and the like.


  3. archaeopteryx1 says:

    The thing to ask yourself, when viewing that photo, is, “Would you buy a used car from this man?


  4. The Tea Party seems to be trying to force the second coming by destroying our government. If we fail, then perhaps God’s hand will be forced.


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