History: Can The Millennium Deliver?

The centuries of envisioning and predicting it reveal more about the hopes, dreams and fears of people in ages past than about the event itself

The year A.D. 2000 has long hovered in an imagined sky like a distant, luminous sign. Generations have used it as a target for their dreams, hopes and fears. Since prophecies usually tell us more about the past than the future, how the millennium was envisioned--and, in a sense, invented--during earlier eras says a great deal about the successive stages of Western history, about the religious as well as secular faith of our ancestors--in short, about how we came to be what we are.

Unlike Eastern religions, Christianity saw history not as an endless cycle but as an ascent to a...

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