"...will occur on May 21, 2011." So reads a full-page ad in the San Diego Reader of Nov. 18, 2010 (and probably other publications as well).
Some folks have gotten themselves all bent out of shape worrying about December, 2012. You optimists - if this Prophecy is correct, we won't even make it to 2012!!
Nobody's name is given to credit (or blame) for this prophecy, but we know it's Harold Camping, 89, of Oakland, CA. Not only is the prophecy familiar, but his organization Family Radio is credited. I wrote about Camping's prophecy in my Psychic Vibrations column in the Skeptical Inquirer, May/June, 2010. Camping, "whose Family Radio broadcasts from Oakland, California, are carried on fifty-five radio stations in the U.S. and are translated into forty-eight foreign languages—says he has scrutinized the Bible for almost seventy years and developed a mathematical system to interpret prophecies hidden within it. He noticed that particular numbers appear in the Bible at the same time particular themes are discussed. This led him to conclude that certain themes are represented by certain numbers. For example, 5 represents “atonement,” 10 is “completeness,” and 17 represents “heaven.” His predictive formula involves taking the date of Biblical events and adding to them numbers derived from these themes... the date of Jesus’ crucifixion, to which is added (Atonement × Completeness ×Heaven), squared and multiplied by the number of days in a solar year, gives us the year 2011! With a bit more tweaking we get May 21 of that year."
It's interesting that in the recent ad, the calculation of the date of the start of Rapture is entirely different, although he reaches the same conclusion: " 'one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.' So then 7,000 years from the 17th day of the 2nd month 4990 BC [the time of the Flood] is May 21, 2011 (or the 17th day of the 2nd month, 2011, of the Biblical calendar)." Note that this calculation doesn't involve "atonement" or "completeness", the date of the crucifixion, or the days in a solar year: only "heaven." Whatever. Either this guy is the greatest Biblical Numerologist who ever lived and has formulated multiple independent arguments leading to the same conclusion, or else he is just making this stuff up as he goes along.
However, this isn't the first time that Camping has cried "Rapture." Quoting again from my column, "He announced in 1992 that the date would be September 6, 1994. (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=y-syAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-gkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2740,1259997&dq=harold+camping+1994&hl=en ) On that date, several dozen of Camping’s followers, Bibles in hand, gathered in a hall in Alameda, California, to await the Rapture." I would love to have seen the look on their faces as they slowly made their way home late that night.
I am also rather amused to see that Camping has chosen my birthday as the start of the Beginning of the End Times. That would be my last birthday for sure, and I won't have to worry about getting older!
If the Rapture does begin as Camping expects, I'm sure I won't be among those taken up. Not only have I been a lapsed Catholic since I was about eleven, but I'm quite sure that Jesus won't cut me any slack after what I wrote in my book The Making of the Messiah (Prometheus, 1991), and especially what I wrote about his mother. One of the chapters is titled "Immaculate Fornication," in which I nail down all of the reasons that "unless Mary's pregnancy is of supernatural origin, she is an adulteress." So it's obvious why they made up the Virgin Birth yarn, to solve the very serious problem of Jesus not having a proper father, not (as is often said) to make Jesus seem more like a pagan god. There have been several other proposed solutions to Jesus' paternity problem, as well. The Marcionite "heresy," very influential in the Second Century, taught that Jesus simply 'fell to earth,' like David Bowie. That would fix the problem, too. If the followers of Jesus admitted that he had been born a bastard, there is no way they could then claim him to be the Messiah, who had to come from the illustrious line of David. So they make up a story claiming that Jesus comes from this line through Joseph, even as they tell us that Joseph was not actually his father. This makes no sense, but then logic never was one of the strong points of early Christianity. Remember Tertullian's famous dictum: credo quia absurdum est, "I believe it because it is absurd."
If any of my Christian friends do find themselves flying up into the air on May 21 next year, at least I'll know that they were right and I was wrong. I would then accept the Bible as the revealed word of God, on solid empirical evidence. But until that happens, I'll assume that the Second Coming and the Rapture are among the hundreds, if not thousands, of mythological beliefs from around the world. And I expect to be around not only on May 22, 2011, but also on Jan. 1, 2013.