The story of millennialism extends down the ages from the ancient Near East to the present. In his seminal study on the origins of millennialism, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, Norman Cohn exclaims, “What a story it has become!”
Much theological speculation; innumerable millenarian movements, including those now flourishing so vigorously in the United States; even the appeal once exercised by Marxist-Leninist ideology – all this belongs to it. Nor is there any reason to think that the story is nearing its end. The tradition whose origins are studied in this book is still alive and potent. Who can tell what fantasies, religious or secular, it may generate in the unforseeable future?
What fantasies, indeed!
All scholars who have studied millennialism have investigated unsuccessful movements, or movements that have yet to succeed, that is, achieve the millennium. This essay explores a successful millennial movement, one that has already ushered in the messianic age. Although this achievement is restricted geographically — to a city — it is nonetheless of major significance. Not only did this millennial movement receive support from the U.S. federal government, but it also accomplished its goal prior to the turn of the millennium.