can exceptionalism”—significantly, the term messianism was coined in the early nineteenth century).12 in contrast to the broader and more often treated messianism and american messianism, i decided to research the biblically and historically more specific phenomenon of american millennialism. mil- lennialism and messianism nevertheless have much in common, as have mil- lennium and messiah. if separated from the belief in a personal messiah, both concepts may be considered powerful “ideologies,” that is, ideas within a politically mobilizing discourse and mythologies of world-saving power.
discourse about “final things,” according to the prophetic scriptures, is called eschatology (from the Greek εσχατον, last). in the Greek Bible, αποκαλυψις, “apocalypse,” means primarily the uncovering, revealing, or ex- posure of contemporary history before a horizon of long-term history and even eternity. The last book of the Bible, written, according to its first lines, by a servant of Jesus called John, is a complex composition that addresses the Jesus-believers while turning toward the earth, its inhabitants, and its lord. it attempts to strip contemporary history to its “true meaning,” that is, to an already achieved victory of life over destruction, of the resurrected Christ over death. The fall of mosaic israel was to be not primarily a disaster but instead the key for spreading the faith in israel’s God on the whole earth. Jesus, “King of the Jews,” as was written on his cross, heir and king of israel, would finally be revealed as the true and legitimate king of the whole earth. The revelation was written and composed in a time of catastrophes, when Jewish Jesus-believers were persecuted by the roman power and the Jewish establishment, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 .. either was imminent or had taken place, and divisions threatened the young church. accordingly, an apocalyptic understanding of contemporary first-century history took global history as a field where Jesus would prove his final victory. Using Jew- ish apocalyptical sources (above all the biblical book of daniel) and opening up a universal perspective in the son of man—true humanity revealed as Jesus, the first of and door to a universal childhood—this understanding opposed the nullity of contemporary experiences and the hubris of imperial power with the unabrogated divine lordship of this earth. This lordship was accessible at that time only in outlines, symbols, allusions, and metaphors but was to be fully revealed in the future.13
These are the basics of millennialism, including modern american apoc- alyptic spirituality. american millennialism refers directly to the Bible, in particular to its last book. in contrast to europe’s enlightened demiurge na- poleon Bonaparte and other modern geniuses of history or “providence,” it claimed the God of the Bible, and in particular the God of the revelation, for the modern remaking of the world.14 Jesus, his saints, and the “restored”