PHILADELPHIA -- Soon it will be spring again. The snow will melt, the dogwoods flower. Trumpets will blast, graves will open, and Earth will begin a five-month descent to its fiery end.
Radio evangelist Harold Camping can hardly wait.
May 21 is Judgment Day, when "this world will be a horror story beyond anything we can imagine," he asserts.
A fixture on Christian airwaves around the world, Mr. Camping, 89, is exhorting all who are listening to "make ready" for Jesus' triumphal return, whose precise date he says God has revealed to him with "fantastic proof" in the Bible.
End-of-timers generally have been fixated on the doomsday date of Dec. 21, 2012 -- when the "Long Count" calendar of the ancient Maya ends and, presumably, the world with it.
There won't even be a 2012, according to Mr. Camping.
Just as the Wright brothers figured out flying, Mr. Camping has predicted Judgment Day where so many others have failed, said Chris McCann, 49, of Darby, Pa., a married father of four who retired from his job in the mailroom at a financial services company.
Mr. McCann is so confident of Mr. Camping's prediction that he and 20 others, most from the Philadelphia region, spent 10 days in Ireland and Scotland this month distributing thousands of May 21 tracts.
In a phone interview last week from his Oakland office, Mr. Camping warned that those who do not accept his complex calculations, including even devout Christians, will face "sudden destruction" when Jesus returns.
Although many have lacked Mr. Camping's down-to-the-minute surety, predictions of time's end have been burbling up almost since time began, notes University of Wisconsin history professor Paul Boyer, a scholar of apocalypticism.
"Prophetic belief gives order and shape to human experience, and meaning and drama to history," he said last week. "We need beginnings. We need endings."
He cited St. Paul; the medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen; the English Pilgrims; the 19th-century founders of Jehovah's Witness, and Seventh-day Adventism.
Curiously, Mr. Boyer said, the explosion of scientific knowledge in the 20th century -- including astrophysicists' confidence that the Earth has another 5 billion years -- has done little to quell the market for apocalypticism, especially in the United States.
Author Hal Lindsey's 1970 thriller The Late, Great Planet Earth has sold more than 30 million copies, and it continues to do so despite its saying the end would come in the 1980s.
The Rev. Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of novels depicting the Rapture, Armageddon, and the machinations of the Anti-Christ has sold 65 million copies since 1995 and been made into four movies.
Now comes Mr. Camping -- again.
In the late 1980s, he began warning the end would come in September, 1994. He then revised his dates for several years before dropping the subject.
Now the former civil engineer, who is not ordained, maintains that God has revealed to him the true meaning of many dates and symbolic numbers in the Bible.
Essentially, he argues that May 21, 2011, is "exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C., when the [great] flood began," and that these 7,000 years mirror the seven days God gave Noah to warn the world.
At the end of the new warning period "there will be a huge earthquake the likes of which has never been had in history," he said in the interview, "and the graves will be opened all over the world."
Jesus will gather up the saved -- there will only be about 200 million -- and the unsaved will be left to rot into manure.
Five months later, on Oct. 21, "the entire universe will be annihilated."
That Christ will return in glory to judge "the living and the dead" lies at the core of Christian belief, and most conservative Christians share Mr. Camping's conviction that the Bible paints an authentic picture of how the world-as-we-know-it will end.
But most also point out that Jesus told his disciples that even he did not know the "day nor the hour" that that will occur.
Quite a few are making a prediction of their own: The sage of Oakland will wake up embarrassed on May 22.39.95227 -75.16237 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Religion!
Soon it will be spring again. The snow will melt, the dogwoods flower. Trumpets will blast, graves will open, and Earth will begin a five-month descent to its fiery end.