The approaching lunar eclipse on September 28 promises to be a spectacular event, and some people who are inclined to focus on Biblical prophecies of Armageddon claim to see in this “blood moon” an echo of the sixth chapter of Revelation. The problem with equating a lunar eclipse (even the uncommon phenomenon of a lunar eclipse when the moon is at its closest approach to earth) with the onset of the apocalypse is that such eclipses occur at roughly 25-year intervals and do not correlate with natural disasters.
“Blood moon” can also refer to a moon whose light is obscured by dust and smoke in the atmosphere. This may be local, as those of us in the West who were affected by forest fires can attest. On rare occasions it may be a more general phenomenon caused by a massive volcanic eruption, in which case sun, moon, and stars are all affected, and the effect may persist for months. In recent times, volcanic veiling has been observed in conjunction with Mt. Pinatubo (1993), Krakatoa (1887) and especially Mt. Tambora (1815), and in every case the visible veiling preceded a drop in global temperatures and poor harvests.
The simultaneous darkening of the sun and a blood moon, visible over a wide area, can only occur as a result of atmospheric veiling. The orbital configurations that produce solar and lunar eclipses are diametric opposites, and observable solar eclipses are restricted to a small geographic area. This combination is a genuine portent of impending crop failures and famine, something recognized in ancient times in the Middle East, China, and Central America.
The prediction found in the sixth chapter of Revelation, and repeated elsewhere in the Bible, includes an additional portent: stars falling from the sky. “I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.…” Allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration, this sounds like a description of a meteor shower, and, if the shower were immediately followed by massive discharge of dust into the atmosphere, obscuring all but the brightest stars, if would appear that the stars had indeed fallen from the sky.
The likelihood that a notable meteor shower, an uncommon event, will coincide this closely with a massive volcanic eruption is small, but atmospheric veiling can also follow asteroid impact. This is the presumed mechanism for the end-Cretaceous extinction of the dinosaurs. The largest impact explosions documented in modern times are the 1908 Tunguska meteorite incident in Siberia and the much smaller disaster in Chelyabinsk, also in Siberia, in 2013. The Tunguska explosion produced visible veiling in North America.
As it travels in its orbit, the earth is constantly encountering objects traveling in their own orbits, ranging from pebble-sized missiles that produce a momentary flare in the night sky, or a house-sized rock like that which exploded above Chelyabinsk with a blast several times the power of the atom bomb that leveled Hiroshima, to objects kilometers in diameter with the capacity to wipe out the human race. Of particular note are comets like Swift-Tuttle, which crosses the earth’s orbit every 133 years, leaving a trail of pebbles that fall to earth as the Perseid meteor shower. If Swift-Tuttle were to collide with the earth, the result would be massive extinctions, but a smaller object with similar properties, exploding over the Pacific Ocean, would produce effects in Europe and the Middle East that approximated the description in Revelation 6.
Specifically, the first visible manifestation would be a spectacular meteor shower as the earth entered the cloud of gravel accompanying the comet. Within days of the explosion, sun and moon would darken, temperatures would start to fall, accompanied by extreme weather events, and crop failures would precipitate famine. The sequence famine – war – pestilence is well documented historically.
Did the author of Revelation personally witness this sequence of events? Possibly. There is an abrupt cooling event in 186 AD that does not connect neatly to any known massive volcanic eruption. This is later than the traditional date for the composition of Revelation but not outside the bounds of what serious biblical scholars consider possible. According to this speculative scenario, the author, drawing upon a number of traditional sources, correctly predicted a chain of natural disasters and their human consequences but erred in extrapolating to an end-of-the-earth scenario.
This has implications for the present day. In the modern world, if we see these signs, we will also be presented with a scientific explanation. It will be tempting, when presented with them, to go to one of two extremes: either to opt for superstitious apocalypticism and assume that real-world approaches are futile, or assume that our scientific knowledge alone will ensure an adequate response. The world’s food supply is already unstable, and our political institutions unable to maintain society in the face of even local natural disasters. If human society is to survive a disaster of much greater magnitude than anything we have experienced in modern times, some meeting of minds is necessary.
“Moon becomes as Blood,” by Waiting for the Word. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.