‘What is a blood moon?’ and other questions about the upcoming apocalypse

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The internet’s got end-of-the-world fever: here’s what’s really happening

Tetrads, blood moons and the apocalypse: sometimes it seems that there’s just too many mystical-sounding buzzwords floating around not to throw up your hands and proclaim the end of days.

At least, this seems to have been the inspiration for apocalypse-mongerers who have been busy greeting a fairly rare (but completely foreseeable) astronomical event as the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy of global catastrophe.

To explain what’s happening as succinctly as possible: on the 15th of April you’ll be able to see the first total lunar eclipse in a series of four (a phenomenon known as a tetrad to astronomers), which will also happen to coincide with the Jewish festivals of Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015.

Lunar eclipses in general are sometimes called ‘blood moons’ because the light bouncing off the moon is refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere giving it a coppery hue (it’s the same mechanism that make sunsets and sunrises look red).

At some point however, some individuals decided that although on their own these phenomena aren’t incredibly noteworthy, in aggregate they make for a decent bit of apocalypse mongering. Add in some suitably Dan Brown-esque bible soundbites (“The sun will be turned to darkness, and the Moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the LORD comes”) and you’re halfway to the New York Times’ Best Seller list.

The main culprit in all this is American pastor and author John Hagee, whose 2013 book Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change seems to have popularised the notion that four successive ‘blood moons’ is an event of some significance.

“Every time this has happened in the last 500 years, it has coincided with tragedy for the Jewish people followed by triumph,” Hagee toldThe Daily Express. “And once again, for Israel, the timing of this Tetrad is remarkable.”

Hagee goes on to say that each of the next four total lunar eclipses will coincide with Passover (15 April in 2014, 4 April in 2015) and Sukkot, otherwise known as the Feast of the Tabernacles (8 October in 2014 and 28 September in 2015).

This is certainly unusual but hardly surprising given that the Jewish calendar is based partly on lunar cycles: Passover is always marked by a full moon and a lunar eclipse cannot – by definition – happen at any other time apart from a full moon.

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