With a rare confluence of a lunar eclipse and a super moon on Sunday-Monday prompting talk in some Christian circles of an impending apocalypse, NASA has reassured those who may be worried that no large object is likely to strike the Earth in the next few hundred years.
Last week, the Mormon Church felt compelled to issue a statement cautioning the faithful to not get caught up in speculation about a major calamity.
The internet has been awash with forecasts, from cataclysmic catastrophes to the Rapture, as a fourth lunar eclipse in two years — the series is known as a tetrad — fall on the first night of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The first three instances of the current tetrad have already occurred on Jewish holidays, on April 15, 2014 (Passover) and October 8, 2014 (Sukkot) and April 4, 2015 (again on Passover).
Some Christians believe the celestial event could mark the start of disaster, based on a passage from the Book of Joel, which reads: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord comes.”
Irvin Baxter, who runs Endtime Ministries in Plano, Texas, was quoted by the UK’s Guardian on Sunday saying that God often uses “the heavens” to send signs to mankind, pointing out that the three wise men were led to the birthplace of the baby Jesus by a star. “There are several prophecies foretelling that the moon will be turned to blood in the endtime,” he said.
He also warned that previous tetrads have had stark consequences for the Jews. “The Spanish inquisition took place before the tetrad of 1493-94. The tetrad of 1949-50 occurred just after the founding of Israel. The tetrad of 1967-1968 occurred as the Six-Day War was fought in Jerusalem,” the Guardian report reported him saying. “The current tetrad, Baxter predicts, will precede the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. This, in turn, will ‘mark the beginning of the Final Seven Years to Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus to the earth’.”
The same report quoted Pastor John Hagee, who runs John Hagee Ministries in San Antonio, Texas, saying the blood moon signifies “an event of historical significance to the Jewish people is occurring or will occur.” He did not elaborate, beyond saying there were no apocalyptic implications.
Blood moons are full lunar eclipses in which the sun’s rays entering through the earth’s atmosphere make for a red, or blood-like, appearance.
Sunday night’s “blood moon” and recent natural disasters and political unrest around the world have led to a rise in sales at emergency preparedness retailers. Apocalyptic statements by a Mormon author have only heightened fears among a small number of Mormon followers about the looming end of time. The eclipse will give the moon a red tint and make it look larger than usual. It won’t happen again for 18 years.
It’s unclear how many Latter-day Saints buy the theory, but Mormon leaders were worried enough that they took the rare step of issuing a public statement cautioning the faithful not to get carried away with visions of the apocalypse.
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told its 15 million worldwide members that they should be “spiritually and physically prepared for life’s ups and downs,” but urged them not to take speculation from individual church members as doctrine and “avoid being caught up in extreme efforts to anticipate catastrophic events.”
NASA’s website noted reassuringly: “NASA knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”
NASA planetary scientist Noah Petro is hoping the celestial event will ignite more interest in the moon. He is deputy project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, which has been studying the moon from lunar orbit since 2009. “The moon’s a dynamic place,” Petro said. “We’re seeing changes on the surface of the moon from LRO. We’re seeing that it’s not this static dead body in the sky … it’s this great astronomical object that we have in our backyard, essentially. So people should get out and start looking at it.”
The Mormons preparing to hunker down Sunday night aren’t alone. Some from other religions also fear a doomsday scenario. A Christian pastor in Texas has written a book predicting a world-shaking event.
Storing away enough food and water in case of disaster, job loss or something worse is part of the fundamental teachings of the religion. Many homes in Utah are equipped with special shelving for cans of beans, rice and wheat. The belief that regular history will someday end, bringing a second coming of Jesus, is embedded in the minds of Mormons and the church’s official name.
Though most Latter-day Saints probably haven’t even heard of this latest theory tied to the blood moon, the church’s decision to address it publicly is significant and shows leaders felt the need to reassert their authority on the matter, Mormon scholars said.
“For it to filter up to that level means and for them to decide to send out a policy letter means that they felt there was something they needed to tamp down on,” said Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California
Kevin Allbee, spokesman for Utah-based Emergency Essentials, said his company has seen a steady rise since June with sales up 200 to 300 percent. He attributes it to a variety of events leading to more anxiety, including the earthquake in Nepal, Russian’s intervention in the Ukraine and economic concerns in Greece and China. He said it goes well beyond Mormons in Utah. They do most of their sales online with customers outside the state.
The public pronouncement by the church comes after leaders earlier this month sent a memo to administrators and teachers in the church’s education system telling them to be wary of Mormon author Julie Rowe’s books.
Rowe writes about and speaks to audiences about a near-death experience in 2004 when she says she crossed over into the Spirit World and was shown tragic upcoming world calamities and told she would be expected to tell others in the future. “That time has come,” her website proclaims. It is believed her teachings have fueled some of the speculation.
The church memo says that while Rowe is an active member of the religion, her books are not endorsed and should be recommended as a teaching resource.
Rowe’s publisher, Spring Creek Book Co. in Idaho, did not return requests for comment. She issued a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, which reported on the rise in apocalyptic worries among some Latter-day Saints.
Rowe said she doesn’t intend to make her comments church doctrine, but chose to share her story to help people prepare for the “times we live in by increasing their faith in Christ and by looking to our prophet and church leaders for guidance.”
The eclipse will be visible over Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas early on Monday, September 28, for approximately one hour and 11 minutes. In Israel the eclipse will begin at 3:12 a.m.