Computists and Chronology
Berlin · 2006
Medieval Christian monks who worked on calculating human history from Adam to the Last Judgment were called "Computists". These monks created schematic chronological tables, in which appeared packages of years whose numbers had deeper, symbolic meanings (like 7, 14, 30, 420 and so on). The Old Testament is full of those packages. For the time after the Resurrection they called their chronology ERA (i.e. turning round, "year"). Their chronological scheme looked something like this:
ERA 666 is taken as the center of theological history (because of Revelation 13:18). This number should be read "six-six-six"; it belongs with 369 (three-six-nine) and 963 (nine-six-three) in a group of symmetric numbers, the last two of which form the second level. The distance between them is, in each case, 297 years. A magical number, 297 is the product of the important prime number 11 and three to the third power (27). For computists, 297 was an expression of the Trinity.
Subtracting 297 from 369, we arrive at 72. Adding 297 to 963 we get 1260; these two figures, 72 and 1260, belong to a third level, and they are again equivalent from a symbolical point of view.
Used as historical
"year dates", these figures appear absurd to us. To the computists,
however, this magical dating system made sense. Six-six-six (666) was
chosen as the date when the Antichrist appeared; 369 was taken for the
beginning of the Church; 963 for the beginning of the "Roman Empire
of German Nation". Seventy-two (72) indicated the destruction of
the Temple, later the Passion of the Savior, who described himself as
the Temple which was to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. And 1260
equaled the final destruction, the Last Judgment that was to be expected,
as laid down in Revelation. For the early computists, this last figure
lay in the future.
of the beginning of the German Empire in AD 911 and of the two battles
against the "Hungarians" in 933 and 955 followed this pattern
of symbolic numbers - here above all the holy 11 - as did the fixing of
Otto III to the years 999-1001, combining this event with millennarism.
The Christianization of many states, from Iceland to Hungary, was attributed
to those magical three years. Thus in the 15th century the year AD 1000
was elevated to being a landmark of European history. The imperial coronation
of Charlemagne was also placed in a central position, in 800 or 801 AD.
(These movements were also described by Landes, 1988.)
Illig, Heribert (1994): Hat Karl der Große je gelebt? (Gräfelfing) = (1996): Das erfundene Mittelalter (Düsseldorf, Germany)
Landes, Richard (1988): "A study of apocalyptic expectations and the pattern of Western chronography 100-800 CE" in: The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages. Eds. W.D.F. Verbeke et al. (Louvain, Belgium)
Topper, Uwe (1999): Erfundene Geschichte (Munich, Germany)
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