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What is the blood moon prophecy?
As we’ve come to expect, conspiracy theorists and fringe Christian evangelicals are heralding the July 27 blood moon as a sign of the imminent apocalypse. But what is the blood moon prophecy, and why does it appeal to a certain type of believer?
“The blood moon is upon us again.” It sounds like a tagline for the latest Castlevania sequel, but the reality is a tad less theatrical. EarthSky reports that on the night of July 27–28, sky watchers in the Eastern Hemisphere will be treated to the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century, hanging out for a stunning one hour and 43 minutes.
As we’ve come to expect whenever a blood moon arises, conspiracy theorists and fringe Christian evangelicals are heralding the event as a sign of the imminent apocalypse. Undeterred by previous predictions that didn’t pan out, these apocalypse prophets have taken to the tabloids, YouTube, and online forums to pronounce the fulfillment of prophecies that signal the end times are nigh.
Is the blood moon a sign of an end-times prophecy? No. Absolutely not.
But that doesn’t make for a very interesting article, does it? Instead, let’s see if we can’t find out why some people think it is.
By any other name
Before we get into the prophetic stuff, let’s quickly recap what exactly a blood moon is.
Typically, the moon reflects the sun’s light, but during a lunar eclipse, the moon’s orbit takes it through the Earth’s shadow. A total lunar eclipse occurs when this shadow completely covers the moon. Some sunlight still reaches the moon though, and since the Earth’s atmosphere filters out the blue, the light that reaches the moon has a ruddy hue.1 Hence the name.
As such, there’s nothing special about a blood moon. It’s simply a total lunar eclipse that’s been given a poetic nickname.
Although eclipses can be spectacular natural sights, they aren’t incredibly rare. NASA has calculated all of the lunar eclipses Earth will experience in the 21st century, and it comes to a whopping 228 (85 total eclipses, 57 partial eclipses, and 86 penumbral eclipses).
In fact, we’ve already had one this year. On Jan. 31, 2018, the western United States was treated to a “super blue blood moon” — a name so stirring that NASA gave the event its own cinematic trailer.
Opening the sixth seal, film at 11
Many religions and folk traditions hold eclipses as the harbingers of divine change, not just in Christianity. Today’s version of the blood moon prophecy, however, gained traction back in 2014, when Mark Biltz and John Hagee released the books Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs and Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change respectively.
Both men argued that the four blood moons occurring between April 15, 2014, and September 28, 2015, were significant because they formed a tetrad — that is, four total lunar eclipses with no partial eclipses in between and each separated by six lunar months — that fell on significant Jewish holidays.2 Citing scripture to support their ideas, the two men argued that these eclipses provided evidence for the fulfillment of prophecy and the coming of the end times.
Examples of scriptures linking blood moons to Tribulation are Joel 2:31, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come,” and Revelation 6:12, “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.”
Of course, September 28, 2015, came and went without any discernable incident. Since then, blood moon predictions seem to exist on a sliding scale. Each total solar eclipse is part of a tetrad, whether or not it legitimately is. Alternatively, it is linked to some other event that may be described in prophetic scripture, such as a natural disaster or the current political state.
To pick one representative example, Paul Begley, an Indiana pastor, declared on his YouTube channel:
Is the blood moon coming July 27, 2018, is this a sign of the end of the world? It is a sign of the end times. We are in the era of the apocalypse. And this blood moon, which will be the longest blood moon of this century, is happening in the 70th year of Israel being a nation. It’s happening the same year that Jerusalem has been declared the eternal city of God, and it’s happening when the volcanoes already erupting in Hawaii […] all of the volcanic rivers flowing. It’s incredible how the Bible refers to these events taking place in the last days.
In addition to the Book of Joel, he cites Luke 21:25 as evidence for his conclusions: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring.”
Oh, and if you’re curious, there will be a total of eight tetrads in the 21st century, the next one beginning April 25, 2032. So, rare but not end-of-the-world, once-in-a-lifetime rare.
The coming of Planet X
Of course, the blood moon prophecy is hardly the only prediction of the end of times coming from the evangelical camp. Evangelist Hal Lindsay predicted the end of the world before December 31, 1988, in his book The Late Great Planet Earth,3 and Pat Robertson named April 29, 2007, as the day of days his 1990 book The New Millennium.4
Jesus himself even seemed convinced the world would not last into the 2nd century, such as when he said: “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28).
Nor is the phenomenon limited to Christians. Remember the Nibiru cataclysm? Originally proposed by contactee Nancy Lieder in 1995, the doomsday event would have seen a planet-sized object, named Nibiru or Planet X, collide with the Earth. The original contact was to come in 2003 before being pushed back to coincide with 2012. It was later revived by Christian numerologist Davide Meade in 2017.
Obviously, none of these apocalypses came to pass, yet the question remains: What’s the appeal to the blood moon prophecy and other end-of-time predictions?
Speaking with Scientific American, neuroscientist Shmuel Lissek argues that “some apocalyptic believers find the idea that the end is nigh to be validating” and that such fatalists may find reassurance in finding a group of like-minded people. It’s basically a Seeking a Friend for the End of the World mentality writ large As a bonus, if the world actually does end, you get “I told you so” privileges for eternity.
Another possible explanation comes from philosopher Karl Popper. In The Conspiracy Theory of Society, Popper argues that “conspiracy theories are based on the idea that a social outcome is evidence of an intentional order, and that random occurrences are rarely, if ever, relevant.” This is because people discount unintended consequences and prefer to view all events of being the result of an intended cause. While Popper was specifically looking at conspiracy theories, it’s easy to see how apocalyptic predictions fit the same pattern, just with a divine mover.
In his book Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shumer offers several explanations to his titular question. Applying these explanations to the blood moon prophecy, we would get something like the following:
- Credo consolans: People believe in the end of the world because they want to.
- Immediate gratification and simplicity: Simple explanations are immediately gratifying while reality is often complex and challenging.
- Morality and meaning: The end times will provide proof of eschatological meaning and morality from a higher power.
Whether one or a combination of these possible explanations, the appeal of blood moon prophecy and other apocalyptic visions is undeniable. Lucky for us, we’ll have plenty of time to consider the phenomenon and its potential causes. We have 69 total eclipses still to go this century.
Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.
- Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
- With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
- The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Scientists have reproduced the voice of an ancient Egyptian priest by creating a 3D-printed replica of his mummified vocal tract.
An international and interdisciplinary team, led by David Howard, a professor of electronic engineering at Royal Holloway, used computed tomography (CT) scanning technology to measure the dimensions of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, a mummy that's spent about two centuries on display at Leeds City Museum in the United Kingdom.
The team then used those measurements to 3D-print an artificial vocal tract, through which they produced sounds using a peculiar electronic device called the Vocal Tract Organ. (You can check it out here.)
"The Vocal Tract Organ, a first in its own right, provided the inspiration for doing this," Howard told CNET.
Nesyamun, whose priestly duties included chanting and singing the daily liturgy, can once again "speak" — at least, in the form of a vowel noise that sounds something like a cross between the English pronunciation of the vowels in "bed" and "bad."
Of course, the new "voice" of Nesyamun is an approximation, and given the lack of actual recordings of his voice, and the degeneration of his body over millennia, it's impossible to know just how accurate it is. But the researchers suggested that their "Voice from the Past" project offers a chance for people to "engage with the past in completely new and innovative ways."
Howard et al.
"While this approach has wide implications for heritage management/museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians' fundamental belief that 'to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again'," they wrote in a paper published in Nature Scientific Reports. "Given Nesyamun's stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfilment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allows us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over 3000 years, preserved through mummification and now restored through this new technique."
Connecting modern people with history
It's not the first time scientists have "re-created" an ancient human's voice. In 2016, for example, Italian researchers used software to reconstruct the voice of Ötzi, an iceman who was discovered in 1991 and is thought to have died more than 5,000 years ago. But the "Voices of the Past" project is different, the researchers note, because Nesyamun's mummified corpse is especially well preserved.
"It was particularly suited, given its age and preservation [of its soft tissues], which is unusual," Howard told Live Science.
As to whether Nesyamun's reconstructed voice will ever be able to speak complete sentences, Howard told The Associated Press, that it's "something that is being worked on, so it will be possible one day."
John Schofield, an archaeologist at the University of York, said that reproducing voices from history can make museum experiences "more multidimensional."
"There is nothing more personal than someone's voice," he told The Associated Press. "So we think that hearing a voice from so long ago will be an unforgettable experience, making heritage places like Karnak, Nesyamun's temple, come alive."
Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.
- People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
- They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
- Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Ancient mining areas below Paris for limestone (red) and gypsum (green).Credit: Émile Gérards (1859–1920) / Public domain
"If you're brave enough to try, you might be able to catch a train from UnLondon to Parisn't, or No York, or Helsunki, or Lost Angeles, or Sans Francisco, or Hong Gone, or Romeless."
China Miéville's fantasy novel Un Lun Dun is set in an eerie mirror version of London. In it, he hints that other cities have similar doubles. On the list that he offhandedly rattles off, Paris stands out. Because the City of Light really does have a twisted sister. Below Paris Overground is Paris Underground, the City of Darkness.
Most people will have heard of the Catacombs of Paris: subterranean charnel houses for the bones of around six million dead Parisians. They are one of the French capital's most famous tourist attractions – and undoubtedly its grisliest.
But they constitute only a small fragment of what the locals themselves call les carrières de Paris ("the mines of Paris"), a collection of tunnels and galleries up to 300 km (185 miles) long, most of which are off-limits to the public, yet eagerly explored by so-called cataphiles.
The Grand Réseau Sud ("Great Southern Network") takes up around 200 km beneath the 5th, 6th, 14th, and 15th arrondissements (administrative districts), all south of the river Seine. Smaller networks run beneath the 12th, 13th, and 16th arrondissements. How did they get there?
Paris stone and plaster of Paris
It all starts with geology. Sediments left behind by ancient seas created large deposits of limestone in the south of the city, mostly south of the Seine; and gypsum in the north, particularly in the hills of Montmartre and Ménilmontant. Highly sought after as building materials, both have been mined since Roman times.
The limestone is also known as Lutetian limestone (Lutetia is the Latin name for ancient Paris) or simply "Paris stone." It has been used for many famous Paris landmarks, including the Louvre and the grand buildings erected during Georges-Eugène Haussmann's large-scale remodelling of the city in the mid-19th century. The stone's warm, yellowish color provides visual unity and a bright elegance to the city.
The fine-powdered gypsum of northern Paris, used for making quick-setting plaster, was so famed for its quality that "plaster of Paris" is still used as a term of distinction. However, as gypsum is very soluble in water, the underground cavities left by its extraction were extremely vulnerable to collapse.
Like living on top of a rotting tooth: subsidence starts far below the surface, but it can destroy your house.Credit : Delavanne Avocats
In previous centuries, a road would occasionally open up to swallow a chariot, or even a whole house would disappear down a sinkhole. In 1778, a catastrophic subsidence in Ménilmontant killed seven. That's why the Montmartre gypsum quarries were dynamited rather than just left as they were. The remaining gypsum caves were to be filled up with concrete.
The official body governing Paris down below is the Inspection Générale des Carrières (IGC), founded in the late 1770s by King Louis XVI. The IGC was tasked with mapping and, where needed, propping up the current and ancient (and sometimes forgotten) mining corridors and galleries hiding beneath Paris.
A delightful hiding place
Also around that time, the dead of Paris were getting in the way of the living. At the end of the 18th century, their final destination consisted of about 200 small cemeteries, scattered throughout the city — all bursting at the seams, so to speak. There was no room to bury the newly dead, and the previously departed were fouling up both the water and air around their respective churchyards.
Something radical had to happen. And it did. From 1785 until 1814, the smaller cemeteries were emptied of their bones, which were transported with full funerary pomp to their final resting place in the ancient limestone quarries at Tombe-Issoire. Three large and modern cemeteries were opened to receive the remains of subsequent generations of Parisians: Montparnasse, Père-Lachaise, and Passy.
The six million dead Parisians in the Catacombs, from all corners of the capital and across many centuries, together form the world's largest necropolis — their now anonymized skulls and bones methodically stacked, occasionally into whimsical patterns. The Catacombs are fashioned into a memorial to the brevity of life. The message above the entrance reads: Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort. ("Halt! This is the empire of Death.")
That has not stopped the Catacombs, accessible via a side door to a classicist building on the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, making just about every Top 20 list of things to see in Paris.
An underground economy
However, while the Catacombs certainly are the most famous part of the centuries-old network beneath Paris, and in non-pandemic times draw thousands of tourists each day, they constitute just 1.7 km (1 mile) of the 300-km (185-mile) tunneling total.
Subterranean Paris wasn't just used for mining and storing dead people. In the 17th century, Carthusian monks converted the ancient quarries under their monastery into distilleries for the green or yellow liqueur that still carries their name, chartreuse.
Because the mines generally keep a constant cool temperature of around 15° C (60° F), they were also ideal for brewing beer, as happened on a large scale from the end of the 17th century until well into the 20th century. Several caves were dug especially for establishing breweries, and not just because of the ambient temperature: going underground allowed brewers to remain close to their customers without having to pay a premium for real estate up top.
Overview of the Paris Catacombs.Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain.
At the end of the 19th century, the underground breweries of the 14th arrondissement alone produced more than a million hectoliters (22 million gallons) per year. One of the most famous of Paris' underground breweries, Dumesnil, stayed in operation until the late 1960s.
In that decade, the network of corridors and galleries south of the Seine, long since abandoned by miners, became the unofficial playground for the young people of Paris. They explored the fantastical world beneath their feet, in some cases via entry points located in their very schools. Fascinated, these cataphiles ("catacomb lovers") read up on old books, explored the subterranean labyrinth, and drew up schematics that were passed around among fellow initiates as reverently as treasure maps.
As Robert Macfarlane writes in Underland, Paris-beneath-their-feet became "a place where people might slip into different identities, assume new ways of being and relating, become fluid and wild in ways that are constrained on the surface."
Some larger caves turned into notorious party zones: a 7-meter-tall gallery below the Val-de-Grâce hospital is widely known as "Salle Z." Over the last few decades, various other locations in subterranean Paris have hosted jazz and rock concerts and rave parties — like no other city, Paris really has an "underground music scene."
Hokusai's Great Wave as the backdrop to the "beach" under Paris.Credit: Reddit
Cataphiles vs. cataphobes
With popularity came increased reports of nuisance and crime — the tunnels provided easy access to telephone cables, which were stolen for the resale value of their copper.
The general public's "discovery" of the underground network led the city of Paris to officially interdict all access by non-authorized persons. That decree dates back to 1955, but the "underground police" have an understanding with seasoned cataphiles. Their main targets are so-called tourists, who by their lack of knowledge expose themselves to risk of injuries or worse, and degrade their surroundings, often leaving loads of litter in their wake.
The understanding does not extend to the IGC. Unlike in the 19th century, when weak cavities were shored up by purpose-built pillars, the policy now is to inject concrete to fill up endangered spaces — thus progressively blocking off parts of the network. That procedure has also been used to separate the Catacombs to prevent "infiltration" of the site by cataphiles.
Many subterranean streets have their own names, signs and all. This is the Rue des Bourguignons (Street of the Burgundians) below the Champs des Capucins (Capuchin Field), neither of which exists on the surface.Credit: Jean-François Gornet via Wikimedia and licensed under
The cataphiles, however, are fighting back. In a game of cat and mouse with the authorities, they are reopening blocked passages and creating chatières ("cat flaps") through which they can squeeze into chambers no longer accessible via other underground corridors.
Catacomb climate control
Alone against the unstoppable tide of concrete, the amateurs of Underground Paris would be helpless. But the fight against climate change may turn the subterranean labyrinths from a liability into an asset — and the City of Paris into an ally.
The UN's 2015 Climate Plan — concluded in Paris, by the way — requires the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050. And Paris itself wants to be Europe's greenest city by 2030. More sustainable climate control of our living spaces would be a great help toward both targets. A lot of energy is spent heating houses in winter and cooling them in summer.
This is where the constant temperature of the Parisian tunnels comes in. It's not just good for brewing beer; it's a source of geothermal energy, says Fieldwork, an architectural firm based in Paris. It can be used to temper temperatures, helping to cool houses in summer and warming them in winter.
One catch for the cataphiles: it also works when the underground cavities are filled up with concrete. So perhaps one day, Paris Underground, fully filled up with concrete, will completely fall off the map, reducing the city's formerly real doppelgänger into an air conditioning unit.
Cool in summer, warm in winter: Paris Underground could become Paris A/C.Credit: Fieldwork
Strange Maps #1083
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meconium contains a wealth of information.
- A new study finds that the contents of an infants' first stool, known as meconium, can predict if they'll develop allergies with a high degree of accuracy.
- A metabolically diverse meconium, which indicates the initial food source for the gut microbiota, is associated with fewer allergies.
- The research hints at possible early interventions to prevent or treat allergies just after birth.
The prevalence of allergies arising in childhood has increased over the last 50 years, with 30 percent of the human population now having some kind of atopic disease such as eczema, food allergies, or asthma. The cause of this increase is still subject to debate, though it has been associated with a number of factors, including changes to the gut microbiomes of infants.
A new study by Canadian researchers published in Cell Reports Medicine may shed further light on how these allergies develop in children by examining the contents of their first diaper.
The things you do for science
The research team examined the first stool of 100 infants from the CHILD Cohort Study. The first stool of an infant is a thick, green, horrid-looking substance called meconium. It consists of various things that the infant ingests during the second half of gestation. Additionally, it provides not only a snapshot of what the infant was exposed to during that time, but it also reveals what the food sources will be for the initial gut bacteria that colonize the baby's digestive tract.
The content of the meconium was examined and found to contain such varied elements as amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and myriad other substances.
A graph of the comparative, summed abundance of different elements in a metabolic pathway after scaling to median abundance of each metabolite. The blue figures are those children without atopy, the yellow ones show the data for those with an atopic condition. Petersen et al.
The authors fed this information into an algorithm that used this data, along with the identities of the bacteria present as well as the baby's overall health, to predict which infants would go on to develop allergies within one year. The algorithm got it right 76 percent of the time.
A way to prevent childhood allergies?
Infants whose meconium had a less diverse metabolic niche the initial microbes to settle in the gut were at the highest risk of developing allergies a year later. Many of these elements were associated with the presence or absence of different bacterial groups in the digestive system of the child, which play an increasingly appreciated role in our overall health and development. The findings were summarized by senior co-author Dr. Brett Finlay:
"Our analysis revealed that newborns who developed allergic sensitization by one year of age had significantly less 'rich' meconium at birth, compared to those who didn't develop allergic sensitization."
The findings could be used to help understand how allergies form and even how to prevent them. Co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey commented on this possibility:
"We know that children with allergies are at the highest risk of also developing asthma. Now we have an opportunity to identify at-risk infants who could benefit from early interventions before they even begin to show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life."
A model for early childhood allergies
Petersen et al.
As shown above, the authors constructed a model of how they believe metabolites and bacterial diversity help prevent allergies. Increased diversity of metabolic products in the meconium encourage the development of "healthy" families of bacteria, like Peptostreptococcaceae, which in turn promote the development of a healthy and diverse gut microbiome. Ultimately, such diversity decreases the likelihood that a child will develop allergies.