01 Feb I discovered a 1,200-year-old manuscript in a monastery library
I am writing this post anonymously because if anyone found out that I wrote this, my academic reputation would be ruined forever. As bizarre and frankly disturbing as what I’m about to tell you is, I assure you it’s all true.
I am an academic historian and researcher of the Byzantine Empire. I have published dozens of influential papers in academic journals and I have a permanent teaching position at a major state university in the United States. My main area of research is on the influence of classical mythology on Byzantine hagiography in the sixth through ninth centuries CE.
I’m used to reading all sorts of bizarre stories about Eastern Orthodox saints, such as Saint Christophoros, who, according to some stories, had the head of a dog; Saint Symeon the Holy Fool, who is said to have pretended to be stupid and insane to avoid being praised for his holiness; and the Stylites, who lived on top of columns for years on end without ever coming down. Nearly two decades ago, however, I discovered something really, truly weird—something no other Byzantinist has ever seen. As much as I have studied it, I still can’t explain it rationally.
Back in late September 2001, I was visiting a very old Greek Orthodox monastery at Mount Athos in northern Greece near Thessaloniki that had been founded in around the seventh century CE. The old monk who was the head of the monastery showed me to the monastery library, which was a dusty, disorganized room with an assortment of all kinds of texts and manuscripts of all different ages stacked on rows of old, wood shelves. I knew as soon as I saw it that it was a treasure trove of information. I was hoping I might find new texts that scholars did not already know about.
After sorting through stack after stack of medieval manuscripts, I came across a manuscript that caught my attention. It wasn’t like any of the others. For one thing, it was clearly one of the oldest manuscripts in the collection. Many of the manuscripts in the collection dated to the fourteenth century or later, but this one was definitely from the early ninth century. That wasn’t all that was unique about it, though; it was also the thickest book in the collection by far. I opened it up and found a strange text written in Byzantine Greek. The very first line on the very first page read as follows, in my own translation:
“Herein lie the prophecies of Didymos of Thessaloniki, son of Amphilochios. All things that are yet to come until the Day of Judgement are recorded in this tome.”
I was instantly intrigued by this find. I continued reading. The book began with a detailed description of major events that happened in the Byzantine Empire over the course of the ninth century CE. Although the description was written as a prophecy, I knew that the text must have been written after the fact. Such vaticinia ex eventu are extremely common in ancient and medieval prophetic texts; whenever someone in ancient or medieval times wanted to write something and make it seem like it was truly prophetic, they would write about something that had already happened, but present the description of it as though it were a prediction.
As I continued reading, though, I began to feel more and more puzzled. The book just kept describing more and more events. It moved on from the ninth century to the tenth century and from there to the eleventh, then the twelfth, then the thirteenth. Strangely, though, the book did not seem like a thirteenth-century work; it very much seemed like it had been written in the early ninth century.
I was starting to suspect that the book I was holding was a deliberate modern forgery—in other words, not Byzantine at all, but rather a nefarious hoax. I was perplexed, however, because everything about the manuscript aside from its contents clearly indicated it had been written in the early ninth century. The parchment was definitely ninth century parchment. The text was written in perfect, ninth-century Byzantine Greek, without any of the anomalies one would expect from a modern forgery. The handwriting was characteristic of the ninth-century Byzantine style. If this document was a forgery, it could only have been forged by someone extremely knowledgeable. Indeed, only a world-renowned expert could have possibly created such a forgery.
As I continued reading, I came to a description of the rise of Mehmet II, the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and the death Konstantinos XI Palaiologos, the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire. The document then moved on from describing events in Byzantine history to events in world history at large. It described the rise of the Aztec and Incan Empires, the European discovery of the Americas, the Protestant Reformation, the Ming Dynasty in China, the founding of the Mughal Empire in India, and other events. It even covered, in extensive detail, events that contemporary historians have no knowledge of. For instance, it described events taking place in parts of North America, Africa, and Australia that we have no record of.
As I continued reading, the text continued describing events in world history, growing closer and closer to the present day. It described all the major events of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, the colonization of Australia, the Greek War for Independence, British Crown rule in India, the Opium Wars, the American Civil War, the nineteenth-century revolutions in Central and South America, the Partition of Africa, and so on.
Then came a chilling and detailed account of the wars and devastation of the early twentieth century: World War I, the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic, the rise of communism, the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis in Germany, World War II, the Holocaust, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Greek Civil War, the Cold War. This author knew everything. He gave all the exact names, dates, and locations of all the events he described. The dates were given on the Byzantine Anno Mundi calendar rather than the western Anno Domini calendar, but they were all correct.
Finally, after describing the events of the latter half of the twentieth century, including the founding of the United Nations, the founding of the European Union, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the origins of the internet, the text came to the twenty-first century. I was expecting it to end there, but it just kept going. It described the attacks of September 11, 2001 in great detail, even though the attacks had only happened a matter of a few weeks before and most of the details were, at that time, not publicly known.
Then I read something that made my blood turn cold and every hair on my body stand on end. The document read, once again, in my own translation:
“This book of prophecies will be discovered in the library of a monastery at Mount Athos in the first month of the year 7510 since the creation of the cosmos according to the Romans, the year which they in that year shall know as 2001. It will be discovered by a scholar named [my full name], who will be greatly astonished at the accuracy of these predictions. He will steal this book and take it back to the land they will call ‘America,’ where it shall reside for a generation.”
I was shocked when I read this. I was certain that the manuscript had to be some kind of joke. I looked around to see if anyone was going to jump out and laugh at me, but there was no one there. It was just me, sitting alone in the monastery library.
The first month of the Byzantine calendar is September. That means the author of that manuscript somehow knew not only the exact year when I would come find the book, but the exact month as well.
The manuscript was right about me stealing it too, although that may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent. I stole the manuscript from the monastery and smuggled it across the Atlantic back to the United States. I kept the manuscript a complete secret and didn’t tell any of my colleagues about it.
The only reason why I am telling you about the manuscript now is because, for the past eighteen years, I have been keeping careful track of all the prophecies in the manuscript. Every single prophecy that was supposed to come true in the past eighteen years has. The manuscript predicted the War on Terror, the Great Recession, the rise of right-wing nationalist populism, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, Brexit, and even the recent fires in the Amazon rainforest. If it was a major event, the manuscript predicted it. I now know that the prophecies in that book are, somehow, completely genuine.
None of the manuscript’s past predictions scare me, though. What truly scares me is what the manuscript says is going to happen next. I desperately hope that what that manuscript says is going to happen doesn’t happen, but everything it has ever predicted has come true, so I see no reason why what it says is coming won’t come. It seems that the imminent tribulations are inevitable. We like to think that the world is getting better, that the horrors of the present are merely transitory, but I fear that what is yet to come is far, far worse than anything we have seen already.
Soon, very soon, suffering and death will rain down upon the world. There will be plagues and droughts and food shortages. Many people, especially poor people and people living in poorer countries, will die. There will be terrible wars that will destroy countless lives. Resources will run low. It will be a time unlike any other.
Now, you may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard a million different predictions about how the end of the world is going to happen soon and how it’s going to be so awful and then it never happens.” The problem is, the manuscript doesn’t say that the end of the world is coming soon. In fact, it says just the opposite. The end of the world won’t come for a very long time, but it would be a mercy compared to all the hardships we have left to endure.