132: False Prophets

The past two weeks my choice of entertainment while driving to and from work has been Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, specifically the episode Prophets of Doom. The episode centers on the Münster Rebellion of 1534-1535. For some reason, Carlin, in his postscript, says that he wasn’t very happy with the end result. I found it quite engrossing, however, and in no way felt offended as Carlin warned.

A quick summary: as a result of Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible and the charism he advocated, people began to interpret the Word of God for themselves. One such group that grew out of this were the Anabaptists, an offshoot of the Lutherans who believed that only adult baptism was valid. This was a heresy, as per the Catholic Church and mainstream Lutheranism and stamped out by the authorities. However, the Anabaptists were able to first find sympathy among some leading citizens in Münster and eventually gained control of the city council.

The direction the story takes is similar to many modern-day cults. Carlin parallels Münster to the Jonestown and the Waco communes, movements that ended in violence and death. Münster had its prophet in not one but two people, Jan Matthys and Jan von Leiden. These two claimed a direct line to God. By their personalities they were able to hold sway on the town and promoted a militant brand of Anabaptism.

The rebellion was eventually quashed by the authorities, but not before a lot of depravity, violence, and death. It makes for a good case study on cult behavior, both on the part of the leaders and the followers.

All in all, an enjoyable — if chilling — episode.

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Dom Cimafranca

Teacher, writer, project manager, and all-around nice guy.