Excerpts From E.B. Elliott's
'FIVE MONTHS' OF THE FIFTH
Once more there was a restriction as to time. It was to a period of five months, or 150 days, that their commission was confined, to injure the inhabitants of Roman Christendom.—In order to the understanding of which restrictive clause, (a clause that will necessarily detain us some length of time,) it is important, indeed essential, that the reader should bear in mind two things:—1st, that the period noted is not that of the duration of the symbolic locusts, but of their aggressively striking, injuring, and tormenting the men of Roman Christendom, with their lion-like teeth and scorpion-stings: 2ndly, that the period intended by the 150 days is, if I am right, 150 years. For I adhere to the principle of expounding a day as significant of a year, in the chronological periods of symbolic prophecy:—a principle early suggested, as I have already intimated, and partially applied, by certain old prophetic expositors of eminence; and subsequently, and in more modern times, adopted and fully carried out by Mede, and most other English Protestant interpreters after him. An examination of the objections lately urged against it, by Dr. S. R. Maitland and others, will of course be necessary. This I reserve for my comment on Apoc. 13, as the most fitting occasion. For the present I will only repeat my deliberate conviction of the truth of the principle; and beg attention to the remark that, in its application both here and elsewhere, it will be my care to allow myself no more license or latitude than such as we find distinct precedent and authority for in other Scripture chronological prophecies; prophecies allowed on all hands to have received their fulfilment.
This premised, we turn to the history of the Saracenic warfare against Roman Christendom, to see whether there be discernible in it any well-marked period of five symbolic months, or 150 years, defining what we may call the intensity of the woe:—in other words that of the irresistible aggressive movement of the symbolic locusts; (irresistible, except with the reserve implied in the restriction as to effect already noted;) and that of the full outflowing of the venom of their scorpion-stings, to wound and to torment.
In the carrying out of which inquiry, the first question of course must be, from what act or event, as an epoch, to date the commencement of the period. And here,—just as in regard of those two famous ancient prophecies, the one Jeremiah’s, respecting the seventy years of the Babylonish captivity, the other Daniel’s, respecting the seventy weeks to the Messiah,—it is not one epoch only that suggests itself, as that from which we might reasonably date the commencement of the period we speak of, but two or three. Thus, did we know when first the idea established itself in Mahomet’s mind of preaching his new and false religion, that perhaps might be considered a fit epoch of commencement; as being the time when the key of the abyss was given to Satan. Next there was that of the year A. D. 609, when Mahomet began privately to preach his divine mission, and so, before his family, there rose up the smoke of the abyss; and, yet again, that of 612, when he first publicly announced his prophetic mission, and so publicly caused the smoke of the pit of darkness to rise up before the eyes of men. Fourthly, there was the epoch of the year 629, when the locust-armies first issued out of the smoke, to make their attack on Syrian Christendom.—Now out of these four epochs I agree with Daubuz in selecting the third. I prefer it to the two first, because in regard of the term of duration of any public woe, we ought, I think, to have some noted public act, and not anything merely private, to mark both its commencement and its end. And I am led to it, in preference to the last, because the commencing epoch of 612 has, as we shall see, a suitable epoch of termination corresponding with it, whereas that of 629 has none.—It is to be observed, that in the circumstances of this public opening of his mission, A. D. 612, there was then for the first time expressed that principle of propagating his false religion by violence and with the sword, which made his followers a woe to all the countries near them, and was specially a declaration of war on Christendom. Nay, more: the organization might then be said to have begun, the destroying commission to have been given, and in the person of Ali, whom Mahomet named the Lion of God, the locust-form, with its lion-teeth and scorpion-sting, to have been discernible in the smoke from the just opened pit. For what passed on that occasion? "Who," said Mahomet, after announcing his mission, "will be my Vizier and Lieutenant?" "O prophet," replied Ali, "I am the man. Whoever rises against thee, I will dash out his teeth, tear out his eyes, break his legs, rip up his belly. O Prophet, I will be thy Vizier." On which I find Mr. Hallam thus observing: "These words of Mahomet’s early and illustrious disciple are, as it were, a text upon which the commentary expands into the whole Saracenic history." And, just as in the case of the 400 years of affliction and servitude, predicted as to befall Abraham’s seed, the epoch of Isaac’s mocking by Ishmael has by some been fixed on as that of the commencement of the period, because that in that mocking laugh there was manifested the spirit and the germ of what was more fully developed afterwards,—so, in the case before us, the epoch of the announcement and first manifestation of the bitter, fanatic, persecuting spirit of Mahommedism against all opposers, or even dissentients, may as justly be fixed on as that of the commencement of the 150 years of the chief virulence of the Saracenic woe. "After the year 612," says the Modern Universal History, "Mahomet sought to propagate his religion with all his might."
But supposing the epoch of the commencement of the woe thus fixed, when may we consider that its five months’ period of intensity ended? Not evidently during the progress of the aggressive religious wars and victories of the Saracen Moslems. Not, that is to say, during the first prophetic month (or thirty years) from this commencing epoch of 612, in the course of which Syria and Egypt fell before them:—not during the second month, in which month Cilicia was reduced to obedience, their inroads advanced to near Constantinople, and the African province invaded:—not during the third month, that in which the subjugation of Africa was all but completed;—or the fourth, in which Spain was subdued, and the south and centre of France almost to the Loire.4 The earliest date for the end of the chief intensity of the Saracenic woe, that can for a moment be thought probable, is that of the battle of Poictiers, already spoken of, in which Charles Martel defeated them, and which occurred in October 732, the beginning of the fifth prophetic month. But though defeated, or at least repulsed, on that memorable occasion, their power and spirit to aggress and to torment, with all the bitterness of fanaticism, was not terminated. "The vanquished spoilers," says Mosheim, "soon recovered their strength and ferocity; and returned with new violence to their devastations." In France the strength and power of the Saracens was so far from being crushed, that we find its Southern districts continued in subjection to them till the middle of this century. Charles Martel besieged Narbonne, the chief town of the Saracens, in vain after the battle. In 739 he had to invoke aid from Luitprand king of the Lombards against the Saracens, who had taken all the chief cities in Provence, and extended their ravages as high as Vienne, near Lyons. Nor were they finally driven out till some 15 or 20 years afterwards. In Spain the tide of their success and supremacy, notwithstanding the ill success of their efforts at totally extinguishing Pelayo and the Gothic remnant, had not yet begun to ebb. In Africa, some twenty years after the battle of Poictiers, the torment of the scorpion-sting so operated, as to induce nearly the whole Christian population of the province to apostatize, and become Mussulman. From east to west, throughout the vast Mahommedan world, one Caliph still governed the locust-hordes in the name of the Prophet. Their power remained unbroken.
But just about the middle of the eighth century a change occurred, marked by two events of such a nature, and such importance, as to be regarded by historians, both the one and the other, as constituting epochs most memorable in the Saracenic history. The change was this. The Abbassides, descendants of a different family of the early followers of Mahomet, in the year 750 supplanted the Ommiades in the Caliphate.—And then what followed? First the one and only survivor of the deposed and proscribed family escaped to Spain: and behold he was there received, acknowledged, and established as the lawful Caliph. This was in the year A. D. 755. So at length was the Caliphate divided. There was thenceforth a Caliph in the West, in opposition to the Caliph in the East. "The Colossus," says Sismondi, "that had bestridden the whole South was now broken." And he adds, "This revolution did more for the deliverance of Europe from the Mussulman arms than even the battle of Poicticrs."—Such was the first notable result.
Further, out of this change of dynasty, a second most important consequence followed in the East. The new Abbassidean Caliph, dissatisfied with the Syrian capital, where his rivals and enemies, the Ommiades, had so long lived and reigned, determined on building another on the western bank of the Tigris, where a canal with the waters from the Euphrates joined it, just a few miles beyond the old Roman Euphratean frontier. It was in the year 762 that Almanzor there laid its foundations; and thither the government and head of the locusts then took its flight, far eastward, away from Christendom. This was the era, as Daubuz well calls it, of the settlement of the locusts. They no more roved, he says, in a body as before, in quest of new conquests. And so Dean Waddington; "The [Arab] conquerors now settled tranquilly in the countries they had subdued." In fact the ancient warlike spirit, at least in this eastern divisions, had ceased to animate them as of old. "War," says Gibbon, "was no longer the passion of the Saracens." The very name that the Caliph gave to the new capital, was but an indication of the comparatively peaceable character that was thenceforth to attach to the Saracens. It was named Medinat al Salem, the City of Peace.—The æra is further noted by historians as that of the decline of the Saracenic power. So Gibbon observes; "In this City of Peace, amidst the riches of the East, the Abbassides … aspired to emulate the magnificence of the Persian Kings." … "The luxury of the Caliphs (i. e. of the Abbassides) relaxed the nerves, and terminated the progress, of the Arabian empire." So too Mills, in his History of Mahommedism; "The period preceding was that of … the rise of the Saracenic power; that which succeeds of … its decline and fall:" and Hallam; "The Abbassides … never attained the real strength of their predecessors."—Nor must I omit to observe on the manner in which the very geographical position of the new capital contributed to the relaxation of the woe. For not merely with reference to maritime enterprises against it, as Mr. Hallam suggests, but with reference to military also, the distance of the new seat of government added to the difficulty, and diminished the temptation. The locusts were no more in such immediate contact, as before, with Eastern Christendom.
And now, behold, instead of aggressive war on the part of the Saracens, aggression has begun against them, and victoriously too, on the part of the Christians. In the West, under the son of Charles Martel, Narbonne and Septimania were in the year 759 recovered, and the Saracens driven beyond the Pyrenees. Again in 761, as Baronius marks the date, the Christian remnant in the mountains of Spain, under the first Alphonzo, began to roll back the tide of war on their Saracen oppressors.—It was the same in the East. There Constantine Copronymus, the then reigning emperor, seized the opportunity for avenging the wrongs, and enlarging the limits, of the Greek empire.—So that the septenary of years begun A. D. 755, and ending 762, is obviously every way remarkable, as the period of the deliverance of Christendom from the chief terror and persecution of the Saracens. And either its year of commencement, 755, or that of its termination, 762, is just the fittest epoch, so far as I see, the one or the other, at which to consider the intensity of the Saracen woe as terminated.
And what then the length of the period of intensity and aggression, thus defined?—It is possible that the exact time when the idea was first formed by Mahomet of acting the part of false prophet, and when thus the key was used wherewith to open for him the pit of the abyss, may have been about the year 605,—four years before his private preaching; and so have furnished a date of inceptive commencement, corresponding with the year 755, as that of the inceptive termination. But the epoch of decided commencement may rather be fixed, as we have said, at Mahomet’s public opening of his mission, A. D. 612; and the epoch of full termination,—as regarded the Greek empire at least, to which in this and the next Trumpet there seems all through a special reference,—at the removal of the Caliphate to Bagdad, A. D. 762. Indeed there is in the next vision, as it seems to me, a direct allusion to this removal, as constituting an epoch recognised and marked out for notice in the Apocalyptic prophecy. And the interval between these dates of commencement and termination is, as the reader sees, precisely that laid down in the prophecy; viz. five prophetic months, or 150 years.
And now we have discussed, I think, all the prophetic details, and seen their truth and their fulfilment; more especially as characterizing the Saracen woe during its term of chief intensity, the above-mentioned 150 years.—A discussion this somewhat discursive; and which has forced us, like the historian of the Decline and Fall, though all in relevancy to his and our great topic, into inquiries respecting "the genius of the Arabian prophet, the manners of his nation, and spirit of his religion." It is to be remembered, however, that this period did not define the whole duration of the Saracen power or woe. It was but, I conceive, a marked primary period, within the whole period of this 5th Trumpet vision; just like another noted (the parallel is observable) as a primary marked period of the second woe, under the 6th Trumpet.—And thus it seems fitting that we glance, ere we quit the subject, at what remained of the history of these Apocalyptic locusts, after the ending of their first 150 years, and memorable flight beyond Euphrates, which later history of them was one of a period during much of which the woe on Christendom might seem to have been almost bound; and bound, as I have already hinted at as foreshown in the prophecy, and shall in my next Chapter have more fully to notice, by that selfsame Euphratean locality.
There then, far East, in Bagdad and the country round it,—after a brief temporary splendour, and temporary revival too into military enterprise and success, (though not the enterprise of aggressive warfare,) from 781 to 805, under the reigns of Mohadi and Haroun al Raschid, wherein the Greek Emperors who had provoked it suffered painfully,—we must think of the once terrible power of the Saracens as declined and declining: luxury and licentiousness working their usual sure process of decay with both prince and people, and the fervour of religious fanaticism past away. At length in the year 841 the reigning Caliph, distrusting the martial spirit of his Arabs, hired a band of 50,000 Turkmans from beyond the Oxus, to be the support of the Caliphate at Bagdad: and these, acting precisely the same part as the Roman Prætorian guards before them, revolted against, insulted, humiliated, and deposed the Caliphs; and so, in this case too, became a further and powerful accelerating cause of their sovereigns’ downfal.—Meanwhile among the Moslems both in Africa, and in Asia, the example of the Spanish schism had had its imitators. At Fez and Tunis, in Egypt and in Syria, in Chorasan to the North, and Persia to the East, new and independent dynasties were set up in the course of the ninth century: until at length, as the tenth century opened, the Fatimites,—descendants of that Ali, Mahomet’s first Vizier, of whom we have before spoken, and of his wife Fatima, Mahomet’s favourite daughter,—asserted their rightful claim, not to independent political sovereignty only, but even to the Caliphate itself: in the prosecution of this claim reduced Africa, Egypt, and Syria; and, from Cairo as their capital, became known as the third Caliphate of Islamism, excommunicating and excommunicated by its rivals, both at Cordova and at Bagdad.—Thus more and more dismembered, the Abbassidean Caliphate at Bagdad more and more languished: until the Persian independent Moslem dynasty of the Bowides, interposing on occasion of the factions there prevalent, advanced in the year 934 to Bagdad; stripped the Caliph of his secular office and supremacy; and reduced him to his spiritual functions as chief Pontiff of Islamism, the mere phantom thenceforward of departed power. The four angels continued bound as it were, and that for a long inaction, by the Euphrates.
Such was the progressive decline of the Eastern Saracens; and in that decline their brethren in the West in a measure participated. Throughout the ninth century the Christians of Spain were ever gaining ground on their Moorish oppressors. In 904 the capital of Asturias was advanced from Oviedo in the Gallician mountains to Leon; and that of Arragon from Jaca, in the Pyrenean valleys, to Pampeluna.—The spirit of bravery and enterprise indeed had not yet left the Western Arabs. It appeared in the Spanish battle-fields. It appeared in the exploits of the marauding bands that issued both from Spain and Africa:—of whom some, ere the middle of the ninth century, conquered the islands of Crete and Sicily; attacked, though vainly, Home itself; nor were expelled from their conquests, till after a tenure of above a century in Crete, and two centuries in Sicily.—But these were but like the marauding enterprises of the Normans of the eleventh century; indeed not so remarkable. The strength of the lions’ teeth, and the venom too of the early religious fanaticism, was greatly wanting. The intensity of the woe to Christendom had evidently passed away. The Saracenic conquests and incursions in Crete, Sicily, and Italy, were but a memento of what had been.