Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages

ISBN: 0195004566
ISBN 13: 9780195004564
By: Norman Cohn

Check Price Now


Christianity Currently Reading Default History Medieval Middle Ages Non Fiction Nonfiction Religion To Read

Reader's Thoughts

Wes Freeman

Maybe my favorite book, though I'll have to read it twice more before I get it all. Exhaustive-but-readable survey of medieval heretical religious sects back in Western Europe's days as a non-nationalistic, Catholic bloc state. Fairly astounding how chromatic Cohn's wacked out, zealot Europe looks, especially to those raised to believe American Protestant things, like how happy-go-lucky groups of Puritans left the Old Country to found a gay, breezy land full of pre-destination and free from thick, gloomy papal oppression. This, of course, would have been the story that sociopathic, megalomaniac Anabaptist maverick John of Leyden would have told his followers (the ones he hadn't already killed) had he ever made it to a continent big enough to house his ego and multiple wives. Deeply, permanently fascinating revelations herein; Cohn does the essential legwork to give you a better understanding of why people agree with each other to worship the same God, or priest, or charismatic lunatic. Read it in the terrifying context of 2003's ascendancy of the religious right, the book giving a marauding cast to their faces on CNN, fostering implicit comparisons between spittle-spewing, apocalypse-hungry Rhinelanders and hopelessly wandering ascetics. Book resonates so hard in this first decade of the New Millenium that it will keep ya m'f'in head ringin till the second.


-wow..i can't really tell you how important and great this book is. Granted, it is for the extreme history geek- but that said it is a really important document of early the early european christian church and will give you ample ammunition in your next debate with a catholic or other christian that pretends that the history of christainity is not full of maniacs, wack jobs, anarchists, etc. good introduction to anabaptism and that whole spectrum as well.


A very interesting overview of the history of Millenarianism up to the 16th century. It really does deserve it's place amongst the classics. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Millenarianism or Medieval history in general.

Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk

I loved this book! As an analysis of the ideas that permeated the psyche of the Middle Ages, and provided the driving force behind the many movements that give the period its particular character, this book has no equal! The chapter on the Anabaptists alone merits putting everything down just to read it! If you're interested in ideas and history you have to read this!

Mustafa Al-Laylah

One of the first and most readable major books written on the subject of medieval Millenarianism, Cohn manages to make what might seem to the modern reader obscure and baffling heresies into highly engaging historical reading.Having read this, Vaneigem's "The Movement of the Free Spirit" and Ehrenreich's "Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy" I would say all three are valuable if read in a particular order. Start with Ehrenreich, finish with Cohn and supplement with Vaneigem.

Chris Schaeffer

Norman Cohn is an excellent scholar and an engaging writer, but the subject matter is what really makes this book essential to anyone interested in the historical roots of Marxism. One of my favorite reads of 2010. Say what you will about Barnes & Noble as a business entity but they did the world a solid in putting this book back in print.

Nathan Dehoff

I bought this on a whim when I found it at the school bookstore for $2, but it turned out to really be up my alley. Apparently this was a fairly famous book for its time (it was originally published in 1957, and then expanded for the 1970 edition), but I guess it didn’t retain its popularity. It deals with the apocalyptic cult movements of Europe in the Middle Ages, with an underlying theme being how the lower classes tended to turn to such radical beliefs when they felt particularly put upon by the secular and religious authorities. The book of Revelation tells of a struggle between Christians and the Roman Empire, but when the Empire adopted Christianity as its official faith, the idea of the coming millennium of peace and love had to be altered to reflect this development. Eventually, the storyline had it that there was a golden age before private property and class structure had been developed (some people blamed Nimrod for this), and that it would arrive again when Jesus returns to Earth. Before that happens, however, the last emperor would journey to Jerusalem and offer his robe and crown to Christ. As it became obvious that most of the rulers and the clergy were looking out for their own interests, many peasants took to following various leaders who claimed to be reincarnated emperors and such, and attempting to bring the new millennium to the world by reorganizing society, and often killing church leaders as well as Jews. None of them lasted, but the same basic idea has arisen throughout history in different forms, usually in times when people feel particularly exploited. Definitely worth reading if you take an interest in religious history, or just weird cults.

Yama Rahyar

Every once in a while humanity explodes. These onces-in-a-while can be thrilling or horrifying, ugly or beautiful, or start at one pole and move toward the other. This book is utterly engrossing in spite of its very very tiny type because, even though you know how things end, in the course of the moments described, people really had no idea and anything seemed possible.


If you are interested in some of the crazy offshoots of Christianity (with a bit of Islam and Judaism thown in, if I recall correctly) that sprang up in the late Middle Ages, you can't do better than this book. More "history that reads weirder than any Science Fiction evah!"


There is a long tradition in European history of the masses being swept up into a revolutionary fervor by some charismatic figure who leads them skipping merrily down a path to doom.


I started Cohn’s book with a particular interest that grew once I read in the index the name of some movements described. This reading was especially fascinating for me because I found in it a lot of information about historical events that I have yet encountered. My disposition was very favorable because I felt involved in such stories. The very reason for my attitude is that my favorite novel is set in the period in which movements described by Cohn emerged. Reading again about Thomas Muntzer and Anabaptists, in particular, brought me back to strong emotions that I felt during the reading of Q. However, when I read the Cohn’s conclusions, I felt a bit disturbed because actually I do not agree with the author. Even if I consider quite accurate the description of the different movements, the author’s attempt to compare both Nazism and Communism to these movements does not convince me. It’s my attitude, because of my studies and of my cultural background, to separate these historical experiences in their original means if not in their conclusion. The fact is that I am quite sure that Nazism from the beginning had no real idea of emancipation for all mankind, and this emerges clear in its actual implementation. On the other hand, the basic idea of Communism that is very elder than its more known theorist, Marx, involves a form of emancipation without an Elect population. For what I know, the idea of a single social class that guides humanity beyond Capitalism is historically circumscribed and it is not intended anyway to exclude someone from the world that have to come.

Martin Empson

Any study of the medieval European period finds that peasant rebellions and uprisings, far from being uncommon, are actually part of the fabric of a society dominated by feudal relations and class antagonisms. Some of these uprisings relate directly to the oppression of medieval society. Rich against poor, landowner against serf. Many of these used religious imagery and language to inform and inspire the rebellions, perhaps best illustrated by the speeches and role of John Ball in the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in England.Other events however took a different form. These millenarian movements are documented in great detail in Norman Cohn's classic book, and his extensive scholarship has found a wealth of fascinating movements throughout Europe that have often surprising parallels across the continent.Full review; http://resolutereader.blogspot.co.uk/...


a book i was introduced to by way of a college course, meaning that is dense, dry and not at all reader-friendly. having said that, i cannot recommend it more highly to those who want to be able to look at Catholicism - and Christianity in general - in a different way. specifically, as a delicate balancing act between the immediate (preaching that the return of Jesus Christ and the end of days can/will happen at ANY TIME) and the long-term (how does one keep that idea fresh for almost two thousand years? how can the Church keep from losing control of this message and the masses they preach to?).in europe during the middle ages - amid fear and rumors and an illiterate populance - this balancing act was especially tricky... and fraught with perils. a very interinting read.

Hywel Owen

One of the great books about the human condition. Through a detailed and authoratitive look at cults of the Middle Ages, Norman Cohn shows that groups within society are forever susceptible to the seductive dreams purveyed by narcissists. Leaders of these groups offer simple and often fantasist solutions to all ills, and their followers are all too ready to follow them to their doom, realising only too late that the confines of reality actually do exist.Whilst Cohn never explicitly describes modern-day equivalents of Millenarian cults, it is clear that he refers to Marxists in particular - and to other movements of that ilk - and allows the reader to draw the obvious parallels. In this book is revealed the underlying truth of mankind, rather than the gloss of this epoch's manner of expressing it. Cohn's scathing regard for the nonsense of Marxism, and indeed for all eschatological political movements, is plain to see. They are in fact the products of (hopefully) unrequited megalomaniacs, which are then exploited by opportunistic sociopaths. Jan Bockelson and Josef Stalin are social twins.In terms of understanding the nature of history, I would rate this book as a must-read. 'Journey for our Time' by the Marquis de Custine is another.

Peejay Who Once Was Minsma

I'm glad that I read this ahead of Y2K and the idiocies that surrounded the millennium. Cohn does a masterful job of defusing millennialism and apocalyptic thinking, tracing it through a thousand years of history, and showing it as the root cause for so many of the iconic tragedies of the violent 20th Century. This is a masterwork of psychological history and the dissecting of religious mania. I highly recommend it.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *