Saturday, November 14, 2009

Malachy and Wikipedia

From a cute column by Gail Collins about the latest apocalypse brouhaha, I discovered the prophecy of Bishop Malachy. This purports to be a list, authored in 1139, of the 112 popes who who would reign between then and the end of the world. By one count, Benedict is number 111, under the title "Glory of Olives."

Intrigued, I googled friend Malachy and was led to a really excellent Wikipedia article. The article explains that the prophecy first appeared in 1595 and has that quality so telling of prophecies foisted on ancestors: it makes sense down to 1595 but is increasingly wild and vague thereafter. The article includes a huge table listing all of the popes since 1139, with the corresponding line from the prophecy, the explanation for the link offered by prophecy believers, and even a picture of the pope's coat of arms, since many of the links refer to images in those arms. Clearly put together by a real expert on the subject. Such an expert, indeed that the article carries a dire warning from the editors: THIS ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN ORIGINAL RESEARCH.

From time to time I think that I really ought to get more involved in wiki-editing on subjects I know a lot about, like Edward II and the witchcraft persecutions. I mean, wikipedia is now the world's most important reference source, perhaps its most important body of knowledge. But, honestly, the articles on witchcraft and Edward II are already ok, and I have never mustered the energy to think of how to improve them.

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