Since I’ve written recently about the rapidly approaching failure of Harold Camping’s 2011 doomsday prediction, I thought it’d be amusing to take a look back at another prophetic misfire. Our case study is the website 2007Rapture.com, which for obvious reasons is now defunct – but the Internet Archive has snapshots that show how the author, one Shelby Corbitt, reacted to her prediction’s failure.
The Internet Archive’s first capture of the site, back in August 2004, starts with a bold warning:
The rapture of the church (God’s children) willl happen JULY 2007. This means Jesus Christ is going to appear in the eastern sky and call all His children up to Heaven, leaving all the sinners and unbelievers behind – this is not the end of the world – but it will be the beginning of a terrible tribulation for those left behind. DON’T GET LEFT BEHIND!
For a while there’s no change, but by December 2005, the author had backtracked slightly to allow herself some wiggle room:
The rapture of the church (God’s children) will happen during the SUMMER OF 2007. This could be anytime from June 21-September 21. This means Jesus Christ is going to appear in the eastern sky and call all His children up to Heaven, leaving all the sinners and unbelievers behind – this is not the end of the world – but it will be the beginning of a terrible tribulation for those left behind.
As this date drew nearer, the author also explains how she came by these beliefs: a vivid prophetic dream that she’d had years prior, which she’d written down but kept a secret until a strange coincidence.
In 2003, a woman from church said she had a word from God for me. It was for me to get the word out that God had given me. She said now was the time. She didn’t really know what that word was, but I knew. I immediately thought of the vision God had given me 17 years earlier. I found the vision that I had written down, opened it up, and reread it. Everything God had shown me that was going to happen in my life had happened, and I knew she was right, that now is finally the time to release the vision. God was using this woman to be the voice I had been waiting to hear to tell me when to release the vision.
By December 2006, the author was getting more and more excited, and was disclosing specific details of her dream:
God specifically told me 2007 was the year. He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. I interpret this to mean summertime. Therefore the prophetic message is that the rapture of the church (God’s children) will happen during the SUMMER OF 2007.
The next major update is on June 29, just after the start of the predicted interval, and the site has worked itself into a fever pitch of excitement, with this headline in large type:
THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH IS GOING TO HAPPEN DURING THE SUMMER, THIS YEAR (JUNE 21-SEPTEMBER 21) 2007!!
On August 20, that headline was still up, but it seems the author was feeling a tinge of uncertainty:
God specifically told me 2007 was the year. He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. I interpret this to mean summertime. I live in Florida, and although we are normally able to swim through October, I am still interpreting the vision to mean literal summertime.
September 21 came and went. For several weeks there was no update, but at the beginning of November, the site offered this lengthy excuse:
God revealed to me two things about the timing of the rapture. God specifically told me 2007 was the year, because I was only going to have from 3 to 3 1/2 years to spread the message after my book was published. It was published in June 2004. Then He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. The fact that we were swimming immediately made me think summer. I was not sure if God was showing me summerlike weather or if He was trying to tell me literal summertime. Since literal summer ended on September 21st, God obviously meant it would be summerlike weather here where I live in Florida. It is summerlike weather here the majority of the year. This year 2007 we seem to be breaking all kinds of heatwave records…. Even if it stays warm enough to swim all year, 2007 is still the year of the rapture.
We are down to the last few days until 2007 is over. This could be your first, last and/or ONLY warning you get from God to repent and prepare yourself for the return of Jesus Christ. God has made it possible for me to reach you and get this warning to you. You do not have time to think about this any longer. Today is your day and NOW is your time!!
The Wayback Machine’s final snapshot was on January 2, 2008. The author updated the site one last time with a long, all-caps message plainly conveying her bewilderment and despair:
I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHY THE RAPTURE DID NOT HAPPEN IN THE TIME FRAME I SAID. I KNEW I WAS NOT TO RELEASE THIS PROPHECY UNTIL GOD TOLD ME TO. THAT IS WHY I KEPT THE DREAM TO MYSELF FROM 1986 TO 2003. I STILL BELIEVE THE PROPHETIC DREAM I HAD WAS FROM GOD. I HAVE TOLD THE DREAM JUST AS GOD GAVE IT TO ME. THE ONLY THING I CAN THINK OF IS THAT I RELEASED THE DREAM AT THE WRONG TIME AND GOT THE BOOK PUBLISHED TOO EARLY. MAYBE THE DREAM HAD SOME KIND OF SYMBOLIC MEANING INSTEAD OF A LITERAL MEANING THAT I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO FIGURE OUT YET. I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHAT I HAVE DONE WRONG AND WHY THE PROPHECY FAILED. I PROMISE ALL OF YOU THAT I DID NOT INTENTIONALLY MEAN TO HURT OR MISLEAD ANYBODY. I PROMISE I DID NOT MAKE UP THE DREAM. I KNOW MANY OF YOU ARE VERY DISAPPOINTED, BUT I ASSURE YOU NO ONE IS AS DISAPPOINTED AS I AM.
But in one last, defiant message before signing off, she declares that the utter failure of her prophetic vision hasn’t changed her beliefs at all:
THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH WILL BE IN MY LIFETIME AND IT WILL HAPPEN THE WAY GOD SHOWED ME IN THE DREAM… WE CAN’T LET THIS DELAY HARDEN OUR HEARTS SO THAT WHEN ANOTHER VOICE COMES CRYING OUT WE IGNORE IT. THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!
(Side note: Ms. Corbitt’s magnum opus is still available on Amazon!)
As I’ve written before, possibly the only fatal error in religion is staking your beliefs on a definitive test. I suspect that many apocalyptic movements and other new religious ideas originate this way: a dream, hallucination or other misfire of the brain which the ignorant believe to be a divine communication. If the recipient’s understanding of the “message” is seemingly corroborated by an unusual coincidence, so much the better. For atheists, it shouldn’t be surprising that such things happen from time to time. Nor should it be surprising that most self-appointed prophets end up falling flat on their faces, since random brain firings, no matter how subjectively compelling, don’t give any insight into the true nature of the world.
But devotees of superstition have an incredible ability to take failure in stride, and Shelby Corbitt is no exception. She’s since launched a new site that’s basically identical to the last, except that she no longer tries to predict a date. Of course, she still insists, “I know the rapture will happen in my lifetime.” As James Randi has said, people like this are “unsinkable rubber ducks”: her belief isn’t driven by facts, but by a desire to believe, which makes the unbroken string of prophetic failures irrelevant.