The Millions

Apocalypse Then: Meet the Original Rapture Novels

At our house, we ate dinner around 5:30, and talk of the apocalypse typically began by 6:15. Between food and the end of the world, I had no particular preference. I looked forward to both. My family was big on mashed potatoes and iceberg lettuce, which was the only kind of lettuce we knew about back in 1981, and we were big on togetherness. We prayed aloud before dinner, holding hands around the dining room table, and we read books aloud afterward, sitting in the adjacent living room. This reading tradition lasted several years, and its star author was a man named Salem Kirban, whose most famous books were titled 666 and 1000.

He’s little talked about today, but Kirban’s books were the original evangelical “end times” books. 666 came out in 1970, and 1000 followed in 1973. Both were bestsellers, and you’d find these paperbacks in households like mine. These were basically horror stories for Christians. Kirban was the Stephen King for apocalyptically savvy evangelicals who weren’t allowed to read the real King.

Kirban set the trend of framing the rapture in fiction, and his sensationalist bent got more Christians to hear the apocalyptic clock ticking. In the mid-’90s, this view of the apocalypse would be further popularized by the Left Behind novels. When many of the evangelicals who now follow Donald Trump look to the end of the world, what they’re picturing isn’t far from Kirban’s version. (Well, except maybe for the guillotines on church lawns.)

Salem Kirban himself remains something of a mysterious figure. In one photo of him from the ’70s, he’s posed at the front of a church he; ) and fresh juice (; ). In that photo of him at the church, he has bushy eyebrows and thick dark hair that’s brushed away from his face. For a man who wrote about sinister conspiracies, he looks surprisingly friendly. Kind of like a guy you might want to grab a juice with.

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