Norman Cohns Buch “The Pursuit of the Millennium” ist die geschichtliche Darstellung einer Reihe von größeren und kleineren sozialen Bewegungen, denen gemeinsam ist, dass sie ihre Ziele in mehr oder weniger endzeitlichen Begriffen formuliert haben. Cohn schreibt:

This book deals with the milleniarianisms that flourished amongst the rootless poor of western Europe between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries; and with the circumstances that favored it. But if that is the main theme, it is not the only one. For the poor did not create their own milleniarian faiths, but received them from would-be prophets or would-be messiahs. And these people, many of them former members of the lower clergy, in turn took their ideas from the most diverse sources. … This book examines both how these various bodies of millenarian belief originated and how they were modified in the course of being transmitted to the poor.
(S. 14)

Albrecht Altdorfer: Alexanderschlacht (Kampf Alexanders des Großen gegen Perserkönig Darius) 1529

Albrecht Altdorfer: Alexanderschlacht (Kampf Alexanders des Großen gegen Perserkönig Darius) 1529

Viele, wenn auch nicht alle der beschriebenen Bewegungen haben Klassenkampfcharakter, d.h. sie sind Bewegungen von Armen bis sehr Armen, die sich gegen die herrschende Klasse richten. Cohn verfolgt die These, dass alle – also auch moderne – Bewegungen, die die vollständige Umwälzung der Gesellschaft anstreben, zumindest teilweise endzeitlichen Charakter haben. Und in welcher Art man sich den endzeitlichen Charakter vorstellen muss, wird vielleicht am folgenden Beispiel deutlich:

The self-exaltation of the poor emerges still more clearly from the curious stories, compounded of fact and legend, which are told of the people called ‘Tafurs’. A large part – probably by far the larger part – of the People’s Crusade [in the year 1096] perished on its journey across Europe; but enough survived to form in Syria and Palestine a corps of vagabonds – which is what the mysterious word ‘Tafur’ seems to have meant. Barefoot, shaggy, clad in raggish sackcloth, covered in sores and flith, living on the roots and grass and also at times on the roasted corpses of their enemies, the Tafurs were such a ferocious band that any country the passed through was utterly devastated. Too poor to afford swords and lances, they wielded clubs weighted with lead, pointed sticks, knives, hatchets, shovels, hoes and catapults. When they charged into battle they gnashed their teeth as though they meant to eat their enemies alive as well as dead. …

The Tafurs are shown as having a king, le roi Tafur. He is said to have been a Norman knight who had discarded horse, arms and armour in favour of sackcloth and a scythe. At least in the beginning he was an ascetic for whom poverty had all the mystical value which it was to possess for St. Francis and his disciples. …