The end of the world is not so nigh after all

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The Independent Online
THE END of the world has been cancelled. The Last Battle between good and evil will not be taking place - at least not at Armageddon.

Plans for a virtual-reality simulation of the Apocalypse on the site where the Bible says it will happen have been scrapped by the Israeli government, which is worried about whipping up too much Millennium fever.

Millions of pilgrims are expected to go to the Holy Land over the next 18 months. Among them will be fundamentalist Christians who may try to hasten the Second Coming with prayer or more provocative action - like the members of an American cult recently deported for planning bloodshed on the streets of Jerusalem.

But all is not lost for faint-hearted pilgrims who really do believe the end is nigh but would rather stay safely at home. Archaeologists working with the computer giant IBM still plan to use a video camera to capture real-time pictures of the Jezreel Valley - which could mean the final contest between God and Satan being available for viewing over the internet.

The village of Megiddo, an hour's drive from Haifa in the Jezreel Valley, was to have been the site for a new multi-media celebration of worldwide destruction. Armageddon - which means the Mount of Megiddo in Hebrew - is identified in the Book of Revelation as the place where the kings of the world will be gathered to watch the Final Battle.

"We have decided not to do it," said Zeev Margalit of the Israeli National Parks Authority, which manages the site at Megiddo. "So many people have different ideas about the story of Armageddon, we could not portray it in a way that would be agreeable and sensitive to all."

Extensive archaeological remains have been discovered under the mound at Megiddo, including a palace built during the reign of King Solomon, 10 centuries before Christ. A state-of-the-art display called the ArchaeoVision Kiosk will be installed near the remains to show a 3D image of the palace with animated courtiers superimposed on real-time pictures of the site. The camera on the palace will also show the wide sweep of the valley. Eventually, it will be possible to show live pictures on the Megiddo web site, which already offers a 3D tour of the remains.

The project was originally developed by British scientists in the IBM laboratories at Hursley near Winchester. Brian Collins, senior program manager, said his company was approached because of its pioneering work at Ename in East Flanders, where a prototype virtual-reality kiosk has been used to recreate a medieval Benedictine monastery. IBM Israel has now taken it over.

There were very few visitors when the site manager Ahmed Agbaria showed me up to the Contemplation Cove, a simple observation platform decorated with Scripture.

"Many Christians come here," said Mr Agbaria. "Mostly Americans. Some people are coming and sitting here, praying and singing songs, and think they might see something. Some people say it is happening in 2000, but I don't know." A chuckle betrayed what he really thought of that idea.

But why was it so quiet? He smiled. Ironically, it seemed that many visitors had been put off visiting Armageddon by the threat of the Mother of all Battles. "Saddam and the US. People are afraid to come."

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