Salon’s Gabriel Winant recently wrote a cleverly-titled article summarizing a few Apocalyptic movements. The Mennonite trek to Central Asia clocks in at number three on “The Four Horsemen send their regrets.”
Here is Winant’s take on the story:
Name: The Great Mennonite Trek
Prophet: Claas Epp
Date of doom: March 8, 1889
Revised date: Sometime in 1891
Apocalypse how?: Our Savior of Uzbekistan
What went down: Following Claas Epp, a Prussian-born Russian preacher, a group of 100 families of Russian Mennonites spent 1880 marching 2,000 miles across Eurasia to Uzbekistan. It was there, Epp had told his followers, that they would greet the returned Christ on March 8, 1889, as a “bride community.” No dice, of course, so, like Miller, he revised. 1891 would be the year. Epp died in 1913, excommunicated, miserable and probably afflicted with schizophrenia. Little trace remains in Uzbekistan of the Mennonites.
Winant repeats some of the old misunderstandings about Claas Epp and the settlement in Khiva. Pilgrims on the Silk Road: A Muslim-Christian Encounter in Khiva offers new evidence that dispels some of the old myths.
In fact, it’s very unlikely that Epp had schizophrenia. Though their village as they knew it is gone, visitors to Khiva can see architectural contributions by the Mennonites everywhere – from the Nuruballi palace to the old post office. A museum to the Mennonites is also opening at a prime spot inside the Ichan Kala. Visitors will see how Mennonites helped Khiva join the modern world through advances in everything from filmmaking to economics. It turns out, the Mennonites weren’t so crazy after all…