Abilene, USA - It's the countdown to the end of the world -- again.
Yisrayl Hawkins, head of the House of Yahweh religious sect in Abilene, said in a "20/20" segment that aired Friday, that a nuclear war will begin "soon, really soon."
As in June 12. Thursday, for those who want to circle calendar dates or cancel appointments.
A story on ABC's news site said "hundreds of truck trailers have been loaded with food and water" on the group's 44-acre compound in preparation for the coming conflagration.
Hawkins, who has been speaking mostly to national media of late, including CNN's Nancy Grace, currently faces trial for bigamy charges for allegedly having more than 30 wives. His trial is set for Sept. 15 if his predicted nuclear holocaust doesn't come to pass.
Attempts to contact him Friday through his attorney John Young were unsuccessful.
Drawn in part from an interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Christian Bible, Hawkins has been predicting a nuclear holocaust for a number of years now.
Sept. 12, 2006, was one significant date, tied to what he terms the birth of a "nuclear baby."
That day came and went. A Reporter-News story published the day after noted that Hawkins had encouraged both believers and skeptics to "put the date on their bathroom mirror."
He also warned then that the "world will not believe this message."
But some did. In Kenya, for example, hundreds of Hawkins' followers hid in basement bomb shelters and donned gas masks on the date, according to abcnews.go.com.
Although the original prophecy said a nuclear battle would erupt in 2006, it was later reinterpreted as the "conception" of the "nuclear baby," scheduled to reach maturity June 12, 2007.
"Near the end of that period, nuclear wars will have taken place that will have killed a third part of man over a fourth part of the earth in and around the great River Euphrates," according to the House of Yahweh's Web site.
"This comes line upon line, here a little, there a little, from many different prophecies," according to the HOY site. "We must go back in order to understand the prophecies concerning the conception, development, and delivery of the nuclear baby and the adult wars that are to follow."
Obviously, 2007 has, too, come and gone. But the June 12 expectation is being resurrected by the sect again this year.
Hardin-Simmons University theology professor Dan Stiver was at a loss to explain the recurring 12s in the dates, with the possible exception of the numeral's close ties to mainstream Christian and Judaic theology -- 12 apostles of Christ, 12 original tribes of Israel, etc.
But prophetic pronouncements such as those made by Hawkins and his group have been present from the beginnings of Christianity, manifesting through virtually every century, he said.
Even Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant movement, couldn't resist speculating whether he and other contemporary believers -- Luther died in 1546 -- were living in the end-times. And more than half a century earlier, many were certain that Christ would return in the year 1000 A.D. Similar expectations were raised for the year 2000 A.D.
"In every generation, there are some who think that they might be the last," Stiver said.
Such groups assume they are living in the "most important times of history," whereas they are more honestly simply living in the "most significant times for them," he said.
Revelation, attributed to John of Patmos, is generally considered by biblical scholars to be a message to those of John's own time, Stiver said.
Then, as now, some debate the book's relevance to the world at large.
But although the work was accepted late into the biblical canon, it's "obscure" and perhaps "the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret," but there is a message of "hope and encouragement" relevant to both early and present Christians, Stiver said.
"If we don't go away from the Book of Revelation better prepared to be a martyr for our faith in the best sense, we haven't really understand it," he said. "It's about faith and courage."
Where Stiver has a problem with sects like the House of Yahweh is their tendency to believe their "insignificant little group is really the center of the universe and the center of God's attention."
From the early history of the church, he said, there have been groups claiming secret knowledge, such as the House of Yahweh, he said.
"The end of the word scenarios often play into that," he said. "We really know the secrets, and you don't -- and that makes us special."
... Or the Highway
Local musician Vincent Dawson, a former member of the sect, had his own prophecy for Hawkins.
"My prophecy is that his prophecy will not come to pass -- and that everyone will forget about the fact that it did not come to pass," he said.
Dawson, 30, called Hawkins' propensity for prophecy a "human thing."
There was, for example, a great deal of worry connected to the year 2000, both in terms of anticipated computer problems, most of which did not manifest, and millennial fever from a variety of fronts.
"It didn't come to pass," he said, "so people just forgot about it."
Fawn Smith, 26, of Lubbock, another ex-member, was a part of the group from 1992-2000, "all my teenage years," she said.
She remembers hearing of a potential nuclear confrontation while living with the sect and breaking "into a sweat" whenever an airplane would fly over.
Smith, whose mother is still a member of the sect, said she could only assume discovery of a new "mistranslation" in the Scriptures was the cause of Hawkins' latest revisionism.
"It's supposedly prophesied in the Bible," she said. "So they have their little group of folks with half-inch glasses who sit down with their lexicons and their concordances and basically rewrite the Scriptures."
Smith, who said she had "heard all about" the original Sept. 12, 2006, prophecy, said that if humans are "stupid enough," there might someday be a nuclear exchange.
"But I don't believe it's going to be because of something he (Hawkins) found in the Bible," she said.
Hawkins considers himself one of the Two Witnesses described in the Book of Revelation's 11th chapter, whose appearance will foretell the second coming of Christ.
"He preaches himself a Witness, and these people believe that Yahweh the creator speaks to him and that he's the inspired one," Smith said.
She said that Hawkins' influence will perpetuate as long as his followers want him to "tell them what they need to with their lives."
"He's got to find something in there to prove himself correct and drag these people along, including my mother, months and years," she said. "I guess they hope that what he preaches is going to come afterward. People really hope for that."
Smith, by contrast, said she was concentrating on making a decent life for herself, "considering what was taken away from me as a child."
"I'm a little frustrated," she said. "I don't know why people can't think for themselves, but you're entitled to do what you need to do to make yourself a better person. Just don't impose on anybody else."
Hawkins told "20/20" that he had come to expect persecution for his beliefs, according to abcnews.go.com.
"You know, the savior himself told me not to worry about that. He said, 'They're going to hate you above all people on the face of the earth.'"
Abilene, USA - It's the countdown to the end of the world -- again.