The Tale of the Cards: An Old Believer Work on the False Prophet Napoleon
From the beginning of their history, the Old Believers had not doubted that the Antichrist either reigned in the world or would appear shortly. In this regard, they continued the tradition of “factual proof” and chronological calculations, which had developed even before the schism, to define the exact time of the Antichrist’s accession and define the image in which he would appear. Along with the Russian tsars, Napoleon Bonaparte also appears as the embodiment of the Antichrist in Old Believer literature. Among the original eschatological writings which brought together the stories about the Russian emperors who incarnated Antichrist and about Napoleon, there is The Tale of the Cards. In this essay, the French emperor acts as a false prophet, the forerunner of the final coming of the Antichrist. This “fact” is confirmed by his introduction of new banknotes, or “cards”, in Russia, which helped prepare the conditions for the emergence of an enemy of mankind. This article analyses three copies of the literary artifact. Based on this analysis, it is established that it was created between November 1824 and the end of December 1825. Most probably, its provenance is connected with the Old Believer Cossacks of the southeastern part of Russia, the Volga Region, Orenburg or Uralsk, which is most closely connected with Irgiz, the most influential centre of the Beglopopovtsy denomination of the Old Believers. The author assumes that Ya. M. Tarasov, an Old Believer dogmatist and foreteller from Uralsk, could have been the author of The Tale of the Cards. In the Appendix to the article, the author publishes the text of The Tale following three copies from the 1820s–1870s: from the Russian State Library (Moscow), Ural Federal University (Yekaterinburg), and the Institute of History of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Novosibirsk).
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