Hebrew Fail in Left Behind II (and what it says about today’s End-Times Christianity)

Fred Clark shared an image from the movie Left Behind II: Tribulation Force, a movie that he has been blogging about (and highlighting the problems and the shortcomings of). I share it because it illustrates well a problem with the approach to the Bible reflected in the Left Behind series and the view of the “end times” assumed in it. Here’s the photo. Can you see what they did to make the “Hebrew” part of it?

You probably have worked out by now that the “Hebrew” part of the sign was created by switching the English words into a Hebrew font, with no attempt even to change it to the appropriate direction of Hebrew, much less translate it. (People who actually know Hebrew are more prone to miss this at first, since they will instinctively keep trying to read it from right to left.)

This says a lot of important things about the Left Behind approach to the end times, such as:

  • It is low-budget and uninterested in accuracy – it is not hard to get someone to render something into Hebrew for you.
  • It doesn’t reflect actual knowledge of Biblical languages. Like young-earth creationism and other modern-day heresies, the Bible is allegedly important, but only in the sense that it is co-opted into the service of a worldview that reflects modern concerns and ideologies, with no interest in making sense of the Bible in the original languages and in its original cultural context.
  • It doesn’t have any interest in modern languages either, or the other cultural contexts that this view of the end times reflects. Israel is important as a symbol, and I suspect that many people with this view of the end times may have been there. But learn the language? No. Understand the political realities?

This still image from the movie is thus worth highlighting, as it really does illustrate a great deal about what is wrong with the “Left Behind” system of thought. It is technically known as premillenial dispensationalist eschatology, but few of its adherents know that – which likewise is illustrative of an important fact about this viewpoint. Few of those who view the end times in this way know where these views come from, and what ignorance of the Bible and other relevant considerations it is based on.

  • Ken Schenck

    Absolutely hilarious!

  • Steve Caruso

    If I had a dollar for each time something like this has crossed my desk (or if I had a dollar every time I’ve said, “If I had a dollar for each time…”) I could retire.

    Most of them, sadly, weren’t from something biffed from a props department, but already permanently affixed to someone’s skin or incorporated into an art piece that took days to make.

    Sadness…

    Peace,
    -Steve

  • http://anumma.com/ Anumma

    Extracts from the text should show up as bad Hebrew tattoos in three… two… one.

  • http://twitter.com/tmcrow Tim Crow

    This is a hoot!  

    But…I wonder if they weren’t watching back episodes of Lost…these were the types of embedded symbols that one came to expect in that series??

  • http://jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com/ James Pate

    Oh, I see it now.  It looks weird when read from right to left.  Like, why isn’t the final nun a final nun?

  • john Byron

    I sat here trying to read the Hebrew and could not figure out why I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The I read the rest of your post and realized that in this case the tail was the head since they wrote English in Hebrew backwards. Sigh! 

    John Byron

  • Jonathan

    lol I had the same problem! I’m greatly relieved now.

    Best,
    Jonathan

  • John Beaver

    While yes this is silly, and I gave up on taking this sort of dispensationalist theology at all seriously, aren’t we making a lot out of what boils down at the end of the day to nothing more than a bad prop?

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      The point was simply that this bad prop seems illustrative of precisely what is bad about American end-times theology in particular. It doesn’t seem to take seriously either the foreignness of the texts it purports to interpret, nor be able to converse with (much less understand) those people of other nations who are made to play roles in their vast end-times drama.

      Or to put it another way, is premillenial dispensationalism anything other than a collection of similarly bad props? :-)

      • Carl

        I’d like to think dispensationalism is something more than that (or at least can be), but at the popular/populist level, it often is not.

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  • JoeW

    My Hebrew is obviously poor these days, since it did not stand in the way of my discerning what they had done pretty quickly.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    Keep fighting the good fight, James!  I hope your voice keeps reaching the Left-Behind types — I wonder what percent of Christians swallow this stuff.  I’d wager that even in not swallowed 100%, a large percent are tainted by it.
    Does patheos offer you easy polling software like WordPress does?  (see my recent post for an example)  If it does, it would be fun to see a poll of your readers’ religious commitments.  Maybe with categories like these:– Christian, Evangelical– Christian, Mainstream– Christian, Catholic– Christian, others– Other Faith– Non-religiousEven more curious would be the categories you would choose in your poll as opposed to the ones I just quickly threw together here.  What parsing do you think would be revealing?

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  • bonner

    oh for the good old days of the early church when councils could be called to debate theologies and brand false beliefs what they are:  HERESY!  I know of a  congregation that was ripped apart over whether their pastor believed in pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation rapture.  Really?  A non-biblical belief to start with and you are choosing that as your battleground? 

  • http://jimgetz.org/ Jim Getz

    Took me a minute. I kept getting confused as to what expression the sign was using that would include horses…

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Sabio, I’ve wanted to do polls in the past, but WordPress as set up by Patheos doesn’t support javascript such as is typically used in polls. I may have to have a word with the powers that be again, indicating that this feature would be desirable…

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  • Tanya

    lol, Jim, me too!

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  • Alan Levy

    What got “left behind” was their brains….

  • Talmidmjn

    while the comment on this movie’s hebrew is ok, to call young earth heresy is extreme as their are many of the best minds in science who believe in the literal account of genesis, yeshua for one believed that adam and eve were there from the beginning – assuming the persons who believe in combining evolutions processes as “true science” and that ancient rabbi’s from the 15th century had already figured out “billions of years” there are major problems with their dating methods – and without exception they all deny noah’s flood thereby rejecting a worldwide flood which destroyed the whole earth NEVER to have us experieince another like it [there are plenty of localized floods] – yom when used I think it is over 40 times in the TNK accompanied with a numeral as a quantifier ALWAYS means a literal 24 hour day… why would genesis creation account be different? and there are many problems with trying to do gymnastics to make genesis creation account fit into billions of years – such as YH cursing creation and the ground after adam and eve when since that places fossil records of death and thorns and such as occuring before the fall…anyway…. i personally am a sephardic messianic believer who believes in an early age earth and i am not a heretic for that!

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I am afraid that in order to make the claim that there is a young earth you do indeed need to adopt heresy – the evidence from the created order is clear and unambiguous, and so you are making God the Creator (as well as the majority of your brothers and sisters in Christ who work in the realm of the natural sciences) out to be liars. You are also repeating things that you have heard about what scientists say, without investigating it for yourself. I’d recommend that you start with Francis Collins, a top scientist in the realm of biology and a Christian. 

      But you are also guilty of Christological heresy, claiming that Jesus did not have genuine humanity and thus share in the worldview of his time.

      And you are ignoring the structure of Genesis 1, which presents six days (literal days, indeed) in such a way as to highlight parallels between the first three days and the second. To ignore the structure and poetry of the text in the way young-earth creationists usually do causes people to hate and reject a text that they might otherwise appreciate, and thus does harm to the faith.

  • newenglandsun

    “(People who actually know Hebrew are more prone to miss this at first, since they will instinctively keep trying to read it from right to left.)”
    Lol! That’s exactly what I did at first. Most of the time, people actually bother to put Hebrew in the right direction such as on Behemoth’s album “Demigod”!

  • newenglandsun

    To add insult to injury, they use a “tet” in “be”. They would have been safer using a yod or an alef or an ayin. And I usually use yod when doing long letters. It’s a great way to learn the proper pronunciation of Hebrew vowels.

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