NRA: Moses and ELIZA

Nicolae, The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 163-164

I apologize for an error in the most recent post in this series. I overestimated Buck Williams.

I assumed when the last scene ended that Buck had finally understood the clumsy, obvious Bible Code spoken by the Two Witnesses in this story. Moishe and Eli had told him, repeatedly, that he would find his friend Tsion Ben-Judah in Galilee — even repeating this message to Buck telepathically. (In Tim LaHaye’s Bible prophecy world, Moses and Elijah are telepaths, as any literal reading of the Bible clearly says.)

I thought it was impossible for Buck not to pick up on that. But this is Buck Williams we’re talking about — not picking up on things is kind of his trademark. I suppose the telepathy only confused him further. They should have tried telephony instead.

Thus we return to find Buck exactly where we left him, dimly trying to grasp what the Witnesses are saying:

Buck stood riveted before the witnesses as the sun went down. He looked around to be sure it was still just him and them, “That’s all I get? He’s in Galilee?”

Again, without moving their lips, the witnesses spoke: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Using telepathy to tell someone to “use your ears” really doesn’t make much sense. It’s like a telepath saying, “Read my lips.”

I sympathize with Buck a bit here. He’s just trying to get a straight answer, but the Witnesses can’t give him one because they’re unable to speak except by quoting unrelated snippets of Bible verses. I’m starting to think that Eli isn’t short for Elijah, but for ELIZA — the early chatterbot computer program that recited lines from its scripts in a way that sometimes almost sort of mimicked human conversation. ELIZA was pretty crude, but it had a better shot at passing the Turing Test than Moses and Elijah do here as they mechanically repeat the handful of Bible passages the authors allow them to say.

In nimbler, more biblically literate hands, this device of speaking only in Bible quotations might have been effective.* The problem here is that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are dispensationalists — meaning they’ve “rightly divided the word of truth” in a way that allows them to focus only on the supposedly “prophecy” related parts that interest them. With such a limited segment of scripture to draw from, the authors wind up making their Two Witnesses sound like a 1960s computer program, or like tourists using an abridged, religious version of the Hungarian phrasebook from Monty Python.

This clumsiness is a bit of an obstacle for poor Buck. He’s trying to find one man who’s gone into hiding, and “Galilee” — the name of a large region — doesn’t really help him very much. Plus, he’s Buck Williams, so this vague direction helps him even less than it might help someone less dim.

Galilee? Did it even exist anymore? Where would Buck start, and when would he start? Surely he didn’t want to be poking around there in the night. He had to know where he was going, have some sort of bearing. He spun on his heel to see if any taxis were in the area. He saw a few.

Galilee is still a commonly used name for the region in northern Israel and for the Sea of Galilee itself, a large freshwater lake also known as Lake Kinneret. It’s kind of hard to miss.

“Did it even exist anymore?” is an odd thing for Buck Williams to be wondering. He’s supposed to be a sophisticated, jet-setting world traveler and someone who is intimately familiar with Israel, a country he’s visited numerous times. This is a bit like having Buck — who’s also supposed to be a savvy New Yorker — wondering to himself whether or not Connecticut even exists anymore. (Come to think of it, that’s actually a more reasonable question, what with the Antichrist having recently nuked much of North America off the map.)

One gets the sense here that it’s not just the character, Buck Williams, who is wondering this, but also the authors themselves. And, again, that’s odd. I’m sure that both authors have visited Israel themselves, and the Sea of Galilee is an almost mandatory stop for us Christian Americans when we tour the Holy Land. (We swim in the lake, then have a worship service along the shore at which someone sings, “I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked.”) Tim LaHaye, like most American preachers in the End-Times racket, has led tour groups in Israel (note Days 6 & 7 of the itinerary for one recent such junket pilgrimage).

But then here — and even more so in the pages ahead — we’re given passages in this book that seem wholly unfamiliar with the geography of Israel and that portray it in implausible and impossible ways. (Wait until we get to how Buck eventually travels to Galilee and you’ll see what I mean.) It’s all just … odd.

Buck seems tempted to hail a cab and tell the driver, “Galilee — and step on it!” But until he knows more about where that is, how would he be able to tell he wasn’t overcharged for the trip? He decides he still needs more information.

He turned back to the witnesses. “If I came back here later tonight, might I learn more?”

Moishe backed away from the fence and sat on the pavement, leaning against a wall. Eli gestured and spoke aloud, “Birds of the air have nests,” he said, “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“I don’t understand,” Buck said, “tell me more.”

“He who has ears –”

Buck was frustrated. “I’ll come back at midnight. I’m pleading for your help.”

Eli was now backing away too. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

And now I must apologize again — this time to Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT, the creator of ELIZA. His program sounded far more like a real human than the Two Witnesses in this book do. Buck would have been better off consulting a Magic Eight Ball.

The scene ends with Buck no closer to finding Ben-Judah, but at least he has scheduled a second consultation with Moses and Eliza, and that promises to be just as fruitfully informative as this first session.

Buck left, still planning to come back, but also strangely warmed by that last mysterious promise. Those were the words of Christ. Was Jesus speaking directly to him through the mouths of these witnesses? What an unspeakable privilege!

Earlier, Buck was completely unimpressed that Deutero-Isaiah had spoken directly to him in the same indirect way of speaking directly. And, of course, “these witnesses” are themselves none other than Moses and Elijah — yet Buck doesn’t seem to think speaking directly to them is an “unspeakable privilege” either.

Buck doesn’t seem to realize, though, that “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is also the words of Christ. So when he cut off Eli just now, was Buck directly interrupting Jesus himself? And when Eli quoted those words of Christ as a way of telling Buck to shut up and go away, it was as though Jesus himself was telling Buck to get lost. What an unspeakable privilege!

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Consider, for example, the way the Gospel of Matthew uses this device in the curious story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. (Curious because Jesus isn’t the one telling this story, but he’s the only one who could, since no one else was there to see it.) That story features a character who speaks almost entirely in carefully chosen quotations from scripture, and it works there. In Matthew, of course, the Bible-quoting character is Satan, not Moses, but the device is much the same.

Here in Nicolae the device seems so clumsy that I keep thinking of the old joke about the “spirit-led” preacher who asks for direction from God as he repeatedly opens his Bible at random. That joke would work in this scene:

MOISHE: He is going before you into Galilee. There you will see him.

BUCK: I don’t understand.

ELI: I know whom you seek. He is not here. He is going before you into Galilee.

BUCK: So is he here then?

MOISHE: Behold, I have told you.

ELI: He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

BUCK: I’m just not following this. Just tell me, specifically, what I’m supposed to do.

MOISHE: And Judas went out and hanged himself.

BUCK: In Galilee?

ELI: Go thou and do likewise.

MOISHE: What thou doest, do quickly.


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  • Lorehead

    Hebron and Galilee are in the same places they were in 1066, yes. Although the game, before a patch fixed it, did put Alexandria in the wrong place.

  • aunursa

    It was a big turnoff when I learned that the bright, cheerful South Rose Window in the Notre Dame Cathedral is symbolic of the New Testament, while the darker North Rose Window represents the “Old Testament.” And the contrast is deliberate.

  • Lorehead

    It’s not something only Christians do, either. I’ve read atheists try to use fundamentalist proof-texting with clobber verses to show that we supposedly believe all sorts of things, as if we thought that way.

  • aunursa

    Exactly. And sometimes Judaism gets blamed by atheists for the actions of non-Jews. Here is an essay about Judaism on an atheist site in which the author blames Judaism for, among other things, Christian atrocities committed against Jews and others … because the Christians studied the Hebrew Bible. For example…

    This question [about Biblical ethics and genocide] becomes all the more evident since we have indeed verifiable evidence of how biblical ethics affected the behavior of historical societies confronted with exactly this moral problem… [T]his evidence may be derived from Christian societies. The Crusades come to mind…

  • Lorehead

    At least that one has some basic awareness of the Talmud and Maimonides. But really, when was the last time you’ve heard of any Jew killing an Amalekite? There are definitely criticisms of traditional Jewish doctrine that I personally would accept as sound, although I’m not very observant. (In fact, look how often I’ve posted on Shabbos.) The asymmetry in marriage law favoring separated husbands over wives comes to mind. But that essay beelines straight for the easy targets that aren’t relevant to how people today live their lives.

    The part about the traditional laws of animal-slaughter having a lot of loopholes by modern standards comes closest (I recall a scandal recently in which some slaughterhouses were following only the letter of the Law, while cutting every corner possible, and the rabbis refused to certify them as kosher on the grounds that God does not approve of animal cruelty.) A lot of the time, the complaint is just that we have the same universal ethical precepts as everyone else. Well, yes!

  • Charby

    If you have a firm enough handshake, you can jerk the other person towards you, swiftly elbow them in the face, bring them to the ground with a sudden snap kick and grab their wallet/purse/other valuables and scurry away while they’re still reeling from how… firm and trustworthy your character is.

  • I keep thinking more and more about this, and it’s something I want to talk about, but I can’t quite get it into a coherent thesis.

    But if they really think abortion is murder, then they believe that a huge percentage of women are murderers or can’t be trusted to take care of their own health without committing murder. That women are so murderous that we need to tightly control their rights with respect to their own bodies in order to stop their murder sprees.

    I don’t even. I can’t. I–

    I mean, what.

    Of course they hate women. It would be bizarre if they didn’t hate women, when they earnestly believe women are, in general, murderous.

    Is this related to the thing where an evangelical will say they can’t comprehend why athests don’t run around committing murder all the time?

  • aunursa

    Although they think abortion is murder, most realize that the women who have abortions don’t consider it to be murder. So what they believe about those women and their culpability might be different from what you assume they believe.

  • Lorehead

    True. Let me try to reformulate: social conservatives typically assert that they can make a sound apologetic argument for their positions, one that would be logically convincing to an intelligent, unbiased nonbeliever. And a claim that God will smite the nation that displeases me him is not that argument.

  • Well, yeah. Jenkins wouldn’t kill off Tim LaHaye’s Fully-Loaded Author Avatar. You don’t bite the hand of the guy whose name gets you guaranteed royalties for life.

    And he doesn’t decide, he craps.

  • Andrew Ryan’s Caddy

    This reminds me a little of a part in The Book of the New Sun, I forget which volume, where everyone in Severian’s hospital ward is telling stories to pass the time while they recover. One’s by an enemy soldier, a man from a country where everyone is only allowed to speak in phrases what seemed to be a cross between a holy document and Mao’s Little Red Book. Another person there interprets. Like, for one phrase that seems completely opaque, she knows he’s saying he was a beggar for a while because it’s the phrase that beggars in that country use to ask for money. It’s strangely fascinating.

    Of course, the main difference between that and this is that there’s a lot of thought put into it and it’s good.

  • Daniel

    I think the arbitrary limitations are there because this all started as a game at a family gathering- like charades but with Bible quotes- and Moses and Elijah are the two most competitive uncles. Everyone else has just given up and gone home, but those to will keep playing until one of them definitively wins. Even though they’ve been at it now for so long the house has disappeared and they’re just outside in the street still going “film! four words! A TIME TO KILL!”

  • themunck

    I remember that ^^. Was a joy to read in the patch notes that “The county of Alexandria has been expanded to include the actual location of Alexandria”

  • Amaryllis

    Huh, I didn’t know that either. And any window with a Madonna and Child at its center is not much of an accurate representation of the Jewish scriptures, is it?

    I haven’t quoted poetry at you all lately, but this conversation reminds me of Karl Shapiro’s The Alphabet.

  • guest

    That looks awesome–am now subscribing.

  • guest

    I so had to learn this the hard way when I started teaching….

  • I saw an interview some years back where various anti-choicers were questioned as to what they thought should happen to women who got abortions…I mean, murdered babies. Unsurprisingly, they mostly had not given it any thought–and admitted as much. Their responses were mainly along the lines of “well, they should feel really bad about what they did. Which I doubt is the same punishment they would want for a person who strangled someone.

    One person, I think, did advocate prison. One.

    Found it!

    (I don’t usually do this, but I will warn that there is a shot of a “pro-life” poster, with a picture that is alleged to be of an aborted fetus, at the beginning and the end of the video.)

  • caryjamesbond

    If you ever REALLY want to stymie a “but its MURDER” pro-lifer, point out that they live in a nation that is making the holocaust look like Texas’ death row, and that simply protesting with tape over your mouth is the most cowardly possible reaction.

    Especially if they’ve condemned the ACTUAL murderers that killed Dr. Tiller and others- point out that in their social paradigm, those people are heroes.

  • Lorehead

    If so, too bad; Israeli cuisine is a lot more Sephardi than Ashkenazi.

  • Lori

    I’m torn. On the one hand Jenkiins is taking advantage of the people who don’t know better. That’s bad and I feel bad for his victims. On the other hand their not knowing better takes the form of them thinking that Jerry Jenkins is a good writer. Unless they’ve lived so far inside the bubble their whole lives that they’ve never been exposed to better writing (which is probably true for at least some of them) then it’s a case of ODF* and I don’t have a lot of sympathy to waste on that.

    *Own Damn Fault

  • aunursa

    How does Jenkins take advantage of his writers guild customers?

    And why shouldn’t they think that he’s a good writer? He has more than 160 published titles in a variety of genres. His signature series has sold more than 63 million copies and is about to become a feature film starring Academy Award® winner Nicolas Cage. With LaHaye he was #9 in Amazon’s 10th anniversary hall of fame authors, ranked according to number of books sold. He was featured on the cover of Newsweek. He helped Billy Graham write his New York Times-bestselling memoir. And no less an authority than Stephen King has declared that Jenkins “writes sturdy prose and plots well. He’s also warm and compassionate. Understands families inside and out.”

    Even if you think he is a very bad writer (and we Slacktivist commenters certainly agree that he is,) you have to admit that he’s a damn good writer in terms of getting his books published and sold. And that may be a primary goal for the aspiring writers attracted to his courses.

  • Lorehead

    I’d say it’s worse if they’re consciously aware that Jenkins got rich selling trash to the tribe and want a piece of that action.

  • Jamoche

    It’s the difference between “God speaks through them” and “they speak for God”. The latter is interpretation, and we know how they feel about that.

  • Panda Rosa

    How about the Magic Conch, from SpongeBob?

  • Will Hennessy

    And now, because you linked to the previous post and because said previous post mentioned the Mount Carmel episode, I am now picturing “Moishe” and “Eli” having a heated discussion over the “thou shalt not kill” thing (considering how the barbecue at Carmel ended and all…).

  • Lori

    How does Jenkins take advantage of his writers guild customers?

    He sells himself as someone who can teach them to write. You can’t teach what you don’t know. I’d have a lot less trouble with what he does if he was honest enough to pitch “How to sell a bazillion copies.” Even at that he’d almost certainly be selling nothing because I don’t think you can really teach what he did, but at least he’d be in the neighborhood of honest.

    Even if you think he is a very bad writer (and we Slacktivist commenters certainly agree that he is,) you have to admit that he’s a damn good writer in terms of getting his books published and sold. I wouldn’t say that he’s in any sense a good writer. He is undoubtedly

    I don’t think that he is in any sense a good writer. He is indisputably good at knowing his audience and he can clearly sell. That makes him a skilled huckster, not a good writer.

  • aunursa

    You can’t teach what you don’t know.

    But obviously he does know how to write. And he knows how to get published and how to write best-selling books. So you have not explained how Jenkins is being dishonest.

    I don’t think that he is in any sense a good writer. He is indisputably good at knowing his audience and he can clearly sell. That makes him a skilled huckster,

    Did the books write themselves? Did he lie about the content of his books? Are his readers demanding their money back because he didn’t deliver what he promised?

  • Lori

    The fact that Jenkins has crapped out a bunch of books that perfectly target a particular audience doesn’t make him a good writer. Again, it makes him a good huckster. If he was teaching “How To Make Millions By Playing To All The Worst Aspects of US Evangelical Culture” I’d give him points for honesty. As long as he’s holding himself out as an expert on writing I’m going to think his writing classes are basically a scam.

    If you believe that making money in the almighty market means that something is by definition good then fine, you believe that. I don’t.

  • Turcano

    It makes theological sense because those people weren’t dirty and Catholic.

  • FearlessSon

    What an unspeakable privilege!

    I suppose it could be worse. They could unleash an UNSPEAKABLE EVIL!


  • Kermode

    You have no idea how happy I am to see Welcome to Night Vale on this blog. :D

  • Daniel

    Knowing how to write and knowing how to exploit a pre-existing audience who will buy, read, watch and vote any way bile spitting demagogues tell them to are two very different things. If aunursa wants to get all semantic on this then yes, technically Jenkins knows how to write, he can physically put words onto paper. He also knows how to get published- take your work to a specialist publisher that publishes for a very particular niche market, reinforcing views they already have and get said bile spitters to promote the books and their spinoff films as required reading. Jenkins knows how to exploit a market, he shouldn’t be teaching a writing course because his actual abilities as a writer are limited to the purely literal (appropriately enough) definition: he can make coherent marks on a page.

  • Daniel

    they keep using that word… I don’t think it means what they think it means.

  • The Other Weirdo

    …Don’t you’re about to make the beast with two backs…

    This. I have no heard this before. This is now my very most favourite this.

  • Probably the same General Top Ten TNG Eps that quite a few fans think are good, heh.

  • aunursa

    How is Jenkins a huckster? Because he profited by recognizing a huge potential market for Christian end-times fiction and filling that demand?

    If you believe that making money in the almighty market means that something is by definition good

    I haven’t said that at all. I’ve made my opinion of LB clear, an opinion in alignment with yours, our host’s, and most of the other commenters. The fact that we agree that he’s a terrible writer doesn’t mean that he’s lying when he promotes himself as a good writer. He certainly believes that he’s a good writer, and no doubt he would consider the sales, awards, and recognition as evidence of that.

    You could go up to Jerry Jenkins, show him the series of Slacktivist critiques, and tell him that he is a terrible writer. And he would respond, “Really, Lori? Cause Stephen King and 63 million other friends think that I’m a good writer.”

  • aunursa

    If aunursa wants to get all semantic on this then yes, technically Jenkins … also knows how to get published- take your work to a specialist publisher that publishes for a very particular niche market, reinforcing views they already have and get said bile spitters to promote the books and their spinoff films as required reading.

    And how is that different from what he’s promoting?

  • Jamoche

    I thought about continuing on, having the citizens of Night Vale treat the various supernatural signs of the Apocalypse as just another ordinary day, but then remembered that three books in we still haven’t seen any of them.

  • Daniel

    Touche. He does seem to be promoting it as though “writing” is essentially the same as advertising. I’ll say it again- he doesn’t know writing he knows how to sell stuff. And it’s not really like he knows that well- he’s got a preexisting customer base. He’s not even teaching you how to sell something that could be described as original. It’s teaching you to just repeat something with just enough cynical manipulation of people’s beliefs to guarantee further sales. It’s not “writing” its “selling” so at best it’s a misnomer.

  • Daniel

    Oh yeah, in that first comment I wasn’t meaning the people taking his course were the preexisting audience he exploits. I meant the people who his books are aimed at, as I assume it’s not necessary to have bought his books to take his classes.

  • Lori

    I don’t claim to know why Stephen King fluffed Jenkins’ ego and 63 million people can be wrong.

    It’s possible that Jerry doesn’t have enough clue and/or self-awareness to realize that his writing is crap. If that’s the case then I suppose he’s not technically lying, which I suppose would make his classes not technically a scam in the traditional sense (and obviously I’m aware that they’re not a scam in the legal sense.) They’re still bullshit and I’m not sure why this is the semantic nit you decided to pick. And pick. And pick.

  • FearlessSon

    I have said before that I think that Tribulation Force is a Lovecraftian doomsday cult. They operate in secret, try to work their agents into positions near the heart of mortal power, meet in hidden temple basements to conduct ritual communion with their deity, whom they hope will enter the mortal realm and bring death and destruction to the world as we know it.

    “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Y’wah fhtagn, He is Risen!”

  • FearlessSon

    “I find their lack of extrapolative imagination disturbing.” [/James Earl Jones]

  • aunursa

    Absolutely 63 million people can be wrong.* Nevertheless I haven’t seen any evidence to support the assertion that Jerry Jenkins thinks he’s a bad writer. All the evidence that I have seen suggests otherwise.

    If that’s the case then I suppose he’s not technically lying

    That’s correct. You can call him a terrible writer and you won’t get any argument from me. But if you suggest that he is being dishonest in promoting his Christian Writers Guild, if you call him a huckster (which implies deception,) if you claim that he’s taking advantage of his customers, I ask you to provide evidence. If it’s merely your personal opinion, just say so and I’ll be on my way.

    * Of course 63 million people can be wrong. Hey, 65 million people voted for Barack Obama. ;-)

    And having debated online with Christian apologists for almost 15 years, I’ve responded several times to the assertion that “Two billion Christians can’t be wrong” by replying, “Oh yes they can!” In fact the idea that 2 billion Christians couldn’t all be wrong is #1 on the list of my “Top 10 Favorite Christian Missionary Arguments.”

  • Can you really support that given the fact that every single week at least one of them comes in here and tells Fred or one of us that in our hearts, we all know that it’s murder and are just shamelessly lying to ourselves and others out of our willfullness to continue on our rampage of baby-murder?

    Insofar as they don’t find women who have abortions culpable, it’s only because they don’t think of women as people.

  • aunursa

    Yes, because I’m extremely confident that the few abortion opponents who comment on this blog are not representative of abortion opponents in general. Just as all the commenters here, or any particular subcategory, are not representative of the population at large.

  • Reminds me so much of Dragon Age: Origins.

    Chanters have sworn only to speak whatever is written in the Chant of Light. People find this either noble… or amusing.

    Warden: “A Chanter says, “What?””‘

    Chanter Devons: “What?”

    Kid: “Oh, you got him to speak!”

    Chanter Devons: “Err… What hath man’s sin wrought?”

    Kid: “Oh, he cheated!”