Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 189-190
We mentioned earlier that there are two things here in Chapter 10 that grab the reader and hurl them forcibly out of the story. These aren’t just the sort of thing that makes readers demand their money back, they’re the sort of thing that makes readers want their money back, plus extra compensation for pain and suffering and punitive damages. Here is the second such thing in Chapter 10.
Buck Williams is in a cab below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem:
“Can a fella get a boat ride up the Jordan River into Lake Tiberius at this time of night?” he asked the driver.
“Well, sir, to tell you the truth, it’s a lot easier coming the other way. But, yes, there are motorized boats heading north. And some do run in the night. Of course, your touring boats are daytime affairs, but there’s always someone who will take you where you want to go for the right price, any time of the day or night.”
“I figured that,” Buck said. Not long later he was dickering with a boatman named Michael, who refused to give a last name. “In the daytime I can carry 20 tourists on this rig, and four strong young men and I pilot it by arm power, if you know what I mean.”
“Yes, sir, just like in the Bible. Boat’s made of wood. We cover the twin outboards with wood and burlap, and no one’s the wiser. Makes for a pretty long, tiring day. But when we have to go back upriver, we can’t do that with the oars.”
It was only Michael, the twin outboards, and Buck heading north after midnight, but Buck felt as if he had paid for 20 tourists and four oarsmen as well.
Buck began the trip standing in the bow and letting the crisp air race through his hair. He soon had to zip his leather jacket to the neck and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. Before long he was back next to Michael, who piloted the long, rustic, wood boat from just ahead of the outboard motors. Few other crafts were on the Jordan that night.
I’m sub-contracting the response to this passage to Israeli journalist and writer Gershom Gorenberg. This is from Gorenberg’s terrific book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. Goremberg describes his attempt to read Nicolae while on vacation:
My son and I are stretched out in a hammock between two trees in the backyard of the country house where we like to vacation. It’s in the hills of the Galilee, away from the noise and exhaust of Jerusalem; from the yard we can see the town of Tiberias and all of Lake Kinneret — the Sea of Galilee — shimmering blue and the Golan Heights rising dark and green behind it. My 10-year-old son is reading The Phantom Tollbooth yet again and giggles occasionally. I’m reading Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. And suddenly I start laughing harder than my son, which I’m not supposed to do in the middle of a thriller about the end of the world, complete with nuclear war and famine and plague, and he wants to know what’s funny, so I read him the paragraph where world-renowned journalist Buck Williams, in Jerusalem on a secret mission, learns that “he would find who he was looking for in Galilee, which didn’t really exist anymore,” a geographical point he repeats for emphasis two pages later.
“Dad, if the Galilee doesn’t exist, where are we?” my son asks.
“Maybe we don’t exist either.”
A couple minutes later I’m giggling again: Now Buck has decided to make the three-hour journey to “Tiberius” (sic) by boat — one of the many touring boats that, in the book, ply the Jordan River. Which would be fine if the Jordan were really “deep and wide,” as the song goes, but in reality it’s a narrow trickle not fit for navigating.
The experience is jarring, like meeting someone who calls you by your name, insists he knows you, remembers you from a high school you didn’t attend, a job you never had. I’m reading a book set largely in the country where I live — but not really, because the authors’ Israel is a landscape of their imagination, and the characters called “Jews” might as well be named hobbits or warlocks. Israel and Jews are central to Nicolae and the other books of the hugely successful Left Behind series — but the country belongs to the map of a Christian myth; the people speak lines from a script foreign to flesh-and-blood Jews.
We could say more about this extravagantly awful scene in Nicolae. We could talk about how the whole business about “oars … just like in the Bible” seems to be a long way to go for a belabored “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” pun, and how the Bible really doesn’t say much of anything about “oars” anyway. We could goggle at the botched cliché of Buck standing in the bow, the wind whipping his hair like he was Leo and/or Kate in Titanic. But all of that pales in comparison to the overriding, overwhelming wrongness Gorenberg mocks in this passage and to what he says it reveals about the jarringly untrue and unreal “landscape of their imagination” the authors present here and throughout these books.
That landscape is Bible-ish — rowing boats on the Jordan River is something that someone who has never read the Bible might think is in there. (It’s not.) But it’s as foreign to and incompatible with the Bible as it is with the actual landscape of Israel and the actual reality of “flesh-and-blood Jews.”
This sort of thing is especially incredible since Tim LaHaye has been to Israel and has seen the Jordan River with his own two eyes. Like most preachers in the “Bible prophecy scholar” racket, LaHaye has conducted “Holy Land tours,” taking groups of his American, RTC followers over to Israel and the West Bank to “walk where Jesus walked” and — more importantly for these “prophecy” tours — to gaze at the valley of Megiddo and to snarl disapprovingly at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
The itinerary for one of LaHaye’s “Pray for Israel” tours in 2010 (“Only $3999 all inclusive“) includes a stop at Yardenit, a pilgrimage site for millions seeking to be baptized in the Jordan. Yardenit — a place scholars wish tour guides would stop lying about being “the actual site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist” — is, like much of the Holy Land, part sacred pilgrimage site and part money-grubbing tourist trap. The site is just below the dam separating Lake Kinneret from the river — a dam that would make Buck’s journey impossible even apart from the laughable idea of navigating the shallow trickle of the Jordan.
I don’t know if Jerry Jenkins ever visited Israel before writing Nicolae, so for him the “landscape of the imagination” it presents may just be the product of ignorance and laziness. But for LaHaye, who’d been to the Jordan River and seen it with his own eyes, something more than ignorance had to be at work in his “co-writing” of this fantastic, unreal landscape. He has walked in this world without ever seeing it, preferring instead to see the world of his own ideology, of his own imagining, of his own preference.
The scary thing there isn’t that this one man has retreated into a delusional fantasy. The scary thing is that millions of people are eagerly following him there.
For those who live in this landscape of the imagination, the real world doesn’t really exist anymore.
And if the real world doesn’t exist, what about the rest of us who still live here? Where are we? “Maybe we don’t exist either.”